Local product Guenin has no hate for Flyers
It's hardly fantastic that there are four players vying for the Penguins' seventh defenseman slot. But one -- a local guy no less -- has nothing but nice things to say about the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Despite what Pittsburgh people think (the Flyers are) a great organization," Nate Guenin said Friday before he dressed for the Penguins against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an exhibition game at Mellon Arena.
A childhood Penguins fan that idolized hard-hitting defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, Guenin stands by his assessment.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma won't hold those kind works, spoken on the behalf of his club's most bitter rival, against Guenin, a former youth player with the Pittsburgh Hornets and a graduate of Hopewell High School. Guenin, 26, spent three seasons in the Flyers organization (appearing in 12 National Hockey League games) before signing as a free agent with the Penguins in the offseason.
He is battling Deryk Engelland, 27, Ben Lovejoy, 25, and Chris Lee, 28, to serve as the Penguins' seventh defenseman -- a position filled admirably by veteran Philippe Boucher during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Guenin had left an impression on Bylsma before training camp practices opened last Sunday.
"I saw a lot of Nate last year when we played against him with the Philadelphia Phantoms," Bylsma said of his first-half days last season as head coach of the American Hockey League's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. "He's a gritty, defensive defenseman, tough to play against, and a good (penalty-kill) guy. We had to adjust our (power play) against him last year. He gave our top lines tough times on the ice. He really was one of their guys that gave us fits, so that's what king of game he can show.
"There are parts of his game that I know well. Really, he gave me lots of frustration as a coach."
The search for a seventh defenseman is no exact science. Bylsma warned against presuming candidates fit a certain mold, stressing that "different things ... weigh into the picture."
His top six consist of unit leader Sergei Gonchar, veterans Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton and Jay McKee and potential young star offensive defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. Barring injuries to any of those players, a No. 7 will play sparingly during the regular season.
Bylsma cited age as a factor in choosing a seventh defenseman if his top six play the majority of games -- perhaps and indication that Lovejoy is the long shot in the close competition. Lovejoy and Guenin are both right-handed shots; only Letang is a right-handed shooter among the top six.
Penguins' amateur scouts rate Lovejoy and Lee as more offensive-minded prospects, though not in the upper-tier class of Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski. Guenin and Engelland are considered grittier and more physical players -- a niche reduced among the Penguins' defense corps following the offseason departures of Rob Scuderi and Hall Gill.
Their leaving played more of a role in Guenin signing with the Penguins than his hometown roots.
"At every level I've been the guy battling for a spot, so I'm pretty used to it," he said. "At every level I've played at I've proven myself, and I'm looking to do that here, too."
If Guenin wins the No. 7 gig, another former Penguins' Samuelsson, Kjell, likely will be one of the first people he calls.
"Kjell really helped me a lot every day, taking the time to teach me little things that helped develop my game -- moving the puck quick, skating, everything," Guenin said of his former assistant coach in the AHL. "After practice he would go the extra mile to help me become a better player, so I can't say anything bad about Philadelphia's organization.
"I'll leave that to my friends."
FOUR FOR SEVEN
With their top six set, the Penguins are searching for a seventh defenseman in training camp. The four top candidates for that role, and their odds as of Friday to win the job according to beat reporter Rob Rossi:
• DERYK ENGELLAND
2008-09 stats: 3 goals, 14 points, 143 penalty minutes (W-B/Scranton; AHL)
Odds: 10 to 1
• NATE GUENIN
2008-09 stats: 0 goals, 14 points, 95 penalty minutes (Philadelphia; AHL)
Strength: Grit, shot blocking
Odds: 10 to 1
• BEN LOVEJOY
2008-09 stats: 7 goals, 32 points (W-B/Scranton; AHL)
Strength: Puck movement, skating ability
Odds: 13 to 1
• CHRIS LEE
2008-09 stats: 6 goals, 30 points, 26 penalty minutes (Bridgeport; AHL)
Strength: Offensive instincts
Odds: 15 to 1
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