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Penguins Depth Pool Shallow; Opportunity with Few Takers



Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line center Teddy Blueger

The new jobs created will not be CEO level or likely top-six jobs. Because of free agency, retirement and the need to improve, the Pittsburgh Penguins will soon have multiple entry-level opportunities for young go-getters willing to start at the bottom. Where they find those hungry job seekers is, however, another matter as the Penguins don’t have many qualified candidates.

Fourth line center Matt Cullen who is 42-years-old, has hinted at retirement. Bottom line right wing Garrett Wilson is an unrestricted free agent. And Zach Aston-Reese is likely to get a promotion which would delete the Penguins most recent fourth line as deployed in Game 4 of the Round One loss to the New York Islanders.

If the Penguins deal Phil Kessel, they could be taking additional resumes for forwards, too.

Forward Teddy Blueger is the in-house candidate who proved worthy of a real shot. He looked much better at center than he did at wing. Fourth line center is an appropriate starting point for the speedy scrapper who had 10 points (6g, 4a) during the 28 games of his first NHL season. His skating played well with other Penguins speedsters Jared McCann and Bryan Rust.

Blueger assisted on two of McCann’s 11 goals in a Penguins sweater including a shorthanded goal on March 10. McCann also helped on one of Blueger’s six goals.

After Blueger, however, the Penguins might hold a job fair to fill their spots. Winger Adam Johnson has ample speed. At 6-foot and 174 pounds, he won’t overpower opponents in the battle areas and the knock on him has been consistent effort.

In six NHL games, Johnson earned on average less than five minutes per game. He did pocket a pair of assists and figures to have a fighting chance to win more playing time next season. At 25-years-old (when next season begins) it could be a make or break moment for Johnson.

Kasper Bjorkqvist, 21, just signed an entry-level contract and will skip his senior season at Providence College. His college coach Nate Leaman was bullish on Bjorkqvist’s future. 

It does seem like a massive leap of faith to hope Bjorkqvist could play in the NHL next October. Perhaps later in the season but the Penguins are not a rebuilding team which can allow a player to learn on the job. Especially given the potentially steep challenge to make the playoffs next season, the Penguins should be just a little nervous about earning a postseason berth.

Some organizational names could appear on the Penguins radar next season, such as recent four-year college player Anthony Angelo and 25-year-old Ryan Haggerty who had an eye-popping Penguins training camp last September and 23 goals in the AHL this season. But neither is beating down the door to the NHL.

The Penguins will have their first first-round choice in the Jim Rutherford era next month in Vancouver. The last time the team picked 21st overall, they snagged forward Colby Armstrong who served as a valuable lineup piece who could occasionally slot on the top line. Though unlikely, the Penguins could find an NHL ready down-line player this season, too.

Blame for head coach Mike Sullivan–regarding the lack of young talent–will come from some corners, too. Just as the label, “won’t develop young players,” was applied to Joel Quenneville in Chicago and Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles after each of those teams won Stanley Cups (with young players). Sometimes it’s not a coach who is opposed to young talent; sometimes the young don’t have enough talent.

It took 81 games for the Penguins to make the playoffs this season. Will there be enough margin for error to let rookies without pedigree, borderline players without experience or others take their shot?

No, probably not. At least not until those players force the Penguins to open the door.

And so add one more thing to Rutherford’s shopping list on July 1. Bottom line help.