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Penguins are bursting with blue-line depth

Christopher Horner
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review Penguins defenseman Simon Despres skates during the team's development camp Tuesday July 13, 2010 at the Iceoplex at Southpointe.

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Defensive depth

How the blue line could shape up in Wilkes-Barre

Simon Despres-Robert Bortuzzo

Joe Morrow-Brian Dumoulin

Brian Strait-Carl Sneep

Reid McNeill-Philip Samuelsson

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, 10:06 p.m.
 

While the NHL is on hold, the development of the Penguins' best prospects carries on in Wilkes-Barre.

Coach John Hynes has at his disposal a supremely gifted group of defensemen, many of whom are projected to become significant NHL players.

Is there enough ice time for all of them?

“That group is scary good,” said left wing Eric Tangradi, who is also at Wilkes-Barre.

Hynes admitted that he has more talent than usual on his roster, but his job never changes. Even though his roster will be littered with players who probably could play at the NHL level, Hynes is intent on grooming all of that talent.

Joe Morrow, Simon Despres and Brian Dumoulin — who was acquired in June's Jordan Staal trade — will be expected to showcase their skills.

“It's a competitive situation,” Hynes said. “We want guys competing for ice time. But if all of these defensemen are playing well — which is realistic — then it's going to be tough, but everyone will get the right ice time. And because of them, we have a chance to be really good.”

Despres is the most NHL-ready of Hynes' defensemen. He saw plenty of time in Pittsburgh last season and also participated in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“He has shown he can be an NHL defenseman,” Hynes said. “For him, it's just about being consistent now. He has the talent, the ability. His game is capable of transferring quite well to the NHL. We just want to get him more consistent every day.”

If Despres is the most likely of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's defensemen to play in the NHL when the lockout ends — he is almost assured of a roster spot with the Penguins — Morrow possesses the most tantalizing talent. He put on quite a show at training camp last season, convincing many in the organization that he is a couple of years away from becoming an NHL star.

“Joe has done a really good job so far,” Hynes said. “He's so talented. You can see that in the way he skates, the way he shoots the puck. His offensive instincts are so good. For him, like most defensemen his age, he just needs to get better defensively. Playing without the puck, angles, stuff like that. He's on his way.”

Morrow's first taste of training camp has been eye-opening.

“It was a little more intense than I was expecting,” he said. “But that's OK. It's been a good thing, honestly. The intensity here and the competition is unreal.”

Dumoulin is different for Hynes to gauge simply because he isn't as familiar with the former second-round draft pick. But he has made quite an impression. Dumoulin is more defensive-minded than Despres or Morrow.

“I like him a lot,” Hynes said of the 6-foot-3 defenseman. “He just has such a great understanding of the game, a great feel, great instincts, a great hockey IQ. We really like him a lot.”

There are other talented players on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton blue line. Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Carl Sneep all saw time at the NHL level last season. Alex Grant, Reid McNeill and Philip Samuelsson — all recently drafted players whom the Penguins like — are also at AHL training camp.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1975.

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