On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins separated their training camp groups as the roster pair-down and ramp-up to the regular season looms. It’s good news for a few borderline players trying to take the next step and bad news for a gaggle of the top Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who were hoping to crack the NHL lineup.
Head coach Mike Sullivan bellowed instructions and encouragement as the Penguins Group 1 worked on the Penguins forecheck. It was all about escape for the defenseman and not letting the puck escape for the forwards.
“We have an identity that we want to stick to. We have a way we want to play–fast and in-your-face hockey,” Bryan Rust said of the drills. “There might be slight tweaks from opponent to opponent, but overall our structure stays pretty much the same.”
And Kasperi Kapanen cracked everyone up, including head coach Mike Sullivan with a bit of celly and whoo after he slipped a backhand past starting goalie Tristan Jarry. Sullivan held back, but as Jake Guentzel belly laughed, Sullivan couldn’t help but shake his head and enjoy it, too.
The Penguins group split, while not official, is a clear sign of coming roster decisions. All of the prospects and players who seem to be ticketed for the WBS Penguins are in Group 2, including minor leaguers Taylor Fedun, Michael Chaput, Felix Robert, and others. The Penguins’ top prospects, including Sam Poulin, Nathan Legare, and P.O. Joseph, are also in Group 2.
The NHL experienced players such as Anthony Angello, Drew O’Connor, and Juuso Riikola are in Group 1.
“Honestly, it was something that I didn’t overlook, and it wasn’t something that I took for granted,” Angello said. “It’s something that I worked for, and it’s something that I have to make sure I continue to work for and earn day-to-day.”
Angello played 19 games last season and scored four points (2-2-4) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In their shortened season, he played 12 games for the WBS Penguins and popped for 10 points (6-4-10).
If there’s a forward who fits the Penguins organization’s stated desire for more size and physicality, it is the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Angello. In fact, with center Brian Boyle. The Penguins might have one of the biggest fourth lines in hockey, if not THE biggest.
“I think there’s definitely an opportunity there for me, but I got to go out there and prove it. I got to go play Anthony Angello hockey,” said Angello. “I’ve got to play physical. I’ve got to win my battles, and I have to make sure I move my feet–being hard to play against. And I’ll bring my physical aspect that the manager is looking for.”
The size of the Penguins fourth line when centered by 6-foot-6 (or 7) Brian Boyle, and sometimes with 6-foot-3 Drew O’Connor wasn’t lost on the boys on the ice.
“It’s not something I’m used to, but it’s kind of funny. We stepped out there for a drill. It was Boyle, myself and (O’Connor) and he goes-‘God darn this is a big line’,” Angello laughed.
Also, when the Penguins did the line rushes, Chad Ruhwedel drew ahead of Mark Friedman for the third-pairing RHD. Ruhwedel skated with Marcus Pettersson on what would be the opening night third-pair, and Friedman skated with Juuso Riikola as the depth defenders.
Ruhwedel, 31, played in 17 games for the Penguins last season and 58 games over the past two seasons.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
PHN will update the practice file after Group 2 practice this afternoon.
First–Radim Zohorna did not practice in Group 2 because of illness–not COVID, just a cold or other lesser illness.
We’re going to have a much longer discussion and answer from Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan about the first preseason games and the new practice groups. It merits complete discussion and analysis.
We could hear Sullivan during practice discuss his feelings on the scrimmage. I think the coach wasn’t so happy with the overall effort, but he also–in Sullivan fashion–pulled things to praise and reasons for optimism.
“It was the first game. There were a lot of young players in the lineup. We’re trying to give guys an opportunity to get in an NHL environment and have an opportunity to assess their overall game,” he said. “I thought there were a lot of good things in the game. I know we’ve got a long way to go. And I think both of those things were evident in that game. There was a lot of sloppy play, and we know we got a long way to go. But there were some good things as well that we can take.”
Also after Group 2 practice, the handful of assembled media chatted with third-goalie Louis Domingue. His comments don’t just merit a little quote or blurb. It’s probably going to be a 1000 word story about the human element of hockey and just how difficult it is to keep your focus after getting traded, and waived, and traded, and COVID, and family, and waived, and practice, and bad situation, and lack of opportunity, and… It left us all speechless. It all started with a simple follow-up question to confirm what I thought he implied…and he told a great story that hopefully gets a happy ending.