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Insider Only Penguins – Sunday: Team in a win-win situation with Bortuzzo? Coaching staff wants Despres on the team, source says


GM’S looking for a young depth defenseman on the cheap, will have their eye on how Penguins blueline shakes out as the team begins training camp today.
While Ben Lovejoy has 95 NHL games under his belt and is available, as is Brian Strait who found his way into the Penguins playoff lineup last spring, but it’s Robert Bortuzzo who GM’s have their eye on, the least experienced of the three who has appeared in just six career NHL games.

Shero has been getting calls on Bortuzzo since the summer and Montreal, Minnesota and Edmonton are among three of the teams that have shown vary degrees of interest since the summer, sources say. A number of teams including Detroit and Ottawa are actively looking to boost their blueline. Bortuzzo has established himself as one of the best shutdown defensemen in the American Hockey League and there’s some evaluators who feel his ceiling could be as a No. 4, No. 5 defenseman.
With nine waiver eligible defenseman, the Penguins prefer to keep Bortuzzo over others such as Strait if it came to that, and one of the biggest supporters of Bortuzzo, sources say, has been assistant GM Jason Boterill who has been pushing for Bortuzzo to get regular NHL playing time. However, do the Penguins see Bortuzzo as a long-term player on their blueline? I’d say probably not yet at this point, which puts him in play if the right deal is out there, but they are very intrigued about what he can do at the NHL level. The Penguins I’m told feel Strait would have a chance to clear waivers but not Bortuzzo. Based on trade interest, the Penguins might be in a win-win situation with Bortuzzo. Keep him or likely get good value on the trade market as he is coveted.
There have been mixed signals all week on Simon Despres and I was told early this week before the Penguins had made a decision on their camp roster, that if Simon Despres was to be brought into camp, it wouldn’t be just to get him some experience as this isn’t his first rodeo with the organization. It would be because the team was serious about him starting the year in Pittsburgh. Was told on multiple occasions this week that the coaching staff wants Despres on the team.
However, Despres is a true x-factor. Carrying him on the team pushes at least two or three of the Pengiuns nine eligible waiver defensemen out the door or to Wilkes Barre if they can clear waivers.
Does Shero have something up his sleeve? The Penguins GM has had months to decide what he wants to do on the blueline.
SOME PRE-CAMP TIDBITS before today’s first on-ice session.
*Will the Penguins open the season with 14 forwards, and 7 defensemen or 13 forwards and 8 defensemen? Both options are in play, although the Penguins don’t see carrying 8 defensemen long-term being ideal.
*The Penguins feel Evgeni Malkin and James Neal need a player who can get them the puck in open space (Beau Bennett anyone?) or fill the Chris Kunitz role of being a forechecking presence. Tyler Kennedy is not that player from the standpoint of getting Malkin and Neal the puck in open space, and I don’t see him being a great fit there if Bylsma goes that direction, which is not expected. Bylsma is expected to look to Beau Bennett, Dustin Jeffrey, Matt Cooke and Eric Tangradi  as early options.
*I’d be very surprised if Eric Tangradi starts the year anywhere but the 4th line. He’s not defensively responsible enough to be counted on for a third line role and I don’t see him winning the second line spot, although there is some intrigue from the coaching staff about a big strong line of Tangradi – Malkin and Neal.
*If Bylsma sticks with the Paul Martin – Brooks Orpik pairing, Matt Niskanen is the early front runner to be Kris Letang’s partner but I’m told the Penguins have plans to give Simon Despres some work in that role this week.
*Can a healthy Dustin Jeffrey move himself into position to get a serious look in the top-12? It’s one of the more intriguing storylines and he’s expected to be in the hunt for the left wing spot next to Malkin and Neal.
*Is Beau Bennett a serious contender for a roster spot? Just about anyone you talk to has a different opinion. The consensus among those outside the organization I’ve gotten is (quote on quote) “I bet it’s just a look” about the Penguins bringing Bennett in.
*Ben Lovejoy’s roster spot with the Penguins is far from a lock but the Penguins are not down on him like the fan base is. He’s a player they know what they’re going to get which helps his prospects of opening the year with the team.
Forwards (15): Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Matt Cooke, Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy, Eric Tangradi, Craig Adams, Beau Bennett, Jason Megna
Defensemen (9): Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait
Goaltenders (2): Marc Andre Fleury, Tomas Vokoun
The Penguins will practice today at 3:10 p.m., Southpointe, Monday 12:00 p.m. at Consol Energy Center, Tuesday 11:00 a.m. at Consol Energy Center, Wednesday Black and Gold Scrimmage Game 7:00 p.m. at Consol Energy Center, Friday 11:00 a.m. at Consol Energy Center.
All sessions are open to the public.
The New York Rangers will have defenseman Michael Del Zotto in camp, agreeing to a two year deal worth $5.1 million with Del Zotto…..The Montreal Canadiens have taken the same direction the Rangers are with Wade Redden as the Canadiens have sent Scott Gomez home and won’t let him play as the team intends buy him out at the end of the season….. The Carolina Hurricanes have been coveting a rugged 4th line forward and today acquired Kevin Westgarth who is Bill Cowher’s son in law from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Anthony Stewart, 2013 4th round pick and 2014 6th round pick…..

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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