Zach Trotman will not be available to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 24-team NHL return, which begins on Aug. 1 in the Toronto bubble city. The Penguins chose not to make Trotman available because of preexisting conditions.
Trotman and his wife, sportscaster Jenna Trotman are expecting a child. Trotman also has asthma, and without divulging specifics, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said the Penguins felt it best to exclude Trotman.
“It’s something that he’s working through that could flare up when we get into the bubble,” Rutherford said. “We didn’t want to take that chance.”
Trotman is part of the Penguins second-tier defensemen, who spend part of the season in the AHL but also significant portions in the NHL. Trotman was unofficially the eighth defenseman on the Penguins depth chart and served as an extra defenseman with Juuso Riikola this season. After missing part of the season due to core muscle surgery, Trotman played eight NHL games and 27 in the AHL.
Trotman’s exclusion means the Penguins have an open spot on their 31-player roster. Enter 20-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Joseph may not have been included on the expanded roster, but seems likely now. And that can only help the Penguins future.
This season was Joseph’s first professional season, and he spent the entire season with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In the second half of the season, WBS Penguins head coach and GM Mike Vellucci amply used the rookie. Vellucci told PHN that Joseph played over 27 minutes per game.
“He’s outstanding. He had a setback early in the season … but he played 27 minutes per game. All (were) tough situations,” Vellucci said. “He got better and better every day. I’m impressed.”
The Penguins talented young defenseman was the Arizona Coyotes first-round pick in 2017 (23rd overall). The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him when they traded Phil Kessel to Arizona last summer.
Joseph didn’t tear up the scoring sheets in WBS, but his coaches lauded his steady improvement. Joseph scored 17 points (3g, 14a) in 52 games. He also had to recover from mono, which he contracted at the start of the season.
“Such a great kid. (He) really wants to get better,” Vellucci beamed.
PHN echoes Vellucci’s sentiment. Joseph was immediately humble and wide-eyed in training camp without being too intimidated. The defenseman is lightning quick with good puck skills and vision, too.
Joseph’s learning curve was in the defensive zone. Not only is there a huge jump from the QMJHL to the AHL, but that was an area Joseph had to improve anyway. Based on his coach’s reaction, it seems he did.
The Penguins top-two spare defensemen are Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel, but without Trotman, Joseph may become the ninth defender. The Penguins didn’t release the names of the players who skated out as part of Phase 2 voluntary workouts. However, Joseph is believed to have been invited.
The other candidate to be the ninth defenseman is Kevin Czuczman, who was a Penguins call up this season but did not play in an NHL game. It’s not known if Czuczman was invited to workouts, however.
Teams may juggle how many players at each position fill the 31-player roster. The Penguins could choose to bring 10 defensemen (four extra), 17 forwards (five extra) and four goalies, or nine defensemen and 18 forwards.
Spending weeks with the NHL team, practicing with the best, and learning how the NHL players prepare would be another big step forward for Joseph. Vellucci felt Joseph could play in the NHL, albeit in limited minutes or duty, next season. Perhaps a couple of months with the big team will accelerate the process.
Accelerating Joseph’s growth is a nice silver lining if the Pittsburgh Penguins indeed choose that.