Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan declined to end the suspense on Thursday afternoon when he held to his longstanding preference to avoid announcing any lineup changes before game time. As many fans hope they will see the Penguins’ top defenseman prospect, P-O Joseph, we won’t officially know until warmups on Friday.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trail of clues complete with Scooby snacks that Joseph will indeed play.
Friday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins officially recalled Joseph on an emergency basis from the taxi squad, despite no need to do so unless he would be in the lineup. The emergency recall was made possible by injuries to Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola.
The Penguins did NOT recall Kevin Czuczman, which gives the Penguins six defensemen on the NHL roster.
Those are pretty big clues, but it’s not 100% yet. Sullivan admitted on Thursday afternoon that the decision for the defense pairings was made, though the actual decisions were obscured by Ruhwedel’s absence due to the birth of his first child.
And Brian Dumoulin may have let the cat out of the bad, too.
“He’s very smooth. Plays well both ways, offensive and defensive. Moves the puck really well,” Dumoulin said. “He’s a good skater. He’s got a great reach. He’s a guy that fits our mold. I think he’s going to do well.”
Oh, he will do well, eh? Yeah, mark it down.
For his part, Joseph didn’t know or didn’t give anything away despite several leading questions, including one from PHN.
“In my head, I’m really young. I’m just trying to feed off the guys here with a lot of experience, the coaching staff, other players (who are) younger,” Joseph said. “I’m just trying to stay ready for when the time is going to be. Just be here, work on as much as possible, practice, and be game shape ready.”
It has been more than 10 months since Joseph has seen real game action. He was part of the expanded rosters for the NHL postseason but did not play. Of course, there wasn’t an NHL preseason for Joseph to get his feet wet. Nor has Joseph been able to play in the AHL while he awaits his big chance.
But…it appears the beginning, temporary as it may, of the Joseph era has begun.
We should make special note of Joseph’s Penguins beginning. He was the primary piece of the Phil Kessel trade in June 2019. The Penguins and Kessel decided they were better off without each other, and Kessel did everything to call his shot. He wanted to play for head coach Rick Tocchet in Arizona and skewed his 10-team trade list to make it happen.
Kessel vetoed a deal to Minnesota, which would have put Jason Zucker in a Penguins uniform six months before Rutherford finally snagged Zucker, and Kessel’s already tenuous trade value was officially in the dumpster.
Rutherford managed to snag the polarizing prospect Joseph from Arizona with disappointing winger Alex Galchenyuk. Joseph played last season in the AHL for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and now-Penguins assistant coach Mike Vellucci raved about Joseph. In a PHN exclusive, Vellucci absolutely raved about the person and the player during the pandemic pause.
“He’s outstanding. He had a setback early in the season with Mono(nucleosis), but he played 27 minutes a game. All tough situations,” Vellucci’s praise began. “He got better and better every day. I’m very impressed.”
“He could have played games this year in certain situations,” he said. “No doubt, he could play games next year.”
It’s now next year. Joseph impressed in training camp and earned a spot on the taxi squad behind the eight Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen on NHL deals.
The Joseph era is all-but assured to begin Thursday night, and it is with a little bit of irony that it will be against (trigger warning) Jack Johnson and the New York Rangers. There could not be two different defensemen, and the Penguins are still paying Johnson for six more years after buying out the defenseman before the season began.
If P-O gets in tonight, what is he expecting?
“It is stressful to think of stuff like that,” Joseph said. “If I’m in the lineup, I’m sure I’ll have a lot of people around to help me.”
And there will no doubt be a lot of people rooting for him, too. The era of P-O begins…probably.