Pens Problems: Looking Within The System
By Adam Williams
The Pittsburgh Penguins were an incredibly busy franchise this offseason, trading Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek at the Draft. In return for Staal, the Penguins acquired Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick, Derrick Pouliout.
On Free Agent Frenzy, the Penguins added Tanner Glass, Dylan Reese, and many other AHL studs like Warren Peters, Jeff Zatkoff and Trevor Smith. Plus, their prospect pipeline may be one of the deepest in the NHL.
So, where do they go to fill their problems? More importantly, WHO do they look at to fixing their problems. Here are some options for the upcoming season at the biggest holes for the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Sidney Crosby’s Winger:
Many have speculated that Chris Kunitz may be rejoining Crosby on the top line after having an unbelievable season alongside James Neal and Hart Trophy winning Evgeni Malkin. Pascal Dupuis is rumored to be reuniting with Crosby as well. I see Dupuis more so than Kunitz. Keep the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal line in tact; it was one of the best in the NHL all year.
Who fills the void? There are really three options.
1. Eric Tangradi- The Philadelphia native spent 24 games with the Penguins last year and contributed to the grit game, being a strong pressence below the net battling for pucks. After putting up 88 points (38g-50a) in 2008-09 with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, Tangradi has not produced at the NHL level. One of the leading scorers for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, “Tango” is poised and ready to make a permanent mark on this team. Put him as an F3 forward with Crosby and Dupuis attacking down low, Tangradi could find himself open a lot in the slot and prove that he can be dangerous at the NHL level.
2. Tyler Kennedy- Though the Penguins have tried this combination numerous times, TK wants to erase the disappointing numbers put up last year. The speedy winger is without Staal this year and needs to be given top-six time to show that 2010-11 was not a fluke, where he put up 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points. A good amount of time in the preseason on the Crosby line and a healthy stint during the regular season could see Kennedy shatter those numbers and create new career highs.
3. Beau Bennett- The best offensive prospect for the Penguins, the Gardena, CA-native impressed Head Coach Dan Bylsma during the development camp and brought up the possibility of making the jump straight from college to the NHL. The right winger was drafted 20th overall by the Penguins in 2010 and became the highest drafted California born player in NHL history. Playing for the University of Denver, Bennett put up four goals and nine assists in 10 games during his sophomore year before suffering a broken wrist, taking him out for the rest of the season. While his skating is nowhere near Crosby or Dupuis’, he does have the talent to elude the checkers and find himself open more often than not. The 20-year old could have an incredible rookie campaign if he does line up with No. 87.
Defense was the big let down in the first round playoff exit of the 2012 Stanley Cups and fans were wondering who would step up this upcoming season. While the Pens have a six NHL ready players (Orpik, Letang, Martin, Lovejoy, Niskanen, and Engelland), there are some prospects who may challenge and surprise some folks.
1. Simon Despres- Arguably the best Pens prospect, Despres appeared in 18 games for the Penguins last season and looked like he belonged immediately. The Laval, QC-native scored a goal and added four assists, but provided a big body that the Penguins were missing. Standing at 6-4, Despres is one of the tallest Penguins in the system and with a long reach and amazing skating ability, the 20 year old has a very good shot of making the club out of traning camp.
2. Brian Dumoulin- Who many consider to be the most valuable part of the Staal trade, Dumoulin comes into the organization with a winning pedigree. Winning two National Championships with Boston College, the Biddeford, ME-native led the Eagles in defenseman scoring in his sophomore and junior seasons. He also appeared on the 2011 U.S. World Junior Team, capturing a bronze medal. With such an impressive background that could keep being talked about for days, Dumoulin expects to turn heads and make the NHL squad out of camp.
3. Brian Strait- A consistent, stay-at-home defenseman, Brian Strait is a player that the Penguins need to utilize. He is solid in his own zone and smart with the puck. More importantly, he isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body and block shots, something the Pens forgot about in the playoffs. Strait also was successful in college, capturing a National Championship with Boston University. He also appeared on the 2008 World Junior Team, captaining the team to a fourth place finish.
While many questions still remain heading into the 2012-13 season, there are endless possibilities for the Penguins to improve from within the system. There are always free agents on the market, but Pens prospects are looking to break through and this upcoming training camp is the perfect opportunity to shine.