As usual, there are a couple of spins to a headline or a bit of news. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall and head coach Mike Sullivan spoke over the Zambonis and echoing pucks on Day 1 of training camp to deliver the bad news on Evgeni Malkin but also the opportunity for others.
Malkin will be out for at least two months, and the Penguins are still working with doctors. Perhaps we should emphasize the “at least” part of the sentence.
And Hextall acknowledged the Penguins’ increasingly difficult challenge.
“Yeah, you know what, we’re up against it. We all know it, and we’re going to have some guys that have an opportunity to show us some things that they probably wouldn’t otherwise,” Hextall said. “And we need some guys to step up. Just seeing the chemistry of our group last year, there’s a good feel this year. And I think we all know what we’re up against it. I think our guys are ready for the challenge.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins are certainly up against it.
Brian Boyle, 36, who didn’t play last season because no one offered him a contract is on a PTO. He looked solid on Day 1, but he is the Penguins’ oldest center by only a couple of weeks. He’ll turn 37 on Dec. 18. Fellow pivot Jeff Carter will turn 37 on Jan. 1.
Two centers who will be 37 before the Winter Classic, combined with Sidney Crosby (34), means the Penguins will have a trio of centers much closer to the end than the beginning. At least Boyle showed well on Thursday morning. Both Hextall and Sullivan commented on the big man.
Mike Sullivan: “I’ve coached Brian in the past. I know him real well. He’s a real good player. He’s going to bring a lot of leadership to our team. He’s a good pro. He always trying so hard, he keeps himself in such great shape. You know, our guys watched him at the world championships last year and were really impressed with his game. And he’s a guy that brings a certain skill set in areas where we can improve and get better. And he’s a very good penalty killer. He’s a face off guy. He brings a lot of size to our team. He’s hard to play against. He’s a smart player.”
Ron Hextall: “We’re kind of looking for his sharpness, his legs,” Hextall said. “I liked them out there this morning, and he’s a big body, he’s a penalty killer, a face-off guy. He’s a checker, and I like what he did this morning, so those are the types of things–He didn’t have to come in and light it up.”
The Guys Who Will Get a Shot
Radim Zohorna was front and center on Day 1. Head coach Mike Sullivan mentioned him, as did Hextall. Zohorna centered what would be the Pittsburgh Penguins second line with Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen.
It was part of Mike Sullivan’s strategy to put the newbies and those fighting for jobs in a spot with NHL players. The balance is tough to strike, but a few players got the spotlight.
“We’re trying to surround some of the young players with some of our veteran guys to give them an opportunity to be successful,” Sullivan said. “We’re also trying to give our veteran guys an opportunity to play with somebody that gives them an opportunity. So we’re trying to strike that balance of finding competitive teams–We want to create a competitive environment.”
Zohorna getting Kapanen and Zucker speaks to his opportunity more than the wingers getting a chance to play with Zohorna.
Also, Brian Boyle played with an interesting line. He had Bryan Rust on his right but first-year pro and 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin on the left. We can safely say Rust will make the team, and after Day 1, Boyle seemed to be a lock.
But Sam Poulin getting a shot says something, too.
Sullivan in the past used rookies and prospects beside Sidney Crosby during the opening days of training camp, so don’t start the Poulin watch just yet. However, that line is entirely notable.
For the record, Poulin was solid but not spectacular on Day 1. He was far better in the training camp scrimmage than he was in the rookie tournament. He also dished a couple of hard checks.
“…the line combinations that are out there right now, I would anticipate those changing throughout training camp as we get closer to a semblance of our roster. But we’re trying to put people in positions to be successful. We’re trying to surround some of the younger players with our veteran guys who can show them the way,” Sullivan concluded.
There aren’t too many better players than Rust and Boyle from whom Poulin can learn. Those are two first-class people and experienced players.
It’s become a point of pride for teams to reach 100% vaccination rates. With only a few exceptions (Josh Archibald, Tyler Bertuzzi), many teams report 100% vaccination rates.
There were a few holdouts, such as new Edmonton Oilers defenseman Duncan Keith, but he took the jabs and will be ready at the end of training camp. The Penguins have one player who is not yet vaccinated, but Hextall said the player was rectifying the matter, and it would be complete within a couple of weeks.
Editor’s note: we mistakenly identified the Oilers defenseman as Brent Seabrook, but corrected it to Duncan Keith.
So, the Pittsburgh Penguins will reach 100%, too.
Both Hextall and Mike Sullivan talked about Jeff Carter and what he means to the Penguins. PHN also asked Jeff Carter what clicked with the Penguins that maybe didn’t click with LA in his last year or more.
It’s clear Carter made a positive impact on the organization in his short time. Not only will he be the top-line center on opening night–that’s by default–but the praise coming from Sullivan and Hextall was genuine. We’ll have a full story on Carter, but he’s a preview:
“Carts played extremely well for us. His offensive production speaks for itself,” Sullivan said. He’s a terrific person. He’s a great leader. You know he can play the style of play that we’re trying to play here in Pittsburgh. I thought he fit in unbelievable last year. It was so seamless…,” Sullivan said.