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Pens narrow search to three players for third-line center

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins' search for a third-line center has been narrowed down to three possible players. And general manager Jim Rutherford anticipates one of those players will become available at some point. 

"We have our focus on three guys right now. I think one or two of those guys will become available, maybe before the season starts, but maybe not," Rutherford said.

Rutherford isn't in a hurry to fill that third-line center role and is being patient in his pursuit. There are two big reasons that Rutherford isn't concerned opening the season without making a move: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"That's why I don't have to be pressured to have one for opening night when you have those two centers," Rutherford said. "They carry the load."

Carter Rowney made the jump to the NHL last season and became a staple on the team's fourth line. Though he played mostly on the wing, his natural position is center and Rutherford expressed confidence in his abilities.

"There's obviously a spot open, but you have to compete for it," Rowney said. "There are a lot of players at this camp that are capable of having that spot."

Rutherford was also impressed by the showing of some of the team's prospects at last weekend's Prospects Challenge in Buffalo.

"There are guys that can play in that third-line center role," Rutherford said. "I'm not suggesting that they'll be there all year. But I'm confident that if we're starting the year with the guys that we have, we're OK."

All this being said, the conversation focused mostly on the Penguins staying healthy, something that is never a given in the NHL. The dynamic could change quickly should something befall one of the team's current centers. In that situation, there is one player on the current roster that could rotate from wing to center.

That would be Jake Guentzel, the team's rookie sensation from last season. Guentzel has played center and wing at various times throughout his career, though he's been exclusively on wing in the NHL.

"I've played (center) before and I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Wherever they put me, I'm happy to be here," Guentzel said. "Right now I'm more comfortable at wing, but it just takes a couple of reps at center I could get back into it, working on faceoffs. It's a little bit of everything that you have to work on."

Rutherford made it clear that the Pens would prefer to develop Guentzel as a consistent sidecar to Sidney Crosby. The duo was a formidable pair during the stretch run and postseason last year.

"That's an option, but we prefer Jake to play the wing and continue building on what he and Sid did last year," Rutherford said. "If it's short-term it's OK, but it mixes up what we're trying to do with our lines. The good thing about that is, there is an option. There is a guy that can move to that position."

In the meantime, Rutherford will wait for the right deal and the right time.

"I believe you have to have the right fit, the right guy to go into that position," Rutherford said. "There are guys out there that we've talked about. We probably could have made a deal by now."

After answering the seventh question by the media regarding a third-line center, Rutherford added with a smile: "I'm not as anxious as you guys are to fill that role."

Video: Hear what Jim Rutherford had to say

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