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Penguins' Letang to open season on injured reserve

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 4:24 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang beats Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for a third-period goal on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins will begin the NHL season without their top defenseman and backup goalie.

Kris Letang (lower body) and Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) were designated for the injured-reserve list on Monday as part of moves made to the set the roster and enhance their salary-cap flexibility. More moves are expected before the Penguins open the regular season against New Jersey at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night.

One of those moves will be the recall of winger Beau Bennett, who was re-assigned to Wheeling of the ECHL on Monday. Bennett, slated by Penguins coaches to play on the second and/or third line, did not need to clear waivers for his re-assignment.

Winger Chris Conner, who did clear waivers on Monday, remained part of the Penguins' set-date roster. Conner is expected to be re-assigned to the AHL to clear the way for Bennett's return to the Penguins.

The Bennett move is mostly procedural and similar to one the Penguins made with winger Eric Tangradi prior to the 2010-11 season. Tangradi, who did not need to clear waivers for a re-assignment, was sent to Wheeling as part of roster maneuvering. He was recalled and available to play in the opener that season.

The Penguins' roster moves left them with 13 forwards (12 on NHL contracts), eight defensemen (seven) and two goalies (one). Included among forwards was winger Matt D'Agostini, who has missed nearly two weeks of practice because of a lower-body injury.

D'Agostini was not announced to be on injured reserve.

The Penguins also did not announce if Letang and/or Vokoun were designated for the long-term injury (LTI) list. A player on LTI cannot play in 10 games and for 24 days, and a club is provided temporary cap relief.

The Penguins arrived at camp around $1 million over the NHL's $64.3 million cap. All teams were mandated to be cap compliant by Monday afternoon.

One way the Penguins were able to get under the cap was the re-assignment of defenseman Simon Despres to the AHL. Despres, who did not need to clear waivers, joined forward Andrew Ebbett as players headed for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Derrick Pouliot, the Penguins' first of two 2012 first-round draft picks, was returned to his junior club (Portland) on Monday, but Olli Maatta remained in the NHL.

Both players are 19 and impressed coaches during camp, but Maatta, the 22nd overall pick in 2012, was viewed as having a more rounded two-way game.

Maatta can only play in nine games or the Penguins must keep him all season. He can only play in the NHL or with his junior club, London, because of an agreement between the league and the Canadian Hockey League.

Coach Dan Bylsma has said he would prefer to keep only seven defensemen on the roster — an indication that Harrison Ruopp's promotion from the AHL on Monday could be temporary.

Ruopp could be returned to the AHL in favor of placing another forward on the 23-man roster.

The Penguins also were trying to reach terms on a one-year contract with forward Chuck Kobasew, who participated in camp on a professional tryout deal. Management and Kobasew had not agreed on salary as of Sunday.

The veteran minimum is $550,000, but Kobasew was seeking closer to $900,000.

Kobasew was not among the 23 players to make the Penguins roster on Monday.

To add Kobasew and be cap compliant, the Penguins would likely need to return Maatta to his junior club.

General manager Ray Shero was not available for comment.

Note: The NHL and its Players Association approved the adoption of hybrid icing for this season. Hybrid icing is a mixture of touch and no-touch icing. It provides a linesman discretion to blow the whistle and stop play if he believes a defending player will reach the puck first.

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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