Pittsburgh Penguins Players with the Most to Prove at 2013-14 Training Camp
Training camp has officially begun for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they look to put the disappointments of last season behind them and take the next step toward winning the Stanley Cup.
With the departure of Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow and of course Jarome Iginla, this year's team will be a much different one than the team that left the ice in defeat in Boston after being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With such a large turnover of players, it's important for young players to establish themselves in the NHL and for older players, who may have had a down year, to re-establish themselves.
With that in mind, let's look at Pittsburgh Penguins with the most to prove during training camp.
Over the past few seasons, the Penguins have been looking for a dynamic winger to round out their top-six forward rotation and may have found one in Beau Bennett.
Drafted by the Pens in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bennett made history as the highest-drafted California born-and-trained player in NHL history. Given his skill set, the Pens have been hoping that he will be as noteworthy for his accomplishments on the ice as for his upbringing off the ice.
Blessed with good speed and great hands, Bennett has been projected to be a top-six forward since being drafted and finally now has the opportunity to establish himself in that role with the departure of Jarome Iginla in the offseason.
Entering training camp, the challenge for Bennett will be to demonstrate chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, a supremely talented but enigmatic center whose free-lancing style can create problems for his linemates.
If Bennett can show that he can handle the physicality of the NHL and can be a good complement to Malkin and James Neal on the second line, he could be headed for a 20-plus goal season.
If not, expect Jussi Jokinen, provided that he is not traded, to move up on the second line this season until Bennett is ready.
While the Penguins have drafted plenty of offensive defensemen in recent years, one area that they have not addressed as much is the need for strong stay-at-home defensemen.
That's why Robert Bortuzzo will be looked to to provide stability and physicality to the Pens defensive rotation. At 6'4" and weighing 215 pounds, Bortuzzo seems more than capable of providing both.
Having been signed to a two-year, $1.2 million contract, Bortuzzo seems to have earned a place in the Pens' near future and, given the struggles of fellow defensive prospect Simon Despres in the defensive aspects of the game, figures to be a natural complement and defensive partner for Despres.
Given that the Pens are above the NHL salary cap entering camp, many expect that Matt Niskanen could be the most likely trade candidate.
However, if Bortuzzo struggles and the Pens coaches and management are not convinced that he is ready to be an every-game contributor, the Pens may decide that they can't afford to trade Niskanen and look elsewhere.
That's why there is a lot riding on how well Robert Bortuzzo performs in training camp.
As the Penguins' first-round selection of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Simon Despres was figured to be a blue-line fixture at this point in his career.
Unfortunately, because of either lack of opportunity or lack of development in some areas, Despres is still looking to be an every-game performer for the Pens.
With just 57 NHL regular season and postseason games under his belt, Despres has had limited opportunity to show his skills but apparently has earned the full trust of the coaching staff despite lapses in play.
Hopefully, the return of Rob Scuderi to the Pens will have a stabilizing effect for all of the defensive pairings and give Despres the ability to create chemistry with a steady defense partner, something he hasn't had in his time with the Pens thus far.
If Despres can show by the end of training camp that he is ready to take the next step in his development, the Pens will be able to address some other areas of the lineup.
If not, Despres may become more valuable to the Pens in a trade than on the ice.
Having spent most of the postseason on the Penguins bench and the offseason in trade rumors, Marc-Andre Fleury has a lot to prove this season; a strong training camp and preseason performance would go a long way toward getting him back on track.
Despite hearing calls for the Pens to unload Fleury this offseason, general manager Ray Shero decided that Fleury could and would bounce back and decided against trading him.
While Shero's decision showed confidence in Fleury, the Pens have made significant moves this offseason to solidify their goaltending by signing college phenom Eric Hartzell and drafting Tristan Jarry with their first pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
With Tomas Vokoun poised to once again assume the starting goaltending duties if needed and with top-notch goaltending prospects now in the organization, Fleury knows that he needs to rebound this season and leave no doubt by the end of training camp that he is the unquestioned starter in net for the Pens for this season and beyond.