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Penguins notebook: Jay McClement hopes to keep career going with Penguins

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, 5:30 p.m.

Center Jay McClement doesn't know when his hockey career will end, but he's sure of this much:

“It won't be my decision,” he said. “It will be when there are no more opportunities out there. It (playing in the NHL) is tough to beat.”

The Penguins represent one of McClement's final chances to play a 13th NHL season after he signed a professional tryout contract with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions last month.

It was no accident that the Penguins tracked him down after he spent the past three seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, his fourth team in a 12-year career.

The Penguins are looking for third- and fourth-line centers to follow what McClement and most anyone else in the know calls “the best one-two punch in the league (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin).”

General manager Jim Rutherford said he is looking to trade for a third-line center, but he has not imposed a deadline on himself. Meanwhile, the possibility exists that Carter Rowney and McClement could fill the center roles on the third and fourth lines.

McClement, 34, could bring a veteran presence to the ice and dressing room. He isn't a flashy goal scorer — he has 90 in 906 games — but he might be able to help in other ways.

He was second on the Hurricanes last season in three shorthanded categories: faceoffs won (40), blocked shots (eight) and ice time (120 minutes, 52 seconds). Over the past three seasons, he was third on the team in faceoffs won (1,177).

“I've been a fourth-line guy for most of my career,” said McClement, who scored in Tuesday's preseason opener. “I've created a niche for myself with penalty-killing and faceoffs.”

If he earns a roster spot and plays well this season, he could be approaching 1,000 games at this time next year. That's a lot, but his body tells him to keep going.

“I feel good,” he said. “With most guys these days, except for a select few, most of us will play until we can't find a job anymore.

“I don't think there are too many guys who will hang them up before that happens.”

McClement was drafted in the second round by the Blues in 2001, but he said the years have gone by quickly.

“You definitely appreciate it, the older you get.”

Hunwick: One of the guys

Coach Mike Sullivan said defenseman Matt Hunwick, who was signed from the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Penguins lost Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey in free agency, is fitting in well with his new teammates.

“What jumps out at me is his mobility,” Sullivan said. “That was one of the reasons we were excited to sign him.

“We think he's really going to fit in to the style we're trying to play. He brings great energy to the rink and a positive influence to the locker room. He's going to fit into our dressing room just as much as he's going to fit into our game on the ice.”

Hunwick's 18 assists last year in five-on-five situations would have tied Ian Cole for the most among Penguins defensemen.

Letang won't play Wednesday

Sullivan said Kris Letang, who missed the playoffs last season with a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery, is not ready to play in preseason games. Sullivan said there is a timetable for Letang's return, but he declined to reveal it.

“When he plays, we'll let you know,” Sullivan said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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