Teddy Blueger, 17 others feel ax as Penguins make sweeping round of cuts
For Teddy Blueger, there’s no point trying to hide it.
Those additions the Penguins made in recent months at the center position? Adding Derick Brassard at the trade deadline and Matt Cullen and Derek Grant in free agency?
They may have helped the team become much deeper down the middle, but they felt like a kick in the teeth to him.
The steadily developing 24-year-old second-round draft pick has been within a hair’s breadth of making his NHL debut at times over the last year or so, but now it feels a million miles away.
After Blueger scored a breakaway goal and was a driving force on the team’s most effective line in a 3-2 exhibition loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena, he was one of 18 players trimmed from the roster in a sweeping round of cuts.
“It’s tough,” Blueger said. “It’s a bit of a grind, especially mentally. You put in the work. You do what they tell you. It feels like the closer you get, the farther you get at the same time.
“Just trying to focus on myself and not on the other guys or what they’re thinking or what moves they’re going to make. You never know what may happen. I think if I can continue to work and get better, I’ll get an opportunity here or wherever, but sooner or later, I think it will come.”
Joining Blueger on the bus to Wilkes-Barre were forwards Anthony Angello, Joseph Cramarossa, Thomas Di Pauli, Ryan Haggerty, Jimmy Hayes, Adam Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Tobias Lindberg, Sam Miletic, Linus Olund and Garrett Wilson, defensemen Stefan Elliott, Will O’Neill, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers and Jeff Taylor and goalie John Muse.
Hayes, Lindberg, Wilson, Elliott, Summers and Muse have to clear waivers before being assigned to the AHL.
The cuts leave the Penguins with 27 players on the roster. If center Riley Sheahan is back to health after a lower-body injury and nothing unexpected happens, they’ll need to cut four more before their Oct. 4 season opener against Washington.
Winger Zach Aston-Reese, defensemen Juuso Riikola and Zach Trotman and goalie Tristan Jarry are the most likely candidates to feel the ax.
Blueger’s strong showing in training camp, culminating with his goal against Detroit on Sunday, was not entirely meaningless.
His defensive prowess has always been a strength of his game, but the Penguins wanted him to focus on polishing up the offensive side of his game. He responded by scoring 21 goals in the AHL last season, and his backhand move that beat goalie Harri Sateri was another step in that direction.
“It’s always good to be able to score and contribute,” Blueger said. “It’s not going to hurt you, that’s for sure.”
Blueger’s efforts have caught the attention of coach Mike Sullivan.
“I thought Teddy had a real solid game tonight,” Sullivan said. “We’re very familiar with his game. He’s got better every year since he’s been here. He’s a real solid two-way center iceman. He’s smart. He has good awareness defensively. He’s a pretty good faceoff guy. He’s a guy we’re really excited about.”
Sullivan also had a message for Blueger and the other 17 players caught up in Sunday’s cuts.
“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest to all of these guys that if the coaching staff makes decisions on an opening-night roster, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s etched in stone,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had plenty of guys over the last few years that have played their way onto the roster through their body of work. That’s a healthy internal competition that keeps all of our players at our best, and I think Teddy’s one of those guys that’s right in the mix.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.