Five Penguins Prospects That Could Transform the Pens' Defense

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Five Penguins Prospects That Could Transform the Pens' Defense
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The sportsbooks in Las Vegas have the Pittsburgh Penguins as the odds-on favorites to take home the 2012-2013 Stanley Cup at 8-to-1. Certainly a strong case can be made for the Pens as they enter the season with a (finally) healthy Sidney Crosby, defending Hart/Calder/Ted Lindsay winner Evgeni Malkin and sniper-in-the-making James Neal. With that said questions remain for the offense. 

Does Tyler Kennedy skate with Sidney Crosby on the top line or does head coach Dan Bylsma break up the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal juggernaut of last season in order to reunite Chris Kunitz with Pascal Dupuis and Crosby?

Where do Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi fit in with this team, if at all?

Are there any Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pens that have a shot of cracking the top-12 in this organization?

Bylsma and company will be under the gun with only one week of training camp to assemble a roster before the season opens on January 19th and what to do up front undoubtedly will be examined at length. But as any Pens fan can tell you, scoring goals last season was not half as much a problem for the Pens as was preventing them.

A share of this blame falls upon the shoulders of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and his (now replaced) backup Brent Johnson. But the implosion that ravaged the Pens Stanley Cup run last season runs much deeper. No player along the blue line had an honorable series against the Flyers.

Norris trophy nominee Kris Letang played like an out-of-control rookie.

The generally-feared Brooks Orpik experienced a sudden and inexplicable regression when his team needed him most.

The much-maligned $5 million man, Paul Martin, continued to struggle amplifying calls by fans for management to buy-out the rest of his deal.

If the Penguins are planning on seriously contending this season, general manager Ray Shero and Bylsma will need to seriously scrutinize their blue line. Where do they go after last season's disaster?

One thing is for certain---despite how poorly the three aforementioned blueliners played in last season’s playoffs---they will remain the core of the Pens defensive structure along with Matt Niskanen (who played as close to respectably as anyone in the playoffs). The last two roster spots appear to be open for competition.

Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy---the two players who often rounded out the Pens top six last season---are far from guaranteed a spot in Pittsburgh again this season. The Penguins have drafted defensemen heavily the past few years and have a nice stable of talent developing in the AHL.

Are any of these players ready to make the leap to the NHL this season? Within I rank the top-5 young, up-and-coming defensemen in the Penguins organization to see who may make the big club this season.

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