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Penguins Camp: Stock Up/Stock Down, Who is Standing Out?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Drew O'Connor

CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins third scrimmage had a little more heat than the first two. Team 3, full of minor league players and those hoping to catch the organization’s eye, brought a bit of effort to the proceedings, and Team 1, led by Sidney Crosby, responded in kind.

After a few days of training camp, a few players are beginning to consistently show well, a few are doing the opposite, and one undrafted rookie might do enough to get a professional paycheck this fall.

After just three days of practice and scrimmage, the Penguins’ preseason schedule begins with split-squad games at home and in Columbus Sunday.

Penguins Stock Up:

Vinnie Hinostroza:

It’s hard not to notice Hinostroza’s blazing speed. Playing beside Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust, Hinostroza’s burst and top speed are a cut above everyone else. In a camp of fast players, Hinostroza is probably the fastest. His ability to break out of the defensive zone, already at full speed before the red line, is impressive.

In a pinch, his speed could back up defensemen, creating a bit of space for Crosby.

Stock Down:

Alex Nylander:

The Penguins’ 25-year-old project did not have a good day on Saturday. He was victimized by a couple of bad decisions with the puck and, at other times, did not provide proper puck support. He largely returned to his perimeter game, which kept him in the minors for several seasons. Those hoping to see Nylander finally break through and stick in the NHL lineup might want to look away.

Stock Up:

Drew O’Connor:

The big forward had some dazzling moments in the Day 3 scrimmage, including one exceptional sequence where he chipped the puck behind defensemen Taylor Fedun and Ryan Graves but maintained his momentum to create a forecheck puck win.

Then he stole the puck from Rickard Rakell and Brayden Yager’s breakout attempt and went straight to the net, trying a pretty backhand deke that trickled just wide.

Future linemate Lars Eller is impressed.

“I like what he’s doing. He’s a pretty big body that can skate. You can see he’s strong on the puck, and he’s got some moves,” said Eller. “He looks like a very versatile player … the skating is a big strength of his, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

On the rush, O’Connor also tried to split two defensemen. He showed assertiveness, some hops, and the kind of offensive flair that comes with confidence. The arrows are pointing up for O’Connor.

Stock Down: 

Austin Wagner:

Perhaps the PTO was a long shot to make the NHL club, but after 178 NHL games, mostly with the LA Kings, before playing in the Chicago organization last season, he could have been high on the list. Still, he could have been one of the pleasant surprises of camp, but he’s been largely invisible beside Braydon Yager and Marc Johnstone.

It’s not exactly a gangbusters line, but the PTO is fighting for a spot, and he needs to show a bit more.

Stock Up:

Avery Hayes:

The undrafted free agent had a good showing Saturday, displaying speed and tenacity in his puck pursuit. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach J.D. Forrest specifically cited him when PHN asked about the undrafted class last weekend at the Prospects Challenge.

Hayes, 20, completed his fourth OHL season and can go pro. He’s showing well.

Correction: Hayes signed a two-year AHL deal in June.

Good Signings:

Lars Eller and Ryan Graves already confirmed the good reasons for Kyle Dubas’ quick offers on July 1. Both look like significant upgrades from the last couple of seasons in which the top D pairing and third line lagged.

Graves will be both a “big” upgrade and a big-time upgrade on the blue line. He moves well. He’s jumping into the offensive zone and has a few offensive moves, too.

Trading Sideways

Ty Smith:

The 23-year-old defenseman has to win a job in camp and preseason. He continues to be a mixed bag. Smith looks a little quicker than last season and more stable in the defensive zone, but he’s still not sharp behind his own blue line and was on the wrong end of a couple of net-front scrums.

On one specific play, he made a smart step-up and poke check at the blue line but then got lost in the resulting play when he didn’t play the loose puck. Smith has become a bit of a blank canvas for Penguins fans, who project his potential, but those sketchy moments always find their way into the coach’s notebook, too.

Libor Hajek:

I liked his overall performance on Saturday. The PTO defenseman had some good moments and made some good decisions. His efforts were wasted a couple of times by teammates who didn’t read his moves or didn’t provide puck support when he transitioned to offense (Nylander). However, he was caught by the forecheck a couple of times and held onto the puck too long in one of those instances, resulting in a turnover.

I see potential and some talent, but if he wants an NHL paycheck, he’ll need to pump up the volume in preseason games.

PHN will update the story after coach Mike Sullivan speaks later Saturday afternoon.