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Penguins Depth Pool Shallow; Opportunity with Few Takers

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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.

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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.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dean

    May 20, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Dan,

    I feel like we have plenty of bottom 6 guys and many can even move up the line-up temporarily when needed. None of them have proved that they are true top 6 talent. ZAR, Rust, Simon, Bjugstad, and Blueger. I am not sure that Hornqvist is still top 6 talent and McCann has shown a flash of play that says he could be a top 6 player.

    I would be looking to move Kessel and replace him and Wilson with 2 more proven emerging top 6 right wings.

    Guentzel – Crosby – TBD
    McCann – Malkin – TBD
    Simon – Bjugstad – Hornqvist
    ZAR – Blueger – Rust

    13th (TBD after training camp)

  2. Dean

    May 20, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Dan, would also love to see an article on the short term forward pipeline, 2019-2020 possibilities and why and 2020-2021 possibilities and why.

    On the forward side we only need 1 player each year or 2 over 2 years that could break the line-up in a middle role and maybe 1 or 2 – 4th line guys that could come up when someone is injured.

    Can anyone make the team out of camp this year/next year? If not, mid-year this year/next year? Who will be called up incase of injury….

    2019 possibilities
    Start of year????

    Mid-year possibilities
    Bjorkqvist
    Bellerive
    Miletic…

    2020 possibilities

Make your voice heard

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