The 2010-2011 NHL Regular Season is only six days away and the Penguins’ roster is almost set for the home opener against Philadelphia on October 7th. With two more preseason games remaining and another round of roster cuts on the horizon, time is starting to run out for players hoping to make the big club.
There are still a couple of roster spots up for grabs and the competition for those spots seems to be fierce. A few of the players, who should be virtual locks to start the season with the Pens, may in fact be on their way out.
So what will the Penguins’ roster look like six days from now?
It seems that Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis will open the season as Crosby’s wingers. Both players have proved that they can complement Crosby well and it should be a very interesting line to watch as the season progresses. Remember, more playing time for Dupuis can only push his numbers higher than they’ve been over the last few seasons.
Mike Comrie is the most logical candidate to open the season as the team’s number two center with Jordan Staal sidelined until late November. Comrie has developed good chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and that will only grow from here on out.
Now the question becomes, what winger will complete that line?
It is very hard to ignore the performances put forth by forwards Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, and Ryan Craig, although Letestu is more of a natural center who could see time on the Pens’ third or fourth line. That’s if he keeps up the intensity and focus he has brought with him to training camp.
Notice how I didn’t mention Eric Tangradi?
While Tangradi seems to have improved since last year’s training camp, he still hasn’t shown that he is what most have touted him to be…an elite top-six forward. Not to knock Tangradi, but often times he seems to be playing catch-up rather than excelling as a winger in the top-six.
I understand that he has almost no NHL experience, but when a guy is so highly regarded amongst team personnel it makes his shortcomings stick out a lot more.
Players like Craig and Jeffrey may get the nod over Tangradi to play on the second line once the season starts and that’s not a bad thing. Honestly, another season in Wilkes-Barre Scranton may just be the best thing for Tangradi.
Who knows, Tangradi could find himself in the NHL sometime this season, but more time in the minors will build confidence. That seems to be something lacking in his skill set at the present time.
The third line will most likely be made up of Matt Cooke and Aaron Asham on the wings, centered by Max Talbot. The Pens’ third line may end up being one of the biggest keys to the success of the team this season. Asham and Cooke are known for being agitators by trade, yet both possess skills that enable them to put pucks in the net.
The fourth line is sort of a paradox at this point. This is where some of the veterans and young hopefuls seems to rotate positions “on the bubble.” Craig Adams, Mike Rupp, Tyler Kennedy, Eric Godard, Ryan Craig, Dustin Jeffrey, and Mark Letestu could all be candidates to play on the fourth line.
Some say Godard’s time is up, others feel he is needed to provide protection for the Pens’ big stars. Tyler Kennedy is a name most wouldn’t associate with being expendable, but let’s face it, he hasn’t shown much improvement in camp and his days in a Pens’ sweater may be numbered.
Adams and Rupp seem to be the most likely candidates to play on the fourth line, so it appears for now that there is one more forward position to fill on that line.
Five of the defensive roster spots are occupied by Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski. The defense corp needs to fill the sixth and seventh spots and all signs seem to point to Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland. Both players have shown that they can compete at the NHL level and now it seems only a matter of sorting out who’s the better fit.
Simon Despres has shown much improvement since this time last year, but will more than likely be sent back to his junior team. He makes a lot of smart plays in the defensive zone and his offensive prowess is gaining more momentum the longer he gets playing time.
The thing to remember here is that defenseman take a lot more time to develop, and even though he may appear to be ready, waiting another season to seriously consider him a mainstay is the more likely scenario.
The goaltending tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson is what the Pens’ will have once the season starts. No big surprise there. Penguins GM Ray Shero showed his genius by re-signing Johnson, who is more than a reliable backup for Fleury.
There are still two preseason games left and players will have to leave everything on the ice and watch the cards fall where they may. Regardless of who ends up filling the remaining roster spots, one thing is certain…
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a new look that will combine an up-tempo system, more toughness, and more determination than fans have seen in years past. With only being one season removed from winning the Cup, there is still a lot left to prove. Wiping away the shortcomings of last season is the first on the priority list.
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