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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.


QUESTION: I read recently that the Penguins will have to make a difficult decision about wether or not to offer a contract to Kristopher Letang. Can you explain what the issue is? He seems to be a bright prospect, and I am not sure why they wouldn't sign him.

-Bob Plietz, Harmarville, PA

BOB GROVE: Kristopher Letang, drafted in 2005, would be eligible to re-enter the NHL Entry Draft in 2007 if he is not signed by June 1 next summer. All drafted junior players have that option if they are not signed in the two years after being selected. Very few players choose to re-enter the draft, and most who do so are drafted later than they were originally picked. But it's an option for Letang.

The Penguins can sign him at any time between now and then, but because he has eligibility remaining with Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Letang can only play in the NHL or in junior this season. But if the Penguins feel strongly that they may lose him, they can sign him now and send him back to juniors. His signing would not affect his eligibility in the AHL this season -- he can't play there under any circumstances.

It's not unheard of for a player with junior eligibility to sign with an NHL team and wind up playing in junior. Sometimes those players begin the season in the NHL but are returned to junior -- although that must happen before they play 10 NHL games, because after that they are required to remain in the NHL all season. Former Penguin Kris Beech signed with the Capitals and played four games with them in 2000-2001 before being returned to Calgary of the WHL for his final season of junior hockey.


QUESTION: I noticed on the training camp roster Jordan Morrison (amateur try-out) from Peterorough of the OHL (Staal's team) put up almost the same numbers as Staal. Do you know anything about him? Was he on the same line?

-Steve Denny of Butler, PA

BOB GROVE: Jordan Morrison was a point-per-game player over his last two seasons with Peterborough of the OHL and helped them to the Memorial Cup last spring. A center, he did not play on a line with Jordan Staal last season. Drafted by the Penguins in the seventh round in 2004, he was not signed by Pittsburgh this summer but accepted an invitation to camp. At 5-11 and just 167 pounds, Morrison needed to get a bit bigger and did so last season, when he was playing at about 180 pounds. He's a skilled guy with good skating ability, and it will be interesting to see how far those attributes get him in camp against bigger NHL players.

QUESTION: The Pens started out very slow over the past couple seasons, basically being all but out of the post season by the 20th game.It seems as though they weren't prepared for the start of those seasons. My question, how prepared do you think this group will be in comparison to those of say, the past three years?

-Steve Price of Carrolltown, PA

BOB GROVE: The Penguins were one game over .500 after 20 games in 2002-03; five games under .500 after 20 games in 2003-04; and two games under .500 after 20 games last season. Those starts did not put any of those teams out of the playoff hunt on paper, although all three teams of course failed to reach the post-season.

I believe the inability to make the playoffs in those first two seasons was more a function of the Penguins' talent level and depth; going winless for the first nine games of last season, however, hurt the team's confidence, exacerbated its problems developing chemistry and doomed it in an NHL where three teams (Toronto, Atlanta and Vancouver) all missed the playoffs with 90 or more points.

This group should be more focused on preventing goals, more experienced, better conditioned, more determined to have a good start (with last season fresh in their minds) and better adapted to a speed-based game. This team also should score more goals, which helps hide defensive liabilities.

Every coach structures his training camp to prepare his team for 82 games, and most coaches on opening night believe they've done everything possible to give the players they've been handed a chance to succeed. Given the scheduling of a rookie camp and a stop at West Point for team building, it seems to me that Ray Shero and Michel Therrien have put a lot of thought into this preseason. But ultimately, it's up to the players to translate camp lessons into victories.

QUESTION: What's the deal with Jordan Staal? I haven't heard much about him since the draft. Is he signed to a deal yet and also will he be playing for the Penguins or the AHL Baby Penguins? If he plays in the NHL this season I can definitely see him being a great scoring threat on the second line with Malkin.

-Adam Swiger of Morgantown, WV

BOB GROVE: Another very popular subject recently has been the immediate future of Jordan Staal. No one knows for sure where Staal will end up this season, but we can say one thing with certainty: he won't be playing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. NHL rules prohibit players with junior eligibility from playing in the AHL, so Staal will be either in Pittsburgh or in Peterborough. Where Staal spends this winter will be determined by his performance in training camp and preseason games.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.

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