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Training Camp 5: Forward Competition

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens officially opened training camp for the 2016-17 season at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. There are certainly many storylines with several key players missing due to participation in the World Cup of Hockey, as well as that whole defending the Stanley Cup thing.

We'll roll out a daily look at the 5 most intriguing items to keep an eye on in training camp. 

1. Goalie Tandem

2. Sixth Man

3. Forward Competition

4. Special Teams

5. Hunger

FORWARD COMPETITION

Training camp is all about competition. And there will be a lot of competition on the Pens roster at the forward position.

Every single forward that helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup is back on the team this season - including the ageless 39-year-old Matt Cullen. Add to that the healthy return of injured forwards Scott Wilson and Kevin Porter, and there are a lot of capable bodies ready to fill out positions at forward.

First of all, just because some of the younger players - Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl - had regular playing time in the postseason, they are not taking it for granted that they'll be handed any positions on the job.

"They're very humble kids. I don't think they're going to come in here and think 'My first year I won the Stanley Cup (so I'm guaranteed anything),'" assistant coach Rick Tocchet said. "If practice is at 11 o'clock, they're on the ice at 10:30. That just shows you. They want to be better players."

Sheary played a majority of the playoffs on a line with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist. He scored huge goals during the postseason, including the overtime game-winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against San Jose. But despite that resume, Sheary knows he still has a lot to prove in training camp.

"You can't get comfortable and you can't sit back at any point because there's a lot of good players in this organization," said Sheary, who originally joined the organization on an amateur tryout. "Every year college guys and junior guys are going to come in and try to take your spot, just like I tried to do before. You just have to stick with it. Nothing is ever guaranteed here."

The coaching staff will certainly take into account how the players performed in last season's championship run while making their evaluations, but that isn't the only criteria for filling out the lineup.

"It goes a long way with how guys played in the playoffs, but it's a new season," Tocchet said.

And a new season means a new opportunity for Wilson and Porter, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries.

Porter played in 41 games for Pittsburgh before a broken ankle ended his year. But he's fully healed and knows he's going to have to fight his way into the lineup.

"You always want to play your best in camp. After winning a Stanley Cup and all of the players coming back it's going to be tough," Porter said. "You're fighting for jobs. You have to come out and put your best foot forward."

Wilson seemed to have earned himself a spot on the team with his call-up opportunity last season. He had five goals in 24 games, including four goals in a five-game span. But just as he was getting hot, a lower-body injury ended his year in early March.

"That was probably the hardest part, being on a run, getting some goals and playing really well (and getting hurt)," Wilson said. "I'm just trying to get back into that groove."

Although competition will be high in training camp, really the competition is a season-long process. The fight for roster spots won't end when the puck drops to start the regular season.

"That's the business we're in," Rust said. "There are so many great players in this organization that there's always going to be competition. Whether it's at the beginning, middle or end of the year."

 

Tomorrow we'll look at how the World Cup of Hockey will affect the special teams units.

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