If Evgeni Malkin returns, who do the Penguins scratch?
With forward Evgeni Malkin’s return looking likely for Saturday’s meeting at home with the Edmonton Oilers, that means one of the players who helped the Penguins rout the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-1, on Tuesday will have to sit.
Based on Friday’s practice, forward Dominik Kahun, who has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past two games, is a leading contender for that designation.
Kahun worked on the left wing of the third line, rotating with Jared McCann, who is virtually guaranteed to be in the lineup given his versatility.
“I never was a healthy scratch in my life,” said Kahun, who played in all 82 regular-season games last season as a rookie with the Chicago Blackhawks. “I hope it’s not going to happen. But if it happens, it’s nothing that I can do. I just have to work hard again.”
Another possibility could be forward Zach Aston-Reese, currently the left wing on the fourth line. He scored a goal against the Flyers but realizes he could become a spectator Saturday. On Friday, he was one of the final players to leave the ice.
“The coaches talked about it. There’s going to be tough decision to make,” Aston-Reese said. “That’s up to them. I can’t really spend too much thinking about it because it’s out of my control. They’re going to go with the lineup that they think has the best chance to win. And I just want to win.”
Malkin’s return could have a chain effect on the centers below him as Nick Bjugstad moved from the second line to the third line in practice, and McCann slid from center to left wing. Teddy Blueger remains at fourth-line center and would appear unlikely to be scratched.
But considering it took Blueger nearly seven years between being a second-round draft pick in June 2012 and making his NHL debut this past February, Blueger doesn’t take his place in the lineup for granted, even if he did start the season on an NHL roster for the first time in his professional career.
“You look at the guys that have gotten called up and how they’ve played,” Blueger said. “You’re getting kind of pushed from all angles. This league is so competitive that there’s plenty of guys on (NHL) contracts down in the minors. I don’t think you can really afford to take a day off because someone is always pushing for your spot, and you’re always pushing for spots ahead of you. It’s kind of a constant battle amongst each other. But that helps you get better and pushes you to keep working and strive to be better.”
Regardless, coach Mike Sullivan and staff will have a scratch a player who doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
“When we have a healthy lineup, we’ve got a pretty competitive lineup,” Sullivan said. “The coaching staff is going to have some real difficult decisions. We had some for (Tuesday’s) game. That’s a good challenge to have as a coaching staff.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .