Penguins notebook: Prospects to get spotlight at Penn State
When the Penguins open the preseason Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena, only three regulars from last season's Stanley Cup championship team — Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust and Olli Maatta — will be on the ice.
That might not be exciting news for the 5,000-plus fans expected to pack the stands for the game, but there's a reason for the lineup coach Mike Sullivan put together.
He wants to use the early part of the preseason schedule to evaluate young talent in a competitive situation.
“It gives us an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with them and their strengths and their weaknesses,” Sullivan said Monday. “These first few games are great opportunities for those guys to play their game.”
Top prospects Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese will have a chance to further nudge their noses into contention for an NHL roster spot. Players who started camp strong, such as second-year pro Thomas Di Pauli and 18-year-old Jordy Bellerive, can make an impression on a bigger stage.
Among veteran players, goalie Antti Niemi and Matt Hunwick will get the chance to play their first games in a Penguins uniform.
Tryout Jay McClement, July free-agent addition Greg McKegg and prospect Teddy Blueger, meanwhile, can make cases for one of the open bottom-six center jobs.
While it's entirely likely general manager Jim Rutherford will add a center via trade sometime soon, Sullivan said he will operate for the time being like he has to choose third- and fourth-line centers from the existing player pool.
“We're going to coach the players that we have,” Sullivan said. “It wouldn't make any sort of sense to try to think otherwise. We've got some guys here that have had pretty strong starts to camp that potentially could fill those roles.”
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot asserted himself in the final intrasquad scrimmage of camp Monday morning, frequently joining the rush, making decisive plays with the puck and driving to the net to set up an Evgeni Malkin goal.
“I thought he was really active in the rush,” Sullivan said. “He made a few real good outlet passes. He's in very good shape. His fitness level is extremely good. I think he's made a positive impression.”
It's the kind of performance Pouliot will need to extricate himself from the roster limbo he finds himself in.
Pouliot likely slots in eighth on the defenseman depth chart, just behind Chad Ruhwedel. He would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL, however, which makes such an assignment less likely. He will play Tuesday night at Penn State.
“For me, that's when these players are really going to have the opportunity to show what they can do and who's going to earn spots or ice time or roles,” Sullivan said. “Derrick's no different.”
Sidney Crosby stole a puck from Evgeni Malkin and set up Dominik Simon for the tie-breaking goal to lead his team to victory in the final game of the training camp intrasquad scrimmage tournament.
Gage Quinney scored twice for the winners. Sprong also scored. Malkin and Blueger had goals for the losing side.
The Penguins made their first round of cuts, sending goalie Alex D'Orio, defensemen Connor Hall and Zachary Lauzon and forward Jan Drozg to their junior teams. Fifty-five players remain on the camp roster.