Pittsburgh Penguins training camp Day 2 at the Lemieux Complex in Cranberry was full of pond hockey games, emerging dark horses and some rookie hazing. Greg McKegg, Zach Trotman, and Teddy Blueger were visible in the intra-squad scrimmage, as they fight for a place on the NHL roster or at least a spot on the top of the call-up list. And, Phil Kessel looked like a re-dedicated player for the second consecutive day.
The Penguins have 59 players in camp, but few unsettled positions. The Penguins are playing a lot of hockey in the first two days, including another 3-on-3 modified game of shinny at center ice. Shinny is a fast-paced game of pond hockey without faceoffs or stoppages, even if a goal is scored.
In practice drills and the scrimmage, Evgeni Malkin also continued to toy with competition, sometimes seemingly for his own amusement. Malkin is healthy and enjoying himself. PHN will explore the Malkin dynamic in the coming days.
Scrimmage Day 2
Much like Who’s Line is It, Anyway? The scores of the intrasquad don’t matter.
–Antti Niemi stopped several good scoring chances, including closing the five-hole on a breakaway by Bryan Rust and getting big on a good look by Scott Wilson from the right wing circle.
The puck also echoed off his pads and sprung into slot traffic. Niemi will need to improve rebound control under any circumstance, but especially behind the Penguins defense. The Pens defensive strength is not cleaning the crease.
Day 2 of training camp is about getting ready for the season and not about being in mid-season form. However, the knock on Niemi is rebound control. That was noticeable, on Day 2, too.
–Phil Kessel. For the second day in a row, Kessel was engaged in the situation. Saturday, Kessel chased down a puck carrier and played defense all the way to the end wall. Seriously.
From his hair to his approach, Kessel looks different. An engaged Kessel changes the Penguins and their dynamic. Imagine the defending Stanley Cup champion adding a player with Kessel’s skill set? Fan sentiment aside, he was disengaged for most of last season.
Count me as impressed, so far.
–The Penguins signed Zach Trotman on July 1, to a one-year, two-way contract which went unnoticed by most people. Trotman is much harder to ignore on the ice. The 6′-3″, 219lbs defender stands a head taller than most on the ice.
The right-shot Trotman, 27, has a simple game: Get back on defense, move the puck ahead. He also appears to have a certain degree of physicality, but an intrasquad scrimmage is not the place to judge physical presence. Trotman has 67 games of NHL experience, all with the Boston Bruins. His career totals denote a player more comfortable in the defensive zone (3g, 9a).
Trotman, from Carmel, Indiana last appeared in the NHL in 2015-16. Last season, an upper-body injury limited him to only nine games with the L.A. Kings AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
He could quickly insert himself into the discussion for the 7th defenseman.
–Gregg McKegg, 25, is a candidate for one of the Penguins center positions. McKegg has split 65 career NHL games between the Toronto Maple Leafs (4), Florida Panthers (46) and last season with Tampa Bay (15).
He isn’t an offensive dynamo. He has just nine points (5g, 4a) in those 65 games, but he is fast and tenacious. McKegg chased down fellow roster contender Jay McClement, at center ice and stole the puck, Saturday. The difference in speed between McKegg and Clement was striking.
The Penguins brass, watching from the balcony above the ice, surely noticed.
–Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin each had a pair of goals in the scrimmage. Malkin’s were dazzling, including a turning wrister into the top corner from the slot. Rust also potted a turning shot, as he slid his right hand up the stick and slapped the puck past goalie Sean Maguire.
–Teddy Blueger, 23, had a stronger day in Day 2. He has a certain intangible quality, an electricity. He may lack the size to be a successful grinding pivot, but he doesn’t lack the speed or desire. Blueger has often made a bee-line for the net, in the past two days.
The kid is gritty. He was the Penguins second-round choice (#52) in 2012. Blueger spent four years at Minnesota State University-Mankato and last season with Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. He had 31 points (7g, 24a) in 54 AHL games last season.
–Still no trade for a third line center…however, Sportsnet is reporting the Rangers have entered the market and the Devils are circling, too….