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Talbot made transition from scorer to defender

by Dan Rosen

Penguins center Maxime Talbot was a big-time scorer in juniors, but has thrived in the NHL as a fourth-liner versatile enough to keep the puck out of his own net as well as put it past an opposing goalie.  WATCH Maxime Talbot in action
DETROIT – As soon as he figured out that the topic of the interview was switching to his career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot sported a wide grin and interrupted with his awesome sense of humor.

"Oh, I was sick," Talbot told prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. "I used to be so awesome."

Talbot used to be a goal scorer, and a really good one. He pumped in 46 one year for Hull and 95 over his final three seasons in the QMJHL, but if it weren't for some sensible advice from his junior coach Talbot may never have even made an NHL roster.

"When I was in junior I had so many more responsibilities and ice time. I was captain of the team," Talbot said. "My junior coach came to me and said, 'Hey Max, you're not going to make it to the NHL with your skills. You have to focus on your defensive game and that's how you're going to get to the NHL.' "

That could be a hard thing for a goal scorer to hear, but Talbot listened to Benoit Groulx and three years into what once looked like an improbable NHL career he's developing into one of the finest defensive forwards in the game.

Talbot starts games as the Penguins' fourth-line centerman, but he's one of their best penalty-killers. And, since he does still have some of his offensive flair, coach Michel Therrien has moved him up to the third line at times in this postseason.

"I trusted that guy with all I had," Talbot said of Groulx. "He knew it and what he told me is what happened. I made the World Juniors that year and I had a defensive role. It was great and that's when I realized, 'OK, maybe I can focus on that role and make it.'

"That's what happened. (Groulx) was a pretty smart guy."

It helps Talbot accept his defense-first, fourth-line role knowing that the three centers in front of him are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

But Therrien said he's able to move Talbot up to the left wing on Staal's line because Talbot has worked hard at learning how to be an NHL winger. With his speed and fearlessness, he can be the perfect remedy if the Penguins' offense is ailing.

When they needed goals in the third period of Game 4 against the Philadelphia Flyers, Therrien moved Talbot to a line with Staal and Tyler Kennedy and the trio produced a pair as Talbot started both plays and wound up with two secondary assists.

Talbot also scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 against the Flyers. He has only two this postseason after scoring 12 in 63 regular-season games. Talbot had 13 goals in 75 games last season, and five in 48 games as a rookie in 2005-06.

"When we start games he's our fourth line centerman because he's got quality players in front of him," Therrien said. "The fourth line is where we want him because he's able to play center and he's really dependable in his own end.

"He's capable to play on the wing," the coach continued. "This is something we worked with him on because we know the centermen we've got. He's got a lot of energy. He's got a lot of speed. He's a guy that will sacrifice himself to block shots, and he's doing a great job in the penalty killing."

Talbot, though, is more than just a do-it-all on-ice player for the Penguins. Therrien, who coached him at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL in 2004-05, calls Talbot one of the team's strongest leaders.

He's not wrong.

Talbot is one of the Penguins' smoothest talkers, able to mix in some valuable insight – he views himself as a visionary – with a quick-witted sense of humor. He's one of the first guys to beak on Crosby and play practical jokes with other guys, but he's also one of the most serious guys when it comes to dissecting and digesting games.

"You know, that young guy, he's a leader in his own right," Therrien said. "You look at what he did in junior, being the youngest captain of that team, he did a fantastic job. He did a fantastic job in Wilkes-Barre, too.

"He's a good young leader of our group. That's something I really appreciate from Maxime Talbot."

In return, Talbot would appreciate an enhanced offensive role next season. It's not farfetched to think he'll get it, especially if the Penguins lose unrestricted free agents like Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Pascal Dupuis and Jarkko Ruutu.

"I think he's accepting of his role, but long term he has more to offer offensively," Penguins GM Ray Shero told "To get to the NHL he was probably an underdog, and he's a guy that figured it out through dedication and a never-say-die attitude. Every team is looking for a guy like this. He has ability to play a higher role moving forward, but right now he's excelling in the one he's at. He plays like he's 6-foot-3, and he's really only 5-10."

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