Penguins In-House Free Agents 2014: Part Two - Goalies/Defense

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Is Scott Harrington already NHL ready?
Depth on the blue line has been an organizational strength for several seasons and they've recently drafted some solid goaltending prospects to add to the mix.

While the Penguins have a lot of free agents up front - as discussed in the first part of this series back on Thursday - there are still several decisions on what to do with some defensemen in their system and even some decisions upcoming on young goaltenders.

Under Contract for 2014-15
NHL Defensemen: Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Robert Scuderi, Olli Maatta, Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Dumoulin
NHL Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff
AHL Defensemen: Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, Reid McNeill, Harrison Ruopp and Nick D'Agostino
AHL Goalies: Matt Murray and Eric Hartzell
I added Brian Dumoulin to the NHL list on the blue line because I believe he's NHL-ready. I penciled in Derrick Pouliot on the AHL list because that is where he is more likely to begin the season as he will be rehabbing off-season shoulder surgery. Also, Olli Maatta might not be ready for the start of the 2014-15 season due to an off-season shoulder surgery as well.

That's not to say the Pens won't either bring back some of their free agents or add to the blue line when the free agent market opens in July and slide Dumoulin to the top pairing in the AHL. There's a lot of options there, especially with two restricted free-agent (RFA) defensemen up for new contracts (see below).

Another defenseman I think will get a good look in training camp in the fall is Scott Harrington, who in his rookie season proved to be a reliable defender that can chip in on offense from time to time as well at the AHL level in 2013-14. If you want to get technical, here's the top six (healthy) defensemen in the organization right now:
Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Robert Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington.
In goal, the Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury for one more year and Zatkoff signed for the next two seasons. They have two NHL goaltenders under contract to go with three young prospects in Quinnipiac standout Eric Hartzell, OHL graduate Matt Murray and Memorial Cup Champion winning goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Defensemen: Simon Despres & Philip Samuelsson
Goaltenders: None
Here's where it starts to get interesting. Does Simon Despres get a second chance under a new coaching staff and general manager? It would be unwise for the Pens not to at least tender qualifying offers to both Despres and Philip Samuelsson if they can't negotiate a new contract with them prior to June 30th.

Defensemen: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Brendan Mikkelson and Barry Goers (AHL contract), Dustin Stevenson (AHL contract) and Peter Merth (AHL contract)
Goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun, Jeff Deslauriers (AHL contract) and Peter Mannino (AHL contract)
The fate of where many of the names above will play on the blue line, be it the NHL or AHL, rests on what the Penguins do with their UFA's, namely Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland.

Surely the Penguins want to retain the services of Niskanen, who had arguably been the teams's most consistent defenseman last season. The jury is out on whether either of Orpik or Engelland will be brought back, but if the Pens don't see any of Despres, Samuelsson, Dumoulin or Harrington as a fit in the NHL I don't see how bringing back Engelland for one more year at a close to league minimum is a bad idea.

Engelland could easily play the role of both the Pens' 7th defenseman and 13th forward. He's a physical player the Pens could certainly use while they polish their defensive prospects in the AHL. His versatility, physical presence and buy-low ability can't go overlooked.

Brendan Mikkelson did well in showing Harington the ropes last season as a veteran presence on a young blue line. If Mikkelson wants a better chance to carve out another path to the NHL, it would likely be by seeking opportunities elsewhere. I also see Mikkelson as a guy like Dylan Reese, who a year before, took his offensive abilities on the back end overseas.

Unless the Penguins make a move in goal, then I don't see how Tomas Vokoun will be back with the Pens in 2014-15. At the AHL level, I think a veteran guy like Peter Mannino could be brought back to mentor/challenge the young goalies in the system but the majority of the decision making will come on what to do with the free agents on the blue line.

Check back for the third and final feature of the in-house free agents three part series later this week. Part Three takes a look at the free agents who are more than likely AHL options and how the decisions made at the NHL level will affect the personnel the AHL Pens have to work with.


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