Cranberry, Twp — The first day of school is over. The new kids ate lunch at their own table, and everyone showed off their new threads. Pittsburgh Penguins training camp Day 2 looked more business-like and focused. Not even Mike Sullivan’s voice boomed off the concrete block walls of the UPMC Lemieux Complex in quite the same way.
Straight to the analysis today:
Nathan Legare remains fun to watch in practice as he quickly transitioned to offense (maybe a bit too quickly sometimes) in the two-on-two drill. Moments before, he deftly kicked a puck to his stick and snapped a wrister that rattled the glass, all in one motion.
In all likelihood, the Penguins are ticketing Legare for the WBS Penguins. However, he remains fearless and an attention grabber in practice. After creating a forecheck turnover and circling back to the net, he assisted on a pretty marker in the scrimmage.
The puck finds him. And he’s not shy with it.
Pittsburgh Penguins–Radim Zohorna:
In the Day 2 scrimmage, Radim Zohorna was again between Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen. Like Legare, Zohorna can stand out. Not just because of his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, but because he can get on his toes and generate speed.
Head coach Mike Sullivan clearly wants a good look at Zohorna with NHL talent, as the big Czech forward is one of the candidates to play center in the absence of Evgeni Malkin or fill fourth line duty.
“…he’s been doing a good job. I don’t know if he played at center before, but he’s doing a good job out there,” camp linemate Kasperi Kapanen said. “He can move. He’s a big guy, but he also loves passing the puck. He makes great plays. And, once he gets a chance to shoot, he puts it in the net.”
Zohorna is someone who had to show well and is indeed seizing the opportunity. The big man rushed past Valtteri Puustinen on the perimeter and got an edge on P.O. Joseph towards the corner during the scrimmage. His reach can be daunting when he’s on the forecheck.
It would be a lot to ask for the second-year North American pro to center a line with Kapanen and Zucker during the regular season, but without Evgeni Malkin for at least two months, we could see a few surprises on the Penguins line chart.
“Big Z has been great. I thought he’s been moving well, making some good plays. And, you know, it’s been fun to work with him and chat with them. He’s a guy that kind of wants to absorb some information and try to learn from Kappy and me. So it’s been really good,” Zucker said. “As far as adjusting, there’s always things you got to, you know, change as far as centermen and the style of play. He’s a pretty straightforward skater and player. He’s not too fancy, (not an) east-west type guy. So it’s been a little bit easier to adjust to that.”
Zohorna is a big man with soft hands who plays straight forward. If he can show the coaches he knows how to play between the dots, he has a future. Count this scribe as one who thought he was a fringe player, but he’s taken at least one step forward if not two.
The preseason games against opponents also fighting for jobs and roles will tell us more. Still, it’s a good start.
The Pittsburgh Penguins terminal depth defenseman and press box sitter has skill. He skates like the wind. He’s gritty with an offensive flare. However, it’s tough to learn the North American game from up top, even with three years of practice.
Riikola has played very well in the scrimmages.
If he clears waivers–something former GM Jim Rutherford never thought was possible–he will finally get some playing time on the smaller rink. He hasn’t played much since his 37 game stint as a rookie.
The deck is far too stacked against him to make this squad. Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman have the extra positions locked down. And unless the Penguins again keep eight defensemen (usually Riikola), he’ll get to play in Wilkes/Barre-Scranton every day.
Friday, he played with John Marino, and the two took turns snapping the puck forward on hard breakouts. Tape to tape, every time.
Of course, if a few scouts watch him in the scrimmages and preseason, perhaps he won’t clear waivers and go straight to an NHL roster. A colleague, whom I shall not name for fear of being linked to smarter people, had the same thoughts.
In fact, if Riikola may well play himself out of WBS and onto another NHL roster. The Penguins can’t hide him forever…can they?