The Pittsburgh Penguins training camp is a week away, and despite no official announcement on dates and times, there is light at the end of a long, long off-season tunnel.
The Penguins signed seven-year veteran Colin White to a professional tryout offer on Saturday evening. He’s the second forward and fourth player to sign a PTO. He’s also the fourth player to sign a PTO who would upgrade the Penguins’ speed if he sticks in the lineup.
Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas has stuffed his roster full of fast players. Where the third and fourth lines have struggled over the last couple of years, now Dubas has not only given Sullivan a potentially lightning-fast set of checking lines but a grocery bag full of choices to make it happen.
Dubas added speed and depth. And then added more. It’s created the most competitive training camp the Penguins have had, perhaps ever. There will be surprises, letdowns, and probably a few players on the waiver wire who won’t slip through unclaimed.
Projecting the Penguins Lines:
*Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Rem Pitlick
Noel Acciari-Colin White-Jeff Carter
*Guentzel is expected to miss the first two weeks of the regular season.
13th Forward while Guentzel recuperates: Andreas Johnsson.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins are almost $80,000 over the salary cap. Either Rem Pitlick or Matt Nieto must be stashed in the AHL in favor of a bargain contract, such as White (who signed a PTO Saturday), to get under the salary cap.
Pitlick has been a scorer at every level, from the USHL through the University of Minnesota and the AHL. He’s looking for his NHL niche and was an interesting pickup in the Jeff Petry trade.
Stashing Drew O’Connor in the AHL for a near-minimum salaried veteran would also get the Penguins under the cap. O’Connor cannot slack off in camp or the preseason. His isn’t secure enough that he’s immune from losing his roster spot.
The Penguins’ lack of offense in the bottom six could be somewhat corrected by Pitlick or Andreas Johnsson (and O’Connor). However, under the current cap constraints, the Penguins don’t have enough cap space to carry both a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman. They’ll carry a roster of 21 unless additional moves are made.
As PHN covered the first informal workouts last week, Carter struggled in one of the agility drills. Stopping at the blue line and accelerating to the red line and back to the blue line seemed more difficult than it should have been. We attributed that to off-season rustiness, but it is something to watch. Otherwise, Carter must be a part of the Penguins lineup because they cannot afford to replace him.
The blue line seems pretty easy, though P.O Joseph presents a potential for the biggest surprise, but not in a good way. He must earn his keep in camp, or PTO Libor Hajek, Ty Smith, or Will Butcher could snatch the third pairing job.
Mark Pysyk signed a PTO, and if he’s healthy after missing last season with an Achilles injury, he’s probably the best choice for third pairing right side.
Ryan Graves-Erik Karlsson
Marcus Pettersson-Kris Letang
P.O Joseph-Mark Pysyk
7th D: Hajek
Predicting Penguins Cuts
Dubas boldly claimed he’s not afraid of losing players on waivers. The Penguins will wish them well.
It seems there could be a couple or few players who don’t clear waivers and join the WBS Penguins, especially if other teams suffer injuries in training camp or preseason.
The depth of forwards could be decided as much on instant chemistry as talent and projections.
Our initial projections don’t have room for Alex Nylander, whose value is likely higher in the fanbase. Nylander must show he can bring the same offensive pop with defensive responsibility that led to his call-up last season. At the NHL level, Nylander had only two points (1-1-2) in nine games.
Without the benefit of camp and preseason, we also chose Pitlick over Nieto to get under the salary cap.
PTO Austin Wagner figures to present an interesting challenge. His speed figures to be everything the Penguins are looking for, but unless another spot opens up, he’ll have to work on his finishing ability at the lower level.
Valtteri Puustinen and Sam Poulin will also ply their craft in WBS again. With a less stacked training camp, one or both would be expected to make the team, but unless they win a job in camp, they’ll head back to the AHL not because Sullivan doesn’t like young players but because others are better options.
Joona Koppinen, Radim Zohorns, Will Butcher, Ty Smith, and Mark Friedman project as the remaining cuts.
Clarification: We also project Chad Ruhwedel and Vinnie Hinostroza as cuts.