Cranberry, Twp — Both rinks whirred with activity at the UPMC Lemieux Complex on Thursday morning. The Pittsburgh Penguins split their 58-player camp roster in three, and each day will conclude with a scrimmage. Hockey is finally, truly, and unmistakably back as head coach Mike Sullivan’s booming voice echoed off the concrete blocks and low metal ceiling. Whistles blew, players called for the puck…and Dan Potash hugged me.
Didn’t you know I was beloved?
What was the first official drill under head coach Mike Sullivan? A forecheck and escape drill.
Jake Guentzel-Jeff Carter-Danton Heinen began the camp as a trio. Not sure how much or how little to read into that, but it’s vintage Mike Sullivan. Find a duo, add a third, and see what sticks.
It’s also an interesting trio. When Sidney Crosby returns to the lineup, Guentzel will go with Crosby, obviously, but Heinen could well be the third-line right wing. Heinen was a curious signing because he had an outstanding rookie year and solid sophomore year with the Boston Bruins but has significantly faded over the past two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks.
Last season he scored 14 points (7-7-14) in 43 games. Heinen is making $1.1 million–he could be a good third-line contributor or munching press box nachos by December.
Unrelated to the NHL roster note, Chris Merisier-Ortiz (55) showed no fear in the drill. He leaned all over everyone. Merisier-Ortiz is on an AHL deal, but I’m telling you–the Penguins found a diamond in the rough. He played under the sharp Jon Goyens at Baie-Comeau with Nathan Legare.
PHN’s blog will continue all morning and cover the daily scrimmage later this AM, too.
Pittsburgh Penguins backup goalie Casey DeSmith is in fine form after offseason surgery. The puck was already in the net–in the picture, he made a good save on a low wrister. Later in the first practice, top prospect Sam Poulin ripped a top-shelf wrister past DeSmith as the goalie seemed to give Poulin a nod–nice one, kid.
Tristan Jarry’s new black pads look pretty cool, too:
I have better photos, but I will use those as the main photo for a story at a later date.
Pittsburgh native Matt Bartkowski is wearing No. 27. He’s in camp on a PTO, so the team has no obligations to offer a contract.
Bartkowski will be solid depth for the defense, which has suffered seemingly never-ending injuries. He will probably get a two-way deal and start the season with the WBS Penguins. He could be a great mentor for Juuso Riikola, P.O. Joseph, and Merisier-Ortiz. If nothing else, Bartkowski will fill the role Zach Trotman vacated by retiring this summer.
Brian Boyle is also part of Group 1. It’s not hard to find him on the ice, that’s for sure. Here are 10 seconds of Boyle roughing up Mike Matheson at the netfront. The boys shared a laugh about it after the drill. All in good fun, but Boyle didn’t waste time showing what he could bring.
Coverage continues…keep checking back…
Pittsburgh Penguins Camp Scrimmage:
The Carter line stayed together.
Brian Boyle centered Sam Poulin on the left and Brian Rust on the right. Boyle looks like an absolute lock to make the team. He moved well, controlled the play and was physically imposing. He looked exactly as you would hope.
Merisier-Ortiz got significant time beside Mike Matheson. It’s just a scrimmage, but…
Later, Mark Friedman took ice time with Matheson. Friedman led a rush, dropped it to Boyle at the blue line, and Boyle quickly tapped the puck to Matheson who drove the slot for a good scoring chance — denied by Jarry.
It was a slick play.
Sam Lafferty centered a line with Dominik Simon and Nathan Legare. There’s a line that could do some damage with the WBS Penguins. Lafferty was on his toes and trying to make an impression. He left a few dents on the opposition.
We’ll see if it sticks.
Radim Zohorna centered Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen. That’s an interesting trio Sullivan put together, and it is most likely an audition for Zohorna to see if he can hang in the middle with NHL’ers. Nothing stood out but maybe that’s the point.