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The Confluence

Penguins’ Talented Youth Blocked by Plethora of Grinders

The Penguins’ rash of injuries has created quite a few golden opportunities for a few of their top prospects to show they belong with the big boys in Pittsburgh, rather than languishing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  And for the most part, just about every one of them has done an admirable job.

But eventually (one would hope) the Pens will get healthy once and for all.  After all, there have been only two games this season in which Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have been on the ice together (New Years Day and Jan. 5th, if you’re curious).

And when that happens, most of the youngins will take that trek back east on I-80 to the AHL.

It’s not that they played poorly, not because they don’t deserve to be a regular player in the NHL, but because the Penguins roster as it is currently made up is over-loaded with veteran grinders.

The “replacements” really began as the regular season opened.  Before his recent injury which will lead to apparent knee surgery, Mark Letestu has remained with the team the entire season.  It’s anyone’s guess whether Letestu would have remained in Pittsburgh if Staal would’ve been healthy in October, but at this point that’s irrelevant.  After a hot start, he had cooled down considerably, but has had a good year with 10 goals and 20 points.  In fact, his steady played has earned him a two-year contract extension.

Tiny but speedy, gritty winger Chris Conner was originally recalled back in November because of a flu outbreak on the team.  But with injuries to Arron Asham (shoulder) and hip surgery for Mike Comrie, Conner has stuck around.  Conner isn’t lighting the lamp with too much frequency, only getting 6 goals and 11 points, but his tenacious style of play (especially considering his size) have earned him at least a temporary roster spot.

Dustin Jeffrey was leading the AHL in scoring for the first couple of months of their season.  But since mid-December, Jeffrey has been recalled and demoted five times.  But while Jeffrey’s quest to lead the AHL in scoring is probably shot, it really seems that Jeffrey is going to be a player that the puck is like a magnet to his stick.  He’s been up with the Penguins for 10 games thus far and has generated four goals and six points.  Quite frankly, someone with Jeffrey’s offensive instincts is exactly who the Penguins need.

And finally, rugged power forward Eric Tangradi made the club out of training camp, although he was demoted after only appearing in nine games.  He has appeared in the Penguins’ last two games because of Crosby’s continued recovery from his concussion.  He doesn’t possess the speed that his WBS teammates have, but he makes up for it with his net-front presence and physical play.

So the youngsters are in Pittsburgh for now, but their time with the big boys is, shall we say, complicated.

The math is easy right now.  Obviously, the Penguins are strapped with injuries and need replacements to fill their roster.  Last night’s injury to Evgeni Malkin may complicate things further, we’ll see.

But the timing of the Penguins’ injury situation is where the complication comes in.  First and foremost, the NHL trade deadline is three weeks from this Monday, on Feb. 28th.  While that’s enough work for GMRS, the Penguins also have eight players who are Unrestricted Free Agents at the end of the year, and two more who are Restricted Free Agents.

And it’s who those UFA’s and RFA’s are that will be interesting to see what GMRS does.  Because, let’s face it, with a completely healthy roster as it’s currently configured, it doesn’t appear that Jeffrey and Tangradi have spots, unless that’s in the press box.  Conner might also fall under that category as well.  Unfortunately, “completely healthy” isn’t often seen on an NHL roster, so one or two call-ups is quite normal.

But when you throw free agency and the trade deadline into the mix, that’s when it gets hairy.

For example, would the Penguins trade a pricey soon-to-be UFA like Pascal Dupuis or Max Talbot under the rationale that they think Dustin Jeffrey (who’s an RFA himself, by the way) is ready for a regular spot in the Penguins’ lineup?  Would they trade a rugged winger like Mike Rupp, Arron Asham or Eric Godard because they feel Eric Tangradi is ready?

I have a feeling that things are going to work themselves out as a result of the trade deadline and free agency.  I just have a sneaking suspicion that one of two of the Penguins’ veteran grinders will be dealt away, and one or two won’t be resigned.  What that means for the youngins’?  Eventually, they’re going to get their shot to be a regular in the Penguins’ lineup, but only time will tell if that’s after Feb. 28th or next October.

Filed in: , | The Confluence | Permalink
  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins


cs6687's avatar

Malkin’s out for the year now. So there’s an opening. Tangradi has shown nothing that he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. Jeffrey, like Connor, is making it very difficult to send him down. But with Malkin done, I guess that’s no longer an issue.

Posted by cs6687 on 02/05/11 at 03:09 PM ET

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About The Confluence

Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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