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Bylsma eyes other guy for Malkin-Neal line

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 9:14 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma speaks to the media at Consol Energy Center Jan. 7, 2013.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma speaks to the media at Consol Energy Center Jan. 7, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

James Neal is back in Pittsburgh.

The winger who will join him this season on a Penguins line with two-time scoring champion Evgeni Malkin is likely already on coach Dan Bylsma's roster.

Bylsma said Monday that Tyler Kennedy, Tanner Glass and Matt Cooke would play with Malkin and Neal.

“I also feel like I wouldn't anchor (new acquisition Brandon) Sutter to that third-line center position,” Bylsma said. “If he is winning a lot of the right-hand draws he could conceivably go take the draw and be on Geno's line.

“There could be some movement.”

Malkin (first) and Neal (seventh) were top-10 NHL scorers last season while playing mostly on a line with left winger Chris Kunitz. Malkin and Neal combined for 90 goals and 190 points.

However, Bylsma said he will return Kunitz to a line with winger Pascal Dupuis and center Sidney Crosby. Skating with those players in 2010-11, Crosby racked up 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games — a career-best 1.61 points-per-game pace — before concussion symptoms shelved him.

There are other options for the Malkin/Neal vacancy created by the offseason departure of veteran winger Steve Sullivan.

General manager Ray Shero could swing a trade, though that is unlikely.

The Penguins could find Malkin's other man on the waiver wire.

Also, top forward prospect Beau Bennett, a likely camp invitee, could parlay his game-ready timing into a roster spot. Bennett, a right-handed shot, is a natural on the off wing, and he has six goals to go with 17 assists in 28 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Kennedy, also a right-handed shot, has mostly played on the right wing in the NHL. He scored 21 goals two years ago in an expanded role.

Glass, a left winger signed from Winnipeg last summer, has scored just 13 NHL goals. Bylsma said he would play “if we're winning.”

Cooke can work either wing, though he prefers the left side. His 19 goals last season marked a personal high, and his style of play — fast, punishing, irritating — is similar to what worked for Kunitz while playing alongside Malkin and Neal last season.

“That spot with Malkin and James is going to be open and situational,” Bylsma said. “But it's going to open to somebody claiming that spot and making it permanent, too.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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