Penguins Training Camp: What to Watch For
Day one of the Penguins 2016-17 training camp is in the books, which means we're one step closer to the start of the NHL season! Let's take a look as some things to think about over the next few weeks.
5 Questions Facing the Penguins
1. Will Derrick Pouliot turn his career around?
Up until this point, Pouliot has been one of the bigger busts for the Penguins. The 8th overall pick in 2012 has played only 56 NHL games, recording just two goals in that time and under preforming defensively in that short stint. The Penguins had high hopes for Pouliot last season, but after a terrible training camp, he was returned to the AHL and forgotten about. This year is Pouliot's last chance to make a name for himself in Pittsburgh, and maybe in the NHL altogether. By the sounds of it, he's well aware that he has to make the most of this training camp and he has been preparing accordingly. There's a lot of buzz around Derrick Pouliot's name, and it's not just trade hype. Jim Rutherford and the Penguins know that Pouliot has been working hard this summer and they've excited to see what he'll bring to the table. Will Pouliot find a long-term spot on the Penguins blue line or will we see the same player that underachieved in the past?
2. Where do the young guys fit in?
The Penguins wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup if it wasn't for Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, and even Matt Murray. Make no mistake that these guys are NHL talent, but where do they fit in to the Penguins roster? Will Sheary open the season on Crosby's left wing? Will Rust return to playing alongside Malkin? Scott Wilson, who might end up being the best goal scorer out of those three but missed most of last season with a broken foot, will also be looking for a roster spot. Plus, guys like Oskar Sundqvist and Dominik Simon are ready to contribute at the NHL level. Even Jake Guentzel could see NHL time this year, although he will likely spend a majority of the season in Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins all of a sudden have incredible depth and no roster spots readily available. There will be battles for spots in the lineup during training camp and during each game and practice during the season. It's a wonderful problem to have, but Mike Sullivan's got some big choices to make coming up.
3. Fleury vs. Murray?
It's the story line that everyone is going to be talking about during training camp. You're going to hear it a million times over the next few weeks so I'll keep it short and sweet. There is a competitive edge in this battle for the crease, but there is no bad blood in the goaltending tandem. Fleury and Murray are close and more than anything else, they want this team to win. With Murray suffering from some type of thumb injury during the World Cup of Hockey, it looks like Fleury might have the advantage at the start of training camp, and with the competitive fire lit beneath him, I don't know how easy it will be for Murray to take the job away from him. My gut reaction is that Fleury will be the number 1 goalie, but we'll see a 60/40 split of starts, so both goalies will be contributing throughout the season. Regardless of who's in goal, I believe the Penguins are in good hands.
4. Can the old guys still contribute?
There's no understating what Matt Cullen did for the Penguins last season. But how much is still left in the tank? The same goes for Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley. They were great for the Penguins last season, but they're getting up there in age and won't be able to play at this level forever. With the short offseason, it will be interesting to see how these guys recuperated and whether or not they'll be able to contribute at the same level as last season again.
5. Is there enough depth on defense?
The Penguins are fortunate to have one of the best defenseman in the NHL on their back end. Kris Letang should have multiple Norris Trophy's in his case already, but for some reason the rest of the world doesn't recognize his talent. Throw in Olli Maatta, who's future just keeps looking brighter, and Brian Dumoulin, who really broke out last season and should take on an even bigger role this season, and you've got a pretty good base to build the defense on. But if one of those three gets injured, the blue line starts looking a little slim. Trevor Daley is still a solid defenseman, but coming off ankle surgery and getting up there in age, I'm not totally comfortable with him as the number one defenseman. Justin Schultz and Ian Cole were a good third pair for the Penguins, but part of what made them good was playing in somewhat of a sheltered role. If those two are facing off against the opponents top line, it might be a different story. We already talked about Derrick Pouliot, who is showing potential of turning his career around, but has done nothing to prove himself yet. The depth in Wilkes-Barre has some standouts, most notably Ethan Prow, but the defensive prospects aren't nearly as prosperous as the offensive ones.
Players to Keep an Eye On
Thomas Di Pauli -- C/LW
Di Pauli signed with the Penguins this summer after playing four years of NCAA hockey with Notre Dame. He's got a wicked shot and great offensive ability. While he'll likely start the season in the AHL, his name is already at the top of the list for call-ups if and when injuries happen.
Ethan Prow -- D
Prow signed with the Penguins last Spring and is Pittsburgh's number one defensive prospect. Another offensive defenseman, Prow should fit nicely into the system the Penguins play. Like Di Pauli, I expect Prow to be one of the first guys called up to the NHL when needed.
Jake Guentzel -- C
Guentzel was drafted by the Penguins in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. After completing his collegiate career, he's now ready to make the transition to professional hockey. Guentzel is my dark horse to make the team out of camp. He's got the skill to be an NHL regular, but with limited roster space and minimal experience, he's really going to have to wow the coaches to make the NHL squad full-time. He'll most likely be a 1st line player for WB/S but may see some NHL action this season.
Dominik Simon -- C
Simon is in a 3 person battle for the 4th line center position. Simon was a 5th round pick in 2015, but he has a few years of professional hockey experience under his belt in Europe. After scoring 25 goals for the WB/S Penguins last season, Simon is ready to take his game to the NHL and will be a top candidate to replace Matt Cullen in the near future.
The Penguins are in an incredible position going into this season. Coming off a Stanley Cup win and retaining almost the entire roster is pretty rare, but add in the depth and lineup options that the coaches have and this organization stands far above the rest. Training camp will be an interesting time in Pittsburgh