Penguins position breakdown: Center spot won't create great drama heading into draft, free agency
Editor's note: Heading into the NHL draft June 22-23 and the opening of the free-agent signing period July 1, staff writer Jonathan Bombulie will conduct a six-part, position-by-position examination of the team's organizational depth chart.
Last summer, even before the beer spilled at the team's second consecutive Stanley Cup parade dried from the pavement, it was topic No. 1 on the mind of many Penguins fans. By the start of training camp, it practically became a punchline.
How are the Penguins going to fill their roster holes at third-line and fourth-line center?
It took a while for the question to be answered. At first, Carter Rowney and Greg McKegg filled in, but that experiment didn't last long. By the end of October, Riley Sheahan moved into one of the spots. At the trade deadline, Derick Brassard was acquired to fill the other.
There are still some questions about how well Brassard will fit in, given his three-month trial in black and gold was underwhelming. But, in general, last season's moves have made sure center isn't a position of great drama on the organizational depth chart this summer.
And the top two spots still appear to be in pretty decent hands.
In the NHL
Last year: 29 goals-60 assists—89 points Age: 30 Years left on contract: 7
Last year: 42-56—98 Age: 31 Years left on contract: 4
Last year: 3-5—8 Age: 30 Years left on contract: 1
Last year: 11-21—32 Age: 26 Years left on contract: RFA
Now middle-aged by NHL standards, Crosby has become extraordinarily consistent, posting between 84 and 89 points each of the past four seasons. His 11.7 shooting percentage — below his 14.5 percent career average — indicates his goal total could bump up a bit next season. ... Malkin was the best player in the world, bar none, in January and February. A longer offseason could help heal a knee injury suffered in the playoffs. ... Getting Brassard comfortable in his role and with his linemates should be a priority for the Penguins. Slowed by a lower-body injury down the stretch, he also will benefit from a longer summer. ... Sheahan did pretty much everything asked of him after arriving from Detroit via trade.
On the verge
Height, weight: 6-0, 185 Age: 23
Height, weight: 5-11, 175 Age: 24
Blueger and Dea earned brief call-ups last season, but coach Mike Sullivan didn't trust either enough to throw him into the deep end of the pool. Blueger didn't get into a game, and Dea was used sparingly in five appearances. Both had pretty good seasons in the AHL. Blueger added 21 goals to his already-solid two-way game. Dea had a 50-point season. Both are restricted free agents. It's time to claim the No. 5 spot on the depth chart or else.
DOWN THE ROAD
Height, weight: 6-5, 210 Age: 22
Height, weight: 6-0, 185 Age: 21
Height, weight: 6-7, 200 Age: 21
The Penguins aren't teeming with high-ceiling prospects at center, but there are a couple of names worth remembering. Angello is particularly intriguing, a borderline star at Cornell the last three years with great size and loads of potential. He is ready to play in the AHL. ... Olund was a solid two-way center in Sweden who is ready to get his feet wet in North America. ... Pavlychev is a giant rising junior at Penn State.
THE BIG MOVE
Because general manager Jim Rutherford has a win-now directive and is generally fearless, the Penguins have been linked to Islanders star John Tavares, the most coveted free agent in this year's class, in several national media reports. A marriage is highly unlikely but can't be ruled out. It would require the Penguins to clear somewhere around $10 million in cap space and Tavares to want a different kind of deal than most unrestricted free agents want.
THE SMALL MOVE
Carter Rowney and Josh Jooris, the players who held the fifth and sixth spots on the center depth chart at the end of last season, are unrestricted free agents. If the Penguins don't bring either back, they will need to shop for a suitable replacement in free agency, an NHL-AHL bubble player who can, at the very least, compete with Blueger and Dea for a job.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.