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Veteran D-man Eaton would love return to Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The dressing room is a different one because the old building across the street was torn down. But when Mark Eaton walked into the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room at Consol Energy Center, he felt right at home.

Eaton, a 35-year-old, 12-year NHL veteran, skated with the Penguins on Wednesday and will remain with the team he won the 2009 Stanley Cup with for at least the next few days.

Although Eaton did not sign a contract with Pittsburgh, he has spent the previous few weeks with the organization's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, playing in six games with the Baby Penguins.

"I've always expressed interest (in joining the Penguins), and there's some interest on the other side as well," Eaton said. "Other teams in the League and guys have been doing this -- unsigned and kind of skating with the team to have them get a look at them. Hopefully I can impress a little bit and end up here. That's the long-term goal."

Short-term, there is no commitment from the team. Eaton has been given no promises; he's just been told he will have "a few days" to practice with the team. The Penguins play three home games over the next five days.

"It's a good time to come in and try to show what I can do," Eaton said.

The Penguins know exactly what Eaton can do -- or at least what he could do when he was a little younger. A stay-at-home, shot-blocking defenseman, the 6-2, 212-pound player spent four seasons with Pittsburgh, winning a Stanley Cup in 2009.

He had seven of his 24 career goals, and 24 of his 61 assists while spending 218 of his 627 NHL games with the Penguins from 2006-2010.

"Mark is a veteran player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "A veteran player that we know."

Eaton spent the past two seasons with the New York Islanders, scoring a goal and adding six assists in 96 games. But it isn't offense that Eaton brings to the table.

The Pittsburgh organization is blessed with a very deep corps of defensemen -- but many of their blueliners are young and perhaps a year or two away from being counted on in a Stanley Cup Playoffs situation. This season, the Penguins have two rookies among their top seven.

"You look at Cup teams in the past, like when we won it in '09, we had eight or nine NHL defensemen," Eaton said. "You can never have too many defensemen, so if I fit in depth-wise, if I can find a spot in there, I'm at the point in my career I'm not going to worry about ice time -- I just want to help in any way that I can to help this team win. If that's being the eighth guy or sixth guy or whatever it is, I'm just going to go to work and try to do what I can."

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