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Penguins

With Evgeni Malkin out for Wednesday's game vs. Canucks, Jake Guentzel could center second line

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, 1:33 p.m.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford makes a blocker save on the Penguin's Evgeni Malkin in the third period Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford makes a blocker save on the Penguin's Evgeni Malkin in the third period Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel fights for the puck with the Coyotes' Jason Demers in the first period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel fights for the puck with the Coyotes' Jason Demers in the first period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Hockey was so easy for Josh Archibald and Jake Guentzel at Nebraska-Omaha.

Archibald was a wing, Guentzel the center. Just two college kids — Archibald was 21, Guentzel 19 — having a good time.

They share the same birthday (Oct. 6), but that's not why they got along so well on the ice.

“I just went to the back door, and he fed me every time,” said Archibald, who scored 29 goals in 37 games during the 2013-14 season. “It was great. I can attribute a lot of those (goals) to him.”

Guentzel had 27 assists in 37 games.

The same situation might need to develop in a much more serious venue Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins will play without second-line center Evgeni Malkin for the first time in 23 games this season, and Guentzel could be his replacement.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin suffered an upper-body injury Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be re-evaluated Thursday before the Penguins leave for Boston to play the Bruins on Friday.

At practice Tuesday, Guentzel shifted from left wing to center on the second line and replaced Malkin on the first power-play unit. Sullivan wasn't ready to make the moves official, however, especially if anyone from the Canucks was listening.

“It all depends on who's available,” Sullivan said. “I don't know if Carter Rowney (getting close to returning from a hand injury) is going to play or not going to play. We'll have to make some decisions.”

The first decision was to move Guentzel to center for practice. At least, it's clear Sullivan is comfortable with that move.

“I don't mind him (as a center),” Sullivan said. “He's a cerebral player. He distributes the puck well. I think he has a good, solid, two-way game. It's not something he's unfamiliar with.

“If we do choose to use him, I think he can make that adjustment.”

Guenztel, whose NHL experience at center is limited to one game last season in Boston, opened this season with 11 points in 22 games (six goals, five assists) after he was a playoff star last season with 13 goals in 21 games.

“He hasn't taken any steps back,” Sullivan said. “He continues to get better.”

If it happens, Guentzel said he's ready for the challenge of playing a new position and replacing a star.

“I like it. You can get a little more into the game,” he said, noting he hopes to get better at faceoffs with practice. “Whatever spot I'm playing, I'm comfortable. We'll see what happens (Wednesday).”

Defenseman Justin Schultz was a point man on the power play Tuesday with Guentzel. He likened Guentzel's game to Malkin's, disregarding the 5-inch difference in height between the 5-foot-10 Guentzel and the 6-3 Malkin.

“He has good vision, a great shot,” Schultz said. “He's a lot like (Malkin), good in that pocket (in front of the net) and being out there in the middle.

“I thought we were pretty good out there (Tuesday). Hopefully, it translates to the game.”

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

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