Therrien: Whitney injury not devastating
Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney's recovery from foot surgery won't be complete when the team opens its season Oct. 4 in Stockholm, Sweden, but coach Michel Therrien won't be weeping into the Baltic Sea over it.
"Yes, we're going to miss him, but we faced so many injuries last year (that) this is not something brand new for us," Therrien said Wednesday after assisting with the Pittsburgh Penguins Youth Hockey School at RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island.
Therrien said he was aware of Whitney's left-foot misalignment last season, which may have caused the defender's production dip after a successful 2006-07 campaign. Whitney expects to return by November or December.
"Our medical staff decided that the best way for him to get better was for him to get an operation," Therrien said. "And we support that."
The Penguins still have seven defensemen with NHL experience to help fill the void, but Therrien will wait to determine the lineup.
"We're going to let training camp dictate," Therrien said. "This is why there is training camp."
One young defender to watch when the Penguins open camp Sept. 16 will be Alex Goligoski.
The Penguins' second-round draft choice (61st overall) in 2004 broke out for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs last season, his first in the professional ranks. He led the team with 28 points over 23 games in the postseason and had 38 points in 70 regular-season games.
Goligoski, 23, also appeared in three games for the Penguins last season, recording two assists.
"I like his poise with the puck," Therrien said. "I like the way he skates. He always makes a good first pass. He's a good passer on the power play. He improved through the course of the season, his defensive game.
"At such a young age, those type of players need to improve defensively. We'll see during training camp where he is, and we'll make a decision."
Whitney's troubles aside, Therrien was pleased with the results of a busy offseason for the Penguins, which saw fan favorites Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts leave for Tampa Bay, veteran forwards Matt Cooke and Miroslav Satan come to Pittsburgh and young stars Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fluery sign long-term deals.
"We really concentrate on our young players as the core group of this team, and the future looks really bright," Therrien said.
One of the coach's chief concerns entering training camp is the unusual scenario presented by the Penguins' season-opening trip to Europe, which will have the team play a pair of games against Ottawa on Oct. 4 and 5. Camp will be shorter because of the trip, and the team will have fewer exhibition games against NHL clubs.
"Compared to years in the past, when we have seven or eight exhibition games, which gives you a chance to have more young players to participate in those exhibition games, that's going to be a bit tougher this year," Therrien said. "We only have four exhibition games, so I'm going to concentrate a lot on players that are really close to making it to the NHL."