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Penguins GM expects big contributions from Kessel, Letang, Cullen

Rutherford says Pittsburgh in good shape to challenge for Stanley Cup again

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Jim Rutherford feels good about the makeup of the Pittsburgh Penguins entering training camp.

"We're rested and healthy, and we have more balance and depth now, so some of the things we set out to do [after last season], we felt we've done," the Penguins general manager said Friday at the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter. "We just have to see how everybody plays together, but we feel good where we're at."

The Penguins failed to win their third straight Stanley Cup championship after losing to the eventual champion Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season.


[RELATED: Penguins 'need' to win Stanley Cup back from rival Capitals | 31 in 31: Penguins season preview]


Rutherford said he watched every game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights and respected the hard work and effort by Washington to win the series in five games.

"[Capitals owner] Ted Leonsis and [president] Dick Patrick put a lot into the game and tried for that Cup for a long time and Washington absolutely deserved it," Rutherford said. "They made the adjustments they needed to their team, and the right players played well at the right time so I give them a lot of credit."

Rutherford discussed the Penguins outlook in an interview with


On the possibility of having Phil Kessel playing right wing alongside center Evgeni Malkin this season 

"First of all, I thought Phil was great for us last season; he scored 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists), didn't he? He had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Phil and [Malkin] can play well together and they can play well apart. It's a matter of who we're playing, and what our coach thinks will give us the best chance to win. Is it more balanced scoring and moving those guys apart or do you want to put them together? I think sometimes people get caught up in what the lines are. We don't view it that way. We've won a couple championships with well-balanced teams. We'll just have to see how it shakes out."

Video: Phil Kessel lands at No. 13 on the list


On defenseman Kris Letang, who said he wasn't satisfied with his performance in 79 games last season following neck surgery on April 13, 2017

"He's a very important player to us and has been for the Penguins for as long as he's been there, but he came off a very serious surgery and the doctor said anyone having that that type of surgery needs a full year to recover. So here we are, a year later. We overplayed him last year; the coaches talk about it all the time. They say, 'Let's keep him around 24 minutes,' and then you get into the heat of the battle and you keep throwing him out there. I feel it's also going to be easier for the coaching staff to play him less minutes because our defense is stronger."


On bringing back forward Matt Cullen, 41, on a one-year, $650,000 contract

"We didn't want him to leave (and sign with the Minnesota Wild) last year. When we lost a lot of those key leaders and character guys from our team, there was a missing element. [Center Sidney Crosby] is one of the great leaders of the game but for him and the role he plays, we can't expect him to do the day-to-day stuff. Sid does the overall leadership, sets the tone, sets the pace. If there's a major issue, he's going to be involved to help somebody out. But we lost some of those guys who do those day-to-day things. If a teammate needs help, [Cullen] can do that and still play the game well."

Video: Cullen talks about his deal to return to Pittsburgh


On forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong taking the next step

"Well, for their sake (they need to). If they don't, our team will still be good, but it's an ideal time for them because in the [NHL Salary Cap] world there's going to be turnover every year and both those guys have gone through their development stage and know what it takes to play with the Penguins. It's their time and I believe both will do really well, but if it takes a little longer, we'll be patient with them."


On if Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith will be the backup goaltender behind Matt Murray

"I view it as two guys who will probably play that role at different times during the season. Between the two of them last year, they were seven games over .500. If they can give us that, we'd be pretty happy. They got their feet wet, gained some experience and they're both very good, so I'm comfortable with that situation."


On what he expects from forward Jake Guentzel in his third season

"Last season was his first full year, so he learned a lot from that. He came in halfway through (2016-17), then plays for part of the Cup team, had a short offseason, and then started his first full season, so there were some ups-and-downs in 2017-18. He was terrific in the playoffs (21 points in 12 games) but he's learned what it takes and how to prepare, so he should be in for a very good year."

Video: PIT@PHI, Gm6: Guentzel scores four straight in win

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