And so it begins. Nearly five months after the Pittsburgh Penguins played a quick four games in the Toronto bubble, the third Penguins training camp in 18 months begins. The Penguins lines and a prospect to watch emerged from the first day that media could attend.
The team chose to hold camp at PPG Paints Arena rather than their Cranberry township practice facility for obvious spatial reasons, which improve safety.
Not one to rest on his laurels or a fat new guaranteed $26.4 million contract, John Marino was one of two players to hot the ice well before practice to work with goalies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. The second-year pro, Sam Lafferty, was the other skater.
Lafferty has changed his number to 18.
*Perhaps he can reverse the bad juju the number brought to Alex Galchenyuk and Dominik Simon last season (Simon gave up his No. 12 for Patrick Marleau after the team acquired Marleau at the trade deadline). James Neal and Marian Hossa also wore 18.
Bryan Rust was the third player to hit the ice, followed by Drew O’Connor.
*It appears the black jerseys (Rust, Marino) are the expected top-six forwards and defensemen. The yellow sweater (Lafferty, O’Connor, Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev) are the down line, bubble, or taxi squad players.
*The Penguins’ first drill was a new breakout approach. Perhaps I shouldn’t diagram it (how many NFL writers diagram new plays before Sunday)? However, the new wrinkle is a sneaky and slick way to get more offense from the blue line. Not only does the RHD peel back to add a layer of interference between the LHD and the forecheck, but the RHD also sneaks away to join the rush on the weak side.
That should do well for Kris Letang and John Marino. Cody Ceci…maybe not.
*College free agent Drew O’Connor (Dartmouth) was getting a good look in an early battle drill. He was with forwards Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev against a pair of Penguins defenseman.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounds (before the pandemic) forward played two seasons at Dartmouth after two seasons of second-tier junior hockey, including in the NAHL. He left high school at 5-foot-8.
Yeah, he’s done some growing!
It’s probably a cursory look for O’Connor, as our scouting report (with some help from the inside) showed promise but perhaps not an NHL ready game. He’ll need to be harder on the puck than he was in college and be more consistent, but it is a good sign that the Pittsburgh Penguins (not the WBS Penguins) are giving O’Connor a look, however brief it is.
Camp is short. Space is limited. Every opportunity means something.
O’Connor got more of a look. See below.
*Sam Lafferty was paired with Teddy Blueger in rush drills. Jake Guentzel was, of course, with Sidney Crosby, and Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin. Jankowski and Tanev were also a thing.
*In full line rush drills, O’Connor was with Blueger and Tanev.
*McCann-Jankowski-Lafferty comprised the third line, as Evan Rodrigues skated with Crosby and Guentzel.
*Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare were not part of the main camp practice. We’ll call this a surprise as we expected Poulin to get a solid look to make the team.