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The Pittsburgh Penguins start their 2017-18 campaign tonight in a “road” game against the Buffalo Sabres at State College, PA. Of course, it is a preseason game, so you may not expect to see all of the Penguins’ and Sabres’ best players in uniform. Those that do participate will largely be prospects and depth players, so we can assume (until we get an official lineup) for the Penguins that we’ll probably see some amalgam of the Prospects Challenge and the players who are on the fence about playing in Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
After all, that’s precisely what the preseason is for: shaking out the depth chart and getting an idea for who will be playing where in two weeks. With all the talk of who the Penguins are going after in a trade for the third center, there are as few as eleven players we could see taking face-offs for the Penguins this preseason. From “old” faces Carter Rowney and Jake Guentzel to actual old face Jay McClement, from actual young face Jordy Bellerive to relatively young faces Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger, and a horde of other guys in between, management, the scouting staff and the coaching staff will have a lot of watching to do as maybe one or more of these guys will make Jim Rutherford’s hunt for another center relatively easy.
In fact, Rutherford’s job is pretty easy in the grand scheme of things considering the turnover the team experienced this offseason. I’ll get into that more at another point, but realistically speaking, despite seeing eight NHL-caliber players leave, the Penguins have no major holes, just depth concerns. Goaltending is fine, there are seven defensemen signed to one-way contracts (and none of them are Derrick Pouliot), and there are thirteen forwards signed as well. There are a few players that Rutherford et al. might be willing to part with if he needs the room; Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Scott Wilson are RFAs in the last years of their contracts, while Josh Archibald has two years left (Guentzel does too, but I’m 99.999% sure he’s not going anywhere). There is no emergency to move any of those guys, but the preseason is the starting point for figuring out who might stay in the organization and who might be leaving.
One thing’s for certain though: it will be a fascinating preseason with plenty of talented young players (and McClement) trying to find themselves playing in Pittsburgh this season.
I would post a screenshot of the lineup but the joke is that things are a work in progress so I’ll just link you to it. Of note is the defense: you’re basically looking at Olli Maatta, the third pairing, then the few guys who’ll probably be called up at some point during the season. The forwards are an interesting group, led by Rust, Archibald, and Hagelin, but the guys to watch will be Aston-Reese and Sprong as well as McClement to see if he’ll be worth keeping around.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast on 105.9 The X. LET’S GO PENS!