There’s no need for a hasty decision. The Pittsburgh Penguins do not play again until Thursday night, and Tuesday is one of two days off this week. COVID has wrecked the Penguins blue line as three defensemen were absent from Monday’s practice, but that only means the door is open for rookie P.O. Joseph.
The Penguins recalled Joseph on Sunday evening after Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson entered the NHL COVID protocol. Head coach Mike Sullivan said both defensemen were confirmed positives and must complete the protocol.
Monday at practice, Joseph was slotted on the Penguins second pair with John Marino, whom he primarily paired with during his NHL run last season. He electrified the Penguins and the fanbase with an impressive couple of weeks.
“I didn’t even feel like I was doing much. I think my body just took over my game, and I think I lost it a little bit as the game went on,” Joseph said. “But that’s what I like. That’s what I wanted to bring back into my game this year and just the enthusiasm of enjoying the game and enjoying the big stage of the NHL.”
Joseph earned his first NHL goal and added a few assists in his 16-game run. He was also the Penguins top pair defenseman when both Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin were injured.
Joseph’s game waned as his adrenaline subsided. He was also paired with Kris Letang against the opposition’s top players, which didn’t make the task easier.
Joseph didn’t have a great training camp. He was subdued–almost vanilla–in his training camp and preseason performances. The opportunity was there, but Joseph did not have his A-game.
“I think it was a great decision–I mean, I guess I didn’t come to the camp–I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” Joseph admitted. “But I mean, Wilkes is a great place, and we really have the facilities and the staff there.”
The WBS Penguins bolted out of the gate this season. They’ve won five games, and Joseph has three points in six games (0-3-3).
Changing the Past for Pittsburgh Penguins Future
Joseph, 22, was a polarizing prospect when the Arizona Coyotes selected him in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. Arizona was willing to part with him for Phil Kessel when they were the only team Kessel would accept. But the Penguins have embraced the speedy defenseman.
Sullivan has remained effusive of Joseph.
“…He has good offensive instincts. He can help us on a breakout. He makes good output passes. He joins a rush. He’s active on the offensive blue line. So we like his overall two-way game,” Sullivan said. “As far as what he has to do. He just needs to bring a little bit more consistency to his game. But we’re really excited about how far P.O’s game has come. He’s just a great kid. He’s a hard-working guy. He loves hockey, and he’s getting better…”
Trust me on this one. This is not one of Sullivan’s canned answers. This is Sullivan telling you and me what we should already know. P.O. Joseph is a good kid who brings a fun element into the team.
He’s also had some–shall we say–different coaching at the wrong times in his development. The Penguins first had to do some reprogramming. PHN has discussed this with some of P.O’s coaches in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. And the Penguins track record helping defensemen reclaim their careers speaks for itself.
In this case, it’s about launching the talented Joseph’s career.
Fate has given him another opportunity in the NHL, but there’s no rule that he comes out of the lineup when Pettersson and Ruhwedel return.
During training camp (with a bit of prodding from us), Sullivan said he would be willing to reconfigure the blue line to make room for Joseph.
And…On Monday, Brian Dumoulin played on the right side. He’s been good on the right side in the past. Joseph was on the second pairing with John Marino. Wednesday will be an exciting day at Penguins practice. Kris Letang could be back in the lineup.
How will the coaches configure the blue line with Letang back?
To get into the lineup, Joseph doesn’t have to outplay Dumoulin, Pettersson, or Mike Matheson. He has to be more valuable than Chad Ruhwedel. If Joseph can make the Penguins blue line better, everything could change.
Fate has gifted Joseph a chance. Now it’s up to him.