The Pittsburgh Penguins did not ice a roster of many players expected to make the NHL roster after final cuts are made sometime over the next several days. That didn’t stop players largely ticketed for the WBS Penguins to put on a show in front of coach Mike Sullivan and Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas.
The Detroit Red Wings brought something close to their top-six forwards and top defensive pairs to PPG Paints Arena Wednesday. The scoreboard didn’t show a good result after prized Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson ripped a power play goal from the low slot later in the third period.
The Red Wings beat the Penguins 2-1 Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena, but plenty of the Penguins players deserved a better result.
Perhaps Austin Wagner was chief among the Penguins who earned better. Seriously, when was the last time a Penguins forward gave a quote like this:
“I thought I did a good job of playing the body a lot of the time. As bad as it sounds, making their guys worry more about me than the game,” said Wagner. “And for the majority of the game, they were coming after me and other guys on our team because we were just playing physically, and they didn’t want to play that way.”
A lineup of future WBS regulars would have been a real snoozer in past years. The Penguins’ top farm team was nothing short of atrocious down the stretch last season, and they missed the playoffs.
Summer reports indicated Sullivan encouraged the organization, regardless of who was selected as GM, to improve the organization’s depth. It seems the effort succeeded, and the Penguins were feisty and energetic and kept the Red Wings top line of Alex DeBrincat-Dylan Larkin-Lucas Raymond wholly in check.
It was a generally great performance by the Penguins players fighting for attention or an NHL sweater, and a few stood above the rest, which could make Sullivan’s coming decisions even tougher, including Wagner.
“He was playing on Colin White’s line tonight. But I thought (Wagner) did a really good job,” Sullivan said. “He’s strong on pucks. We’ve used him on the penalty kill a little bit. He’s done a pretty good job there. So he’s certainly made an impression on our group.”
Heck, even the Penguins power play looked pretty good until a third period perimeter pass-a-thon. The PP1 unit for the night, with Radim Zohorna, Ty Smith, Alex Nylander, Valtteri Puustinen, and Andreas Johnsson, pushed the play and created chances … except for their third period chance, which immediately brought demands from the stands to “Shoot the puck!”
On the first couple of chances, they didn’t waste time or overthink the matter. They attacked. Perhaps the star players were watching?
Pittsburgh Penguins Grades
Austin Wagner: A+
Wagner had his best moments of the preseason and camp. He used his speed to muscle past defensemen on the rush, attacked the puck, and didn’t shy away from contact.
If there was a scrum, he was probably involved. Fans who haven’t been dialed into training camp and the preseason were probably asking, “Who is No. 25??” Wagner, who is on a PTO, asserted himself Wednesday and showed why he’s been under consideration for a fourth-line role.
Midway through the third period, he agitated Lucas Raymond so well the pair took roughing penalties. Wagner for Raymond. The Penguins will take that trade eight days a week.
Jansen Harkins: B+
Jansen Harkins also flashed speed and gritty play. He, too, attacked the puck and looked pretty good. He was credited with one attempted shot after 40 minutes, but he acquitted himself well despite one practice and morning skate with the team.
Ty Smith: A
Smith isn’t in contention to make the NHL roster. He was demoted last week but had a solid game Wednesday. He had a couple of chances near the net and was present in the offensive zone without being exposed in the defensive end.
This was the good version of Smith, who had a nice stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
Vinnie Hinostroza: B
Make no mistake, he can fly. His speed is obvious when he gets open ice or has to catch the puck. He does not bring much creativity in the offensive zone, but he did not hurt his candidacy to get an NHL job.
He probably helped his chances by being a noticeable piece of line with Wagner and Colin White, the Penguins’ best.
Radim Zohorna/Alex Nylander: B
Both showed well. Each had their moments. We’re grouping them because neither gained much separation on Wednesday. Perhaps Zohorna had shifts where he was pressing, while Nylander had some stretches where he wasn’t immediately visible, but the pair played well and played well together. Each created some offense, and neither hurt their chances for an NHL sweater, even if they approached it very differently.
Alex Nedeljkovic: A+
If this is the goalie the Penguins get this season, their backup goalie position will be just fine. Nedeljkovic was on top of the crease. He directed rebounds even on good scoring chances.
He stuffed Lucas Raymond on a third period breakaway, too. He was really good.