It’s finally here. The long, so very extra-long summer without hockey in Pittsburgh is over. Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp begins, and the summer of analysis, predictions, and rumors come to a close. Mostly. Now, everyone can focus on hockey, linemate debates, choosing new favorites, and wondering when Marcus Pettersson, who is the last offseason loose end will be signed.
A source expressed optimism to PHN last Sunday that a new contract for Pettersson could be complete this week.
Lest you think the Penguins dumped their drama when they traded Phil Kessel to Arizona, and Evgeni Malkin purged some leftovers from last season, think again. The Penguins training camp will be full of decisions, critical evaluations, and intrigue, even if the players aren’t as famous as the previous newsmakers.
There are a handful of stories to watch.
5. Dominik Kahun
Where does the newly acquired winger fit into the Penguins lineup? The Penguins don’t yet know. Kahun, 25, was the Penguins’ haul for defenseman Olli Maatta in something akin to a hockey trade but one which also cleared a few million dollars from the Penguins salary cap crunch. The creative, yet somewhat small forward can play on all four lines. He scored 37 points (13g, 24a) as he shuffled between the Chicago lines.
Kahun could land the RW spot on the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby, or he could be cutting the ice on the left side of Nick Bjugstad on the Penguins third line.
Or anywhere else.
4. Who is the Odd-Man Out?
Who will be in the press box as the 13th forward? Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, or Kahun? On principle alone, the Penguins will unlikely put multi-million dollar players like Bryan Rust, Brandon Tanev or Alex Galchenyuk on the healthy scratch list.
A good or bad training camp for one of the bubble players could make the Penguins decision an easy one. We still think the odd-man-out will be Simon, but Aston-Reese will not have a margin for error. Simon adds offense to the Penguins lineup. No matter which position he plays, or on which line, the Penguins score more goals when Dominik Simon is on the ice. You may participate in the gnashed teeth and exasperation to see the lack of points, but the Penguins coaches see the team stats.
Aston-Reese will need to get on his game quickly and show that he is capable of consistently finishing. He has shown flashes, but injuries have derailed him every time. His heavy game, ability to kill penalties, play on both wings and hands make him an asset.
3. Can Poulin or Legare force their way into a tryout?
The Prospects Challenge was not a place to show off offensive skill at even strength. The Pittsburgh Penguins lack of talented centers at the prospect level and the scrambly type of games did not create a stage to shine. The Penguins first-round pick Sam Poulin and third-round pick Nathan Legare still had many bright moments. Playing beside pros in a professional environment will give us a real idea of where the Penguins blue-chip prospects stand.
Can one of them force their way into a nine-game tryout?
Without other constraints, such as a full salary cap and roster, there would be a real chance Poulin could push for a small taste of the NHL. However, while those constraints exist, Poulin would need to be twice as good to make the Penguins consider giving him a tryout.
Though…see No. 1. Perhaps the Penguins situation could change.
2. What About Jack Johnson
Johnson was trapped on the right side and did not have a great first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He became a defensive specialist, but that hasn’t always been the case for Johnson who has 30 and 40-point seasons in the recent past. Johnson was significantly better with steady, reliable Marcus Pettersson. And Johnson was better still in February and March when the Penguins moved him back to the left side with Justin Schultz.
The word is that Johnson has been working hard on his skating this summer. Last year, he spent a lot of time in the defensive zone; skating the puck from danger was not his forte. Johnson was the subject of trade reports and rumors this summer. Johnson is entering the second year of his five-year contract, and he would not be the first defenseman to experience significant improvement from the first to second year.
Last year was last year.
1. How will the Pittsburgh Penguins Sign Marcus Pettersson
We’ve laid out all of the probables. We’ve laid out the potentials; how the Penguins can find the cash to sign Pettersson without a trade. And, we’ve advocated some out of the box thinking such as moving salary to acquire Edmonton Oilers’ unhappy youngster Jesse Puljujarvi.
We’ve also reported that Pettersson has his visa in hand and there was some level of expectation that a deal could happen this week.
The Penguins and Pettersson have until Dec. 1 to reach an agreement, but that isn’t best for either party. Everything on the blue line depends on the Pettersson solution; pairings and personnel will change based on his presence.