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Penguins Cuts are Coming; Projecting the Final NHL Roster & Lines

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Pittsburgh Penguins lines

The training camp seemed to pass by in a blink. Just a moment ago, we were shocked that Sidney Crosby had wrist surgery on the eve of training camp, and now the Pittsburgh Penguins have completed camp and five of six preseason games. Sullivan promised an NHL-heavy lineup on Saturday in Columbus, and so Friday could be eventful for the Penguins.

Thursday night, the Penguins lost to Detroit, and the shortcomings of their top prospects were on display in the 4-2 loss. 

It’s about time for the prospects to collect their things, get the handshakes and pats on the back as they load the car full of their gear, clothes, and knowledge gained at the NHL level. Most, or all, of the Penguins prospects will head to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the care of head coach J.D. Forrest.

“Their raw talent has been on display. You can see why they were drafted where they were. I think you can also see some of the immaturity in their game and where they need to learn certain details to develop a more mature game,” Sullivan said.

And with that, Nathan Legare, Sam Poulin, P.O. Joseph, Filip Hallander, Kasper Bjorkqvist will almost certainly head to WBS.

Legare showed well at times, but all of the Penguins prospects displayed a lack of consistency, and none forced Sullivan to make a tough choice.

No, Sullivan’s tough choice will come down to Drew O’Connor. And only O’Connor.

There is one wrinkle to note: COVID protocol.

Both Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel are in the NHL COVID protocol. Aston-Reese has been away from the team for 11 days as of Friday. Sullivan reported Aston-Reese did experience a few symptoms, and that was the reason for his absence. Guentzel has only been in the protocol for five days and is asymptomatic.

Will either be available for the Penguins regular season launch on Tuesday? The NHL set the rules not to punish teams when vaccinated players test positive, so the Penguins will be able to replace both on the roster for the time necessary by placing them on IR retroactively.

The Penguins may also put Crosby on IR, but after the team released photos of Crosby taking shots at an individual practice, perhaps he won’t even miss the projected five games.

If you can predict the course of COVID through an individual, there are a few scientists who would like a word.

Projected Pittsburgh Penguins Roster

Centers: 

Sidney Crosby?

Jeff Carter

Evan Rodrigues

Teddy Blueger

RW

Bryan Rust

Kasperi Kapanen

Brock McGinn

Dominik Simon

LW

Jake Guentzel

Jason Zucker

Danton Heinen

Zach Aston-Reese

13th Forward

Brian Boyle

First Up:

Drew O’Connor

Anthony Angello

LTIR:

Evgeni Malkin

Explanations:

We put a question mark beside Crosby because it appears he’ll return sooner than later. If he misses Tuesday in Tampa, he’ll return not long after.

Boyle sticks on the “final” Pittsburgh Penguins roster for several reasons. Not just the additional physicality that he brings, or the experience factor, but Boyle is the best penalty killer among the group vying for the spot, and he’s the best center among O’Connor and Zohorna.

In the short absence of Sidney Crosby and the long-term absence of Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins need center depth. O’Connor is a better winger than a center. Zohorna hasn’t yet shown the explosive snap at center, at least at the NHL level. We’ll take Sullivan’s word that he was a reliable two-way center in the AHL last season, but he wasn’t productive at the NHL level in the preseason.

Boyle is also the best option for a 13th forward because he doesn’t need to play every day to continue refining his game.

In small part, Simon sticks because O’Connor doesn’t have to clear waivers, and Simon does. Also, Simon just makes other players better. There’s no worry or wonder what Simon brings. He’s earned a trust factor.

“…Dom was really good. Not only did he score a goal, but I thought he was stiff on the puck (Thursday). He makes plays and wins puck battles, and he makes plays out of traffic,” Sullivan said.

It’s a tough call between O’Connor and Simon on the whole, but Simon’s ability to play both wings and NHL experience. Simon’s ability to increase the offensive output of those around him.

“I thought Drew O’Connor had a strong game (Thursday). He’s really developed his two-way game. It’s come a long way,” Sullivan said Thursday night following the Penguins loss to Detroit. “He’s playing with confidence. We’ve utilized him on the power play tonight. He was part of the penalty kill–we had him killing with Brian Boyle. I thought he did a good job on the kill, as well.”

O’Connor’s PK usage does make us wonder if the Penguins will keep him ahead of Simon, but the team should have enough penalty killers with Aston-Reese, Brock McGinn, Boyle, and Teddy Blueger.  Even Kasperi Kapanen got some PK work in the preseason.

If Aston-Reese isn’t ready, O’Connor figures to get the shot. He’s earned it. The unknown is if Zohorna gets a spot if Guentzel isn’t ready. Perhaps Zohorna’s offensive potential is better for a top-nine role, but Zohorna is waivers exempt. Lafferty and Angello must pass through waivers if sent down.

Defensemen:

Dumoulin-Letang

Matheson-Marino

Pettersson-Ruhwedel

7th D: Mark Friedman.

P.O. Joseph didn’t do enough to win a job in the preseason. The smiling defenseman who brings an air of youthful enthusiasm, and a bit of fashion sense, to the Pittsburgh Penguins will be ready sooner than later. Consistency will be critical. So will a bit of hate. Joseph will need to hate playing in the minors and be ready to grab his next opportunity with both hands and not let go.

Juuso Riikola has played the last couple of games at the right, but that seems more like seasoning than it does an audition. Riikola has been a frequent preseason player in his four-year NHL career.

Will the Penguins keep Riikola as an eighth defenseman, and thus 23 players, or risk losing him to waivers and send him to WBS so that he can play every day?

Chad Ruhwedel has the inside track on the third-pair right side. He had a poor game on Thursday night, but Mark Friedman hasn’t leaped past him on the depth chart, either.

We’ll see if Friedman’s leg is good enough to go Saturday and if Sullivan gives him a chance to win the job with the NHL regulars. Perhaps this battle goes into the season with both players getting opportunities until one wins, or GM Ron Hextall acquires help.

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Eric
Eric
14 days ago

Just wondering when do the penguins move on from Poulin, Legare, and Joseph? Espically Joseph. He was drafted 4 years ago and has only played a handful of games.

Rob
Rob
14 days ago
Reply to  Eric

Joseph hasn’t been stewing in the minors for long. The others haven’t played any minor league hockey. Some take a while to develop. Dumoulin, for example, played in the minors for parts of 3 seasons and Blueger it was 4. Every player has a different path and their minor league careers are just beginning.

Eric
Eric
13 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Thanks for that astute assessment. Joseph drafted number 1 4 years ago. Only played in handful of games, looked great in several and poor in others. How many more years is it necessary to even be a part-time player in the NHL? You are definitely right about minor-league careers just beginning. I have a feeling some if not most of them will continue in the minor leagues for quite some time.

Rob
Rob
13 days ago
Reply to  Eric

Correct. There will be injury call ups and cups of coffee in the NHL. Maybe then they will earn a spot in Pittsburgh. It will take some time, but it all depends on the direction the team goes and how quickly they develop.

Eric
Eric
13 days ago
Reply to  Rob

You are absolutely correct. There will be several callouts due to injury throughout the season. My point is are these legitimate NHL caliber players? Again Po Joseph was chosen number one for years ago. How much more time do we give him to develop?

Rob
Rob
13 days ago
Reply to  Eric

No real answer to that. It will be however long it takes for them to develop or a roster spot to open up and them to seize the opportunity. Joseph is blocked on the depth chart currently by Dumoulin, Matheson, Petterson, and Riikola. That is a hill to climb.

Rob
Rob
13 days ago
Reply to  Eric

PO Joseph is close though. Could very well be this season depending on the health of the players ahead of him. also if Hextall decides to trade and open up a roster spot for him if he is doing well in WB/S. He still has time to make an impact and Hextall is a very patient GM.

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Eric

Weill for reference Brian Dumoulin played 3 years of college and 3 years with Wilkes Barre before becoming a regular on our defense. So with that comparison, POJ still has two year yet before we move on from him. Your OK with the Dumoulin comparison I hope.

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Eric

Wow, move on from two 20 years olds who have yet to play in a professional league. Jesus is the expectation that if you aren’t ready by 20 you need to go? With that logic we would not have Rust, Guentzel, Blueger, Aston-Reese….. Come on Eric you are not being serious are you?

Jason
14 days ago

Your wrong Dan depth chart is wrong! Boyle will be a head of Rodriguez O’Connor will stay on the team and don’t forget Big Z

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Jason

No he is not. Zahorna being sent down after today’s game. Needs to get in shape and learn to play 200 ft game. I do think that the final roster decision will be between O’Connor and Angello. Should be interesting.

Jason
12 days ago
Reply to  Kris

They should keeep Angelo he is muscle they don’t have. They would have room for Z but sully luvs his retreads Simon and Rodriguez which I will never understand! Give the new blood a chance to shine you already know what you have in the retreads

Katz
Katz
14 days ago

All relatively moot. The takeaways are( 1) Penguins young talent pool is maybe the weakest in the league.Do they really , after 3 First Round exits have only one maybe two young players with a shot? 2) P.O. Joseph isn’t ready yet? I think he is a. NHL player and Hextall’s inertia kept Pettersson on the roster . Mistake 3)) Sullivan’s ‘Just Play’ philosophy won the day , at least the season. Will it be his epitaph or his legacy brand ? In 9 months will this team be a stew of maelstrom discontent or a Renaissance of past magic?… Read more »

Rob
Rob
14 days ago
Reply to  Katz

Why aren’t you an NHL GM? You know all the right moves 1) you know why they don’t have many young players that are NHL ready. The two former GMs traded most of their draft picks and that resulted in 3 Stanley Cups in the last 12 seasons. 2) by most counts Joseph didn’t kick down the door in training camp or any of the preseason games. Players have to earn the right to play in the NHL. He hasn’t been in pro hockey very long. He will be around relatively shortly, that is pretty impressive. What should Hextall have… Read more »

Last edited 14 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Katz
Katz
14 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Sorry if you are
Upset I was right about the first Round exits. Sorry if I was right about Simon being on the roster. I am too. You were wrong about both. I take the Red Pill and see reality. Again I hope I’m wrong but fear I’m right.

Last edited 14 days ago by Katz
Rob
Rob
14 days ago
Reply to  Katz

Not upset. You have good insight and strong opinions. So do I, however i am way more optimistic. Lol

As for the first round exits, i don’t care. I will take watching an aging team lose in the playoffs vs a rebuilding team losing everything every day of the week.

Last edited 14 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Katz

No you take the black and gold yinzer pill and seem to know everything except the reality of who should be in the line-up and who shouldn’t. The era is over. This is a transitional year. We are rebuilding the farm first. Need to have that in place before you can start calling up someone. And I’ll take Sidney Crosby’s opinion on Dom Simon everyday over your professional opinion. Thanks for playing. Keep the I’m a fan but always negative thoughts coming. It makes for great discussion.

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Katz

Compared to who? Folks on here make it sound like other teams have 6-10 people ready and waiting to step up and take top six and top 4 Defense roles. Seriously come on, we are not the deepest but it’s not that bad and it is getting better. Why do people continue to want to move Poulin and Legare into the line now at just 20 with no professional experience otherwise they are “busts”. Call me out in another 2 years if neither is on the roster. Pretty certain Rusty and Guentzel didn’t get here till they finished college and… Read more »

Jason Kirklin
Jason Kirklin
14 days ago

@dankingerski you mentioned Simon needs to pass through waivers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s on a two way deal and shouldn’t need to clear waivers as you mentioned above. So if there’s more of an upside to play O’Connor and he’s not just a preseason hero I could see it make sense to send Simon down to the AHL if there’s not enough room for both to be on the roster.

Last edited 14 days ago by Jason Kirklin
Rob
Rob
14 days ago
Reply to  Jason Kirklin

Some 2 way contracts still require a player to go through waivers. Maybe it has something to do with age or NHL games played. I don’t know the exact rule. I think they both make the team with ZAR and Guentzel questionable and Crosby isn’t ready yet. The final roster won’t be set until their statuses are clear

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
13 days ago
Reply to  Jason Kirklin

Don’t bet on Simon being sent down. He “makes other people better.”

Rob
Rob
13 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

I don’t get it, I mean, he isn’t terrible, but I guess not being terrible is enough to make this team. He did seem to have a good pre season and earned his spot

Katz
Katz
13 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Other than an injury , Simon was going to be on the roster. He had a good camp but even if he didn’t he still was penciled in.
Something about pictures I guess

Last edited 13 days ago by Katz
Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Rob

What’s not to get? He’s a really good possession player who the team and teammates seem to enjoy playing with because he makes them better. He’s not blazing fast like Hagelin, but really how many goals did Hagelin score and yet he’s a legend who should have never been let go according to the yinzer GM base.

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Jason Kirklin

The two way contract only relates to how he would be paid. Less money if he goes to W/B. Once you reach a certain age and certain number of games played, you automatically move into the have to clear waivers category.

Terrence
Terrence
13 days ago

Your love affair with Simon never ends he brings nothing to this team

Kris
Kris
13 days ago
Reply to  Terrence

OK. Let’s have 4 lines with all 25 or more goal scorers. That would be great. The line that he brings nothing to the team shows your ignorance for hockey knowledge. Keep cheering and complaining as it’s the Yinzer way.

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