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For Pens' new defenseman Eaton, no timeframe to play

With Paul Martin out of Saturday's lineup, the Penguins opted to use Mark Eaton -- who hadn't played an NHL game since April 3, 2012 -- in his place. File photo

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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 1:24 p.m.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Mark Eaton's present is about doing the work. He cannot control anything else.

Eaton, who signed a one-year contract with the Penguins on Monday, did not play against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Tuesday night. He may not dress for the two remaining games on this road trip, either.

“I don't think there's a rush at this point to get Mark into a game or even a schedule at this point,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We've liked seeing him in practice … but there's not a plan right now for when he's going to get back into playing.”

General manager Ray Shero often has said he believes every organization needs no fewer than 10 defensemen who can play at the NHL level, at least for a stretch of games.

Eaton is one of eight defensemen on the active roster.

The Penguins began the season with that many — and because Eaton signed an NHL contract, rookie Simon Despres stands as the only active defenseman who would not need to clear waivers if assigned to the AHL.

Center Evgeni Malkin (concussion) is on the injured-reserve list, retroactive to Saturday. The Penguins are not required to make a roster move to carry eight defensemen.

However, that will not always be the case.

Malkin's return would give the Penguins 14 forwards, and all but rookie left winger Beau Bennett would require waivers clearance.

The challenge of carrying eight defensemen is mostly felt on game days, Bylsma said.

“Having two guys in and out of the lineup is not ideal for the players,” he said. “It's not going to necessarily be a rotation of three or four or five guys being in an out of the lineup, just based on the simple rotation.”

Eaton, without an NHL employer when the 119-day lockout ended in January, is appreciative of his chance collect a paycheck from the Penguins, his team from 2006-10.

“It was my goal at the beginning,” he said, referring to the tryout contract he previously signed and AHL games he played with affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “If you asked me a month ago, I'd say this definitely happened sooner than I thought.

“I'm going to work hard and try to crack the top six. You don't come here and be happy just watching games. Right now it's just about the work. I'll control what I can control.”

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

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