CRANBERRY — It is very much a temporary assignment, one the Pittsburgh Penguins are offering only until Jake Guentzel recovers from ankle surgery and reclaims his place at left wing on the No. 1 line.
But the Penguins have not adjusted the initial projection of how long Guentzel will be out, which means he still is likely to sit out at least the first five regular-season games.
Until Guentzel returns, his spot alongside Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust will have to be filled by someone else, and it looks as if Vinnie Hinostroza has first dibs on the job.
He was Guentzel’s place-holder during the first three days of training camp, and received a solid endorsement from coach Mike Sullivan after Saturday’s practice.
“I think he has real good offensive instincts,” Sullivan said. “I’ve watched his game for a long time, since he was at Notre Dame, and I’ve always admired his playmaking ability, his creativity, offensively. I think he’s a guy who really hunts pucks. In the offensive zone, he tracks defensemen down. He’s a next-effort player.
“I think Sid is a guy who likes playing with those types of players, who can stay on pucks and force turnovers. Just play on top of defensemen, and play on top of teams, where they can control the game and control territory. I think (Rust) excels in that regard. I think Sid excels. Jake excels, also. It’s one of the reasons those guys play together a lot.
“Vinnie, when you talk about his game and look at his game, he kind of checks some of those boxes. We’re trying to put players in positions where they have an opportunity to play to their strengths.”
Although Hinostroza has good speed and plays a solid two-way, he acknowledged that he’s inclined to defer to his short-term linemates.
“I’m just trying to make space for these guys,” Hinostroza said. “Obviously, you come into a camp and play with these two guys who have been there and had so much success, it’s a little intimidating at first.”
There are more than a few differences between Guentzel and Hinostroza, including how Hinostroza has scored as many as 16 goals just once in eight NHL seasons, while Guentzel has gotten 40 twice in the past five seasons.
But the most visible difference might be that Guentzel is a left-handed shot, while Hinostroza is a righty. More often than not, left shots play the left side and right shots the right, although Sullivan suggested that he would prefer to see that alignment flipped.
“I think that in today’s games, all the wings should play their off-sides,” he said. “The way defensemen pinch the (boards), when you think about it, on a rim, on a breakout, you come down to that puck on your forehand if you’re playing the off-side, as opposed to the backhand. It makes that next play a lot easier, in my mind.
“We’re trying to convince our guys to go to their off-sides, but not everybody likes that. We also try to put our players in their comfort zones, so we can set them up for success.”
Even if it’s only on a temporary basis.