Penguins blue line is stacked with plenty of depth, talent
The Penguins boast arguably the world's two finest players, which immediately casts the impression that forward is the team's strongest position.
A gander at the Penguins' blue line, though, indicates that, top to bottom, this is possibly the team's deepest unit.
“Look around,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “No bad players on this blue line. There's just talent everywhere in the organization at this position.”
When the Penguins are healthy, their top-four is pretty clear.
Kris Letang, an annual Norris Trophy candidate, will be joined by the steady hand of veteran Rob Scuderi in a pairing that gives the Penguins elite skill and defensive ability.
Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are both coming off terrific seasons and will again form one of the NHL's most solid pairings.
“Those are all such good players,” Matt Niskanen said. “Not really a weak link there.”
On paper, the Penguins' top four is among the best in hockey.
A true gauge of this group's talent and depth might be best measured by who isn't on the top four, and by who isn't even on the current roster.
The Penguins like Niskanen so much that they didn't trade him to become cap compliant even though his contract expires next summer. They like Robert Bortuzzo so much that he has passed Deryk Engelland — another guy the coaching staff likes — on the depth chart.
Rookie Olli Maatta is going to receive at least a cameo in the NHL this month, and the organization believes he could become a star.
Simon Despres, the team's top pick in 2009, has been sent to the AHL largely so the Penguins could become cap compliant. The Penguins, in fact, like so many players on their blue line they chose to move under the salary cap via Despres' demotion simply because they didn't want to trade anyone.
“It's a really good group,” Martin said. “I think we all feel pretty good about ourselves right now.”
Maatta will receive plenty of attention in the early going. Although he likely will play nine games at the most with the Penguins this season, the organization believes he possesses the ability to become a top-tier NHL defenseman.
It appears Maatta will play with Bortuzzo when the season begins Thursday against New Jersey.
“I'm not worried about Olli,” Bortuzzo said. “The guy's a good hockey player. It doesn't matter how old he is. He's just got a ton of talent.”
Bortuzzo has been a story this fall as well. Although his game certainly doesn't boast the flashiness often seen with players like Maatta and former first-round pick Derrick Pouliot, Bortuzzo has become a favorite of the coaching staff. A tough customer who will drop the gloves with hockey's toughest players, Bortuzzo has also developed noticeably more confident puck skills.
His skating also is greatly improved.
“I don't know exactly what it is,” Bortuzzo said. “But I really feel good on the ice right now.”
It seems, in fact, that the entire Penguins' blue line is bursting with confidence. The unit that must protect a possibly fragile Marc-Andre Fleury and that would like to help jump-start the Penguins' talented forwards into the offensive zone is primed for a big season.
“We're looking forward to it,” Niskanen said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.