Penguins are bursting with blue-line depth
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1975.