|Several Penguins players are looking for larger roles within the organization as the 2014-15 season approaches.|
Now that the dust has settled and teams have had the better part of eight weeks to negotiate with free agents, there's no better time than the present to look at the depth of the organization and look at where the battles will be at both the NHL and AHL level.
Under Contract (6): Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Greiss, Jeff Zatkoff, Tristan Jarry, Matt Murray and Eric Hartzell
What to watch for: There seemingly are two battles in net: the backup position behind Fleury in the NHL and the backup spot for a young goaltender to learn from the veteran and get some AHL starts.
To put it bluntly, it appears to be a battle between Greiss and Zatkoff in Pittsburgh, with the lesser of that battle being re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) pending waivers.
In the AHL, it is unlikely the WBS Penguins would start the season with two young and unproven goaltenders even if neither of Greiss/Zatkoff were sent to Wilkes-Barre, leaving Hartzell and Murray battling for AHL time behind a veteran (likely on an AHL contract i.e. Peter Mannino and Jeff Deslauriers AHL deals last season).
EDIT: Tristan Jarry is under contract with Pittsburgh, having signed his entry-level contract, but is returning to his junior team in the WHL (Edmonton Oil Kings).
Under Contract (19): Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Rob Scuderi, Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Olli Maatta*, Derrick Pouliot*, Philip Samuelsson, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Taylor Chorney, Reid McNeill, Nick D'Agostino, Harrison Ruopp, Clark Seymour (AHL), Alex Boak (AHL), Barry Goers (AHL)
* Both Maatta and Pouliot are coming off of shoulder surgeries in the off-season.
What to watch for: It looks as though, at least to start the season, that there is room for one defenseman who spent last season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to be on the NHL roster
Samuelsson, Dumoulin and Harrington are all nearing NHL-ready if they haven't reached that point already. Of the three, only Samuelsson would need to clear waivers to be reassigned to the AHL which leads me to believe that the other two would be sent back unless one of them can really force the team to expose Samuelsson to waivers (his first time hitting the wire) to keep them in the NHL.
It looks as though the top four in the NHL is secure, with four more blue liners looking to fill the #5 and #6 holes in the lineup.
Top Four: Ehrhoff, Letang, Maatta (when he's healthy) and Martin
Bottom Four: Bortuzzo, Despres, Samuelsson and Scuderi
What that leaves in the AHL is interesting, a lot of talent and depth. There will be a few guys on AHL contracts starting the season in Wheeling (ECHL) should everyone stay healthy.
Top Four: Dumoulin, Harrington, Pouliot and Chorney/McNeill
Bottom Four: Chorney/McNeill, Ruopp, Goers and D'Agostino
ECHL Bound: Alex Boak and Clark Seymour
Under Contract (31)
Pittsburgh (12) - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Nick Spaling, Marcel Goc, Steve Downie, Beau Bennett, Blake Comeau and Craig Adams.
On The Bubble (5) - Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Sill, Jayson Megna and Adam Payerl
What to watch for: It really looks as though there are only one or two spots up for grabs in the NHL, with Kasperi Kapanen either NHL-bound or likely back overseas.
Zach Sill seems to be the best fit of the bubble players for Pittsburgh's bottom-six as he is a smart hockey player who is good in the face-off dots, physical, hard-working heart and soul kind of player.
Out of Sill, Megna and Payerl - who all spent considerable time in the AHL last season - only Zach Sill needs to clear waivers to be re-assigned. Sill looks to be in a similar position as Philip Samuelsson, who also needs to be exposed to the waiver wire for the first time in order to play for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
AHL (11) - Andrew Ebbett, Nick Drazenovic, Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl, Anton Zlobin, Tom Kostopoulos (AHL), Dominik Uher, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary (AHL), Bobby Farnham and Pierre-Luc Leblond.
On The Bubble (6): Josh Archibald, Matia Marcantuoni, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust and Carter Rowney (AHL).
What to watch for: What that all leaves at the AHL level is a whole lot of guessing right now. Like I did for the defensive depth chart, I kept all non-waiver exempt players in the NHL picture and the waiver exempt guys on the AHL roster.
The core from last year's AHL Eastern Conference runner up remained intact, with a very talented and larger class of rookies coming in than usual the past couple of seasons.
Conor Sheary (UMass-Amherst) came in and grabbed the opportunity by the horns, bursting onto the AHL scene last spring with a points-scoring streak in the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.
2014 Hobey Baker Award finalist Josh Archibald (29 goals last season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha) scored his first pro goal in his second pro game and against a very good goaltender in then Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim) goaltender John Gibson.
In addition to Sheary and Archibald, there are two more solid two-way prospects turning pro after successful collegiate careers: Bryan Rust (Notre Dame) and Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell).
Jean-Sebastien Dea, who I will often refer to this season as 'JSD', is a highly skilled forward who had no trouble scoring goals with Royun Noranda of the QMJHL.
Matia Marcantuoni possesses blazing speed and is an exciting hockey player to watch coming out of the OHL with Kitchener last season.
Time will tell, but heading into rookie camp and the Penguins main NHL training camp this seems to be what the Penguins are looking at right now in terms of roster depth and position battles.
To end, a look at some of the main questions surrounding the Penguins organization that will have the biggest affect on the finalizing of the roster heading into the end of summer and the rookie tournament in London, Ontario in mid-September.
- Does Kapanen make the NHL club out of camp this season?
- Does Pittsburgh add anyone to a tryout at NHL training camp?
- What does Pittsburgh do at the goaltending position?
- Does Rob Scuderi stay on the Penguins roster?
- Does a guy like Dumoulin, Harrington, Megna or Payerl make the Penguins risk exposing Samuelsson or Sill to waivers for the first time?