The Pittsburgh Penguins paused training camp on Saturday after possible COVID exposure. Head coach Mike Sullivan addressed the pause, players performing well, and cautioned media against speculation when players are absent.
According to Sullivan, the NHL will delineate between injured players and players absent due to COVID, though the Penguins will not be the entity to make that public. According to Sullivan, any COVID related news will come from the league.
“We will not be disclosing injuries or announcing any COVID related information during training camp. The NHL protocols for the regular season include announcements regarding players testing positive and differentiate between injured players and those in the COVID protocol,” Sullivan said. “..for the next few days, I would really appreciate it, and discourage (media) speculating or assuming that if a player is not on the ice during camp, that they have tested positive because that may not be the case.”
In other words, perhaps a player or two may not participate in the game simulation on Sunday night or the final practice on Tuesday. Sullivan warned against jumping to conclusions.
Caution heeded, Coach. Caution heeded.
As part of the Penguins Saturday shutdown, Sullivan said the team has an app that is a virtual learning process regarding the Penguins system and scheme. Sullivan used the term “team concept.”
Perhaps the most pressing question of the Penguins camp is the composition of the taxi squad. The team currently has 24 NHL contracts, but the maximum number of players that can be carried on the NHL roster is 23. Further, the team could recoup additional salary cap space by carrying only 22 players, which the Pittsburgh Penguins and many teams did last season.
Sullivan also noted Kasperi Kapanen arrived from Finland on Saturday, received his first COVID test on Sunday, and has entered the quarantine process.
The team has Kapanen penciled in as the top-line RW beside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guenzel. Kapanen will miss the start of the regular season as he must spend at least a week in quarantine.
Last season, Kapanen scored 13 goals and 23 assists with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was acquired from Toronto for the Penguins’ 2020 first-round pick (15th overall) and a gaggle of prospect swaps.
Penguins Taxi Squad
Will the Penguins keep veterans or youth? Stick tap to Hall of Fame writer Dave Molinari for the question.
“…the answer is we haven’t made final decisions on who’s going to be on that taxi squad and who is going to be sent to Wilkes-Barre,” Sullivan said. “The question that we’re trying to answer: In the event that we need to put players in the lineup…which guys are going to give us the best chance to win?”
That sounds like a call for veterans, and if the Penguins staff thinks a prospect could soon surpass the veteran. Sullivan’s answer did not sound like the taxi-squad will be a developmental aspect for the Penguins. And, for good reason, since the squad will not get any game action unless needed.
“I don’t think it’s a situation if we start with a certain amount of players on the taxi squad, there could be some movement with players who start on the taxi squad could go to Wilkes-Barre to play some games or things of that nature.”
We have had discussions about the pandemic (as a group). It’s very real. We’re all trying to deal with it like the rest of the world. We’re all human beings,” Sullivan said. “One of the messages we try to send to our players is that we have a great opportunity to get back to doing something we love, and we should try to immerse ourselves in this common goal to win a Stanley Cup.”
Then in classic Sullivan fashion, he said, “We’re going to do our best to control what we can…” He praised the team, the NHL, and consulting doctors for their work.
Pittsburgh Penguins Camp Standouts
Sullivan also responded to a question from PHN about players who have impressed him thus far in camp.
In years past, there’s always been a player or two who caught everyone’s eye with a breakout training camp. Ryan Haggerty did so last September, even though his career arc is career minor leaguer. A few seasons ago, Jordy Bellerive was a standout and earned an entry-level contract.
The pandemic closed professional and junior leagues, so too many players have been without competitive play. And the compressed camp took away an extended look many would otherwise receive.
PHN+ will examine each prospect and some of the unknown newbies later tonight and tomorrow. Sullivan’s own words will be included, such as his particular praise for Drew O’Connor and P-O Joseph. Get a full year at the special training camp price of $19.99. CLICK HERE to join!