The Pens trimmed their roster down to 25 players on Saturday afternoon (and really, it’s technically down to the NHL-mandated 23-man limit as that total includes injured forwards Eric Fehr and Tom Kuhnhackl). There were a few notable items. Two names that remain on the roster, and one that has been released. (click here for the full release).
Names that remain on the roster are forwards Daniel Sprong and Bobby Farnham. On the defensive side, veteran Sergei Gonchar was released from his professional tryout contract.
* Sprong, the Pens’ second-round pick (46th overall) in this past summer’s draft, was arguably the team’s best player in training camp and during the preseason.
The 18-year-old winger already has an NHL-ready shot. It’s nasty, hard and deceptive. He’s also proven that his speed and skating – two areas questioned by some scouts, though not the Pens’ staff – are strong and explosive.
Maybe the thing that stood out the most about Sprong was his aggressive attitude. Most young players can be hesitant, but he was quick with his first step and as soon as his team gained possession he was quickly up ice looking for a lane. That type of attitude will fit perfectly in head coach Mike Johnston’s system, who loves that the teenager tries to make plays every time he goes over the boards. “Some guys play the game; he goes out on the ice to make a difference,” Johnston said.
But just because Sprong is still on the roster doesn’t mean he will be around for the entire season. The Pens can give him a nine-game look before his entry-level contract kicks in. So if the team decides after nine games that his development would be better served in juniors, they can send him back to Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Sprong, who had three goals in the preseason, has earned himself an extended stay. Now he has to earn his way on the team for the entire year.
* Farnham, 26, is an energy player that can cause havoc when he’s on the ice. His unique blend of speed, intensity and agitation is something that no one else on the Pens’ roster possesses. He goes all out on every shift, plays with a reckless abandon and draws a lot of penalties – where Johnston has been using him on the kill because of that speed he possesses.
Farnham seems to really get other teams off their game. Whether it’s them jawing at him post-whistle or keeping their eye on him every time he steps on the ice, Farnham’s presence can be a distraction to other teams. He only played two preseason games due to injury, but the coaching staff knows what he brings and it looks like that's something they want on the roster here in Pittsburgh.
With Fehr and Kuhnhackl injured, the Pens are down to their group of 13 forwards. So now it’s going to be a matter of figuring out the line combinations and building chemistry over the next 4-5 days of practice heading into the season opener on Oct. 8 in Dallas.
* On a sad note, veteran blueliner Gonchar was not offered a contract by the Pens. The 41-year-old defenseman was trying to return to the team that he hoisted a Stanley Cup with in 2009 for one last run.
Though he didn’t get to stay on with Pittsburgh, he will always be beloved by Pens fans for his contributions to the team from 2005-10 and helping them win a championship.
* With Derrick Pouliot being assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, that means the Pens are currently holding eight defensemen on the roster: Adam Clendening, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Tim Erixon, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Olli Maatta and Rob Scuderi.
Just like with the forwards, the Pens are going to have to figure out pairings over the next 4-5 days of practice and start establishing chemistry. Because as of now, there isn’t a duo on that blue line that has played any significant time together.
And as Maatta said following the Pens' final preseason game on Friday night, "It takes time to get chemistry and to get to know each other a little better. There’s not a lot you can do off the ice other than talk about it and watch some video together. It all comes with lots of reps and games. That’s it."