The NHL season is now less than a week away and teams are well into their training camps. Final preparations are being done, and with no pre-season this year, teams have been playing scrimmages to get into game-ready form. The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their training camp at PPG Paints Arena on January 3rd, and have displayed what their lineup will probably look like for the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
“Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan and the rest of the coaching staff here put together a great team here throughout the offseason in acquiring a lot of speed. They are making sure we can play that up-tempo style, especially for 56 games this year,” said Pens forward Jason Zucker, who will be entering his first full season as a member of the team.
The Penguins projected forward lines are as follows:
J. Guentzel S. Crosby E. Rodrigues
J. Zucker E. Malkin B. Rust
J. McCann M. Jankowski S. Lafferty
C. Sceviour T. Blueger B. Tanev
The Penguins forward lines, unsurprisingly, had Sidney Crosby centering Jake Guentzel on his left-wing, and Evan Rodrigues on his right-wing, however, it is quite likely that Kasperi Kapanen will play on the Pens top unit when he joins the team. Kapanen has been absent from training camp and will miss the beginning of the season due to immigration issues that he has still yet to have resolved. The Finnish-forward will have to quarantine for 10 days upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. Kapanen’s arrival will likely push one of Sam Lafferty or Colton Sceviour to the taxi-squad and have Evan Rodrigues drop to the third-line.
Another plus for the Pens offense is that Jake Guentzel returns to his spot on the top-line being fully-recovered from his shoulder surgery last season. Jared McCann has made the move to the left-wing permanent, with Mark Jankowski now centering the team’s third-line. The addition of Colton Sceviour will make for a fast, exciting fourth-line with Blueger at center and the speedy Brandon Tanev on the right-wing.
A notable member of the lineup who will likely be apart of the teams taxi-squad instead of sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is forward Drew O’Connor who has impressed at training camp thus far. The 22-year-old from Chatham, New Jersey was signed as a free agent during this offseason after finishing last year at Dartmouth College where he posted a stat-line of 21 goals and 12 assists in 31 games. Former Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was a volunteer coach at Dartmouth last season had this to say about O’Connor, “Drew was the best player on the ice every game we played this season. He’s fast, big, skates very well and can finish. Excellent skating through the neutral zone with the puck.” O’Connor will definitely be an interesting player to watch this upcoming season. It is also important to note that Pens are still without forward Zach Aston-Reese who remains on the IR recovering from surgery on his left shoulder.
The Penguins projected defense lines are as follows:
B. Dumoulin K. Letang
M. Pettersson J. Marino
M. Matheson C. Ceci
J. Riikola C. Ruhwedel
The team opted to use the returning defensemen as the top-four pairings, and the two newcomers as the bottom-pair. The pairing of Dumoulin-Letang has consistently been a great one-two punch for the Pens, and will likely not be split up barring any injuries. The Matheson-Ceci pairing will be a very interesting group as Matheson is a good puck-moving defenseman, and Ceci is looking to redeem himself after an injury-riddled and disappointing season with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year.
The pairing of Marcus Pettersson and John Marino may prove to be one of the best second-line pairings in the league this season. Pettersson, a former Anaheim Ducks second-rounder (38th overall) in 2014 has proven to be one of the most reliable defensemen for the Pens over the last two seasons. The 24-year-old Swede had two goals and 20 assists and was a plus-nine in 69 games a year ago. He, alongside Marino, who is coming off an impressive rookie-year could both feature as part of the teams’ second powerplay unit. Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel will both be part of the taxi-squad but will surely get game-time. Both players have been reliable depth players for the Penguins and will feature occasionally throughout the year. Riikola (27) featured in 36 games for the Pens last year whereas Ruhwedel (30) dressed in 41 games.
The Pens will likely rotate their taxi-squad into the lineup throughout the year as it will be a condensed 56-game season. This will see very little recovery time between games, leaving consistency, health and fitness significantly important for the team. The Penguins will open their season next Wednesday, January 13th at 5:30 against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.