There are many questions — gripping, fundamental questions — facing the Pittsburgh Penguins as they prepare to open the 2019-20 season.
Have the team’s superstars begun an age-related decline? Is there enough speed on defense to keep up with the modern NHL? Will a renewed commitment to “playing the right way” translate into success on the ice?
None of these questions, frankly, are likely to be answered in training camp, which opens Friday morning at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
Barring an unforeseen development, a moderately informed outsider could take one look at the camp roster and predict the opening night lineup with a high degree of accuracy.
Clues about how that veteran roster will ultimately perform will have to wait until pucks are dropped starting with the Oct. 3 season opener against Buffalo.
Smaller questions, though? Oh, there will be a million of those answered in the next four weeks, and in hockey, doing the small things right often leads to big-picture success.
Here’s a quick guide to Penguins training camp:
While there probably isn’t a roster spot open for a Cinderella camp favorite to claim, that doesn’t mean certain positions in the lineup still don’t need to be decided.
1. Top of the line: Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel have two-thirds of the top line nailed down, but there’s again an open question about the third member of the trio. Jared McCann had some success last year. Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Simon have filled the spot at times. Newcomer Dominik Kahun’s game might be a good fit.
2. Fifth wheel: Crosby, Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are likely candidates to fill four spots on the top power-play unit, but who will take Phil Kessel’s place as the fifth? Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk and Justin Schultz are contenders.
3. Cracking the top six: The best chance for upward mobility on the training camp depth chart might belong to Juuso Riikola. Could the second-year defenseman knock Jack Johnson out of the top six with another strong camp?
While it’s extraordinarily unlikely a rookie cracks the opening night roster, there are some exciting new names to remember.
1. Samuel Poulin: The Penguins kept their first-round pick to take this modern power forward with loads of potential.
2. Nathan Legare: The Penguins traded up in the third round to get this no-nonsense goal scorer with a wicked shot.
3. Kasper Bjorkqvist: A physical specimen out of Providence College who could make his NHL debut sometime this season.
Circle the date
There are a few significant fence posts to remember on the road to the opener.
1. Scrimmage time: The Penguins will hold intrasquad scrimmages at 10 a.m. on the first three days of camp Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
2. Blue-and-white site: The Penguins open the preseason Monday against Buffalo at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena.
3. Last tune-up: The Penguins close the preseason with their annual game for kids Sept. 28 against the Sabres.