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Training Camp 5: Sixth Defenseman

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

 

SIXTH MAN

The Pens' top-5 defensive players are pretty rock solid with Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Ian Cole. That being said, of course, those players will still have to perform to earn their playing time.

That does, however, leave an opening for the sixth and final spot. The Pens franchise has solid depth on the blue line and a plethora of players that are hoping to fill that opening.

Two defensemen that will be fighting for it were on the team's roster last season: Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot.

Schultz was a member of the Pens' 2016 Stanley Cup championship, appearing in 15 postseason games and chipping in four points. But despite his role last season, Schultz is taking nothing for granted this training camp.

"I'm going to just work hard. It's going to be competitive," he said. "You have to earn your spot and earn your ice time. It's as simple as that."

Schultz is a highly-skilled defenseman that is a strong skater and a right-hand shot. The 26-year-old from Kelowna, British Columbia played in 18 regular-season games for Pittsburgh after being acquired at the NHL trade deadline from Edmonton.

Schultz, who re-signed with the Pens in the offseason to a one-year contract, is looking forward to starting a full season with the Pens.

"It's awesome being here and knowing everyone and not coming into a new environment," Schultz said. "I feel pretty comfortable and ready to get this going."

Pouliot has all the pedigree of a strong NHL defenseman, which is why the Pens selected him with the eighth-overall draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft. He has speed, vision, swift skating and good puck movement.

After two years of professional hockey experience, mostly with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League, Pouliot wants to show the coaching staff he's put it all together.

"An overall, all-around consistent game," Pouliot said. "I want to be good in my own zone. And I think a big part of my game is creating offensively, so I want to do that."

Pouliot, 22, joined the Pens late last season and was with the club during the entire Stanley Cup title run. Though he appeared in only two playoffs games, Pouliot was the first-man up on the roster and ready to go if the team needed him. His presence on the roster speaks to his maturation and development as a player.

"It's my third year professionally now, so I'm starting to learn how to be a professional and do the right things," Pouliot said. "(The Cup run) was an amazing experience and at the same time, it was frustrating too, wanting to be out there battling with the guys and helping them win the Stanley Cup like they did."

That experience motivated Pouliot, who entered training in the best shape of his career.

"I think I have a little more confidence going into this training camp," he said. "I'm confident in my ability to play. The shape I came in, there's no worries there. So it's a different feel for sure."

But just because Schultz and Pouliot seem to be the two biggest names, don't count out any of the defensemen at camp.

Players such as Ethan Prow, Lukas Bengtsson, Tim Erixon, Cameron Gaunce or Steve Oleksy could end up surprising some people and earning a spot on the team's roster.

"You know what the depth chart is and it gives you a little extra motivation to prove yourself," Prow said. "Being a younger guy in your first year you want to make a good first impression.

"Everybody is good at that position. It's a tough fight. We'll see where it goes."

 

Tomorrow we'll look at the battle up front for positions among the forward units.

 

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