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Sullivan, Penguins Excited About Possibilities

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

With players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on their roster, the Penguins have one of the strongest depth charts at the center position in the NHL,

Steve Sullivan, a veteran winger who signed a one-year contract with the Penguins on July 1, is well aware of that fact. And he’s absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to play alongside any of them.

“I’m just looking forward to it. I’ve never seen a cast of centermen like there is here,” he said. “I don't think it matters where I play, right wing or left wing. Anywhere with any of those three players would be a thrill.”

In fact, the incredible depth the Penguins have from top to bottom is the reason why Sullivan, 37, chose Pittsburgh.

He’s at the point in his career where his absolute priority is to win the Stanley Cup.

“You just look at this team from top to bottom and the way they’re built, it’s got longevity to be a winner for a long time,” he said. “For myself, this time around was all about winning. It was about a chance to win the Stanley Cup. So my number one choice was here. Thankfully we got the phone call.”

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Sullivan should be able to step in and immediately help fulfill a number of roles for the Penguins.

The winger has called his speed his greatest asset, adding that he likes to forecheck pucks hard and make plays. He projects to fit in well with head coach Dan Bylsma’s offensive-minded system.

And he’s already discussed seeing time on the power play with Bylsma, as it’s a role he’s played prominently throughout his career. Sullivan is a versatile player who feels comfortable both down low and on the point with the man-advantage.

And being a right-handed shot, he can certainly man the left side of the ice – which is crucial given that left-handed players dominate the Penguins roster.

“I think they enjoy the fact that I’m a right-hand shot,” he said. “I’ve been able to quarterback the power play in Nashville the last few years. My position was to carry the puck in the zone and try to set up on the left side. … I can play anywhere on that one side, for the one-timer. Whatever kind of looks coach wants, I’m hoping to help with that.”

And while he’s unsure how he’ll fit in a new dressing room, Sullivan won’t shy away from fulfilling a leadership role if need be – especially with the Penguins’ young core of players.

“I don't think it hurts to have a veteran in there with experience in the league and who’s been through the grind,” he said. “I think that will help with a young club. But those roles kind of fall into place.”

Both Sullivan and the Penguins can’t wait to see how he fits in here in Pittsburgh.

“The intangibles they were missing that they thought they needed to improve this hockey team were things that I could possibly do,” Sullivan said. “So they’re really excited about what the possibilities are. … I’m looking forward to what could be. It’s exciting.”

Sullivan emphasized the fact that he has been given a clean bill of health and will be ready to go for training camp in September.

He missed a significant amount of time during the 2010-11 regular season with a sports hernia. Sullivan then suffered a knee injury in Game 3 of Nashville’s second-round matchup with Vancouver and missed the remainder of the series.

“There will be no setbacks at all,” he said. “Training’s been going extremely well so far. I’m right on pace to where I think I should be. I have no ill effects from the knee or the sports hernia at all.

“If we would have went another round in the playoffs, I think I could have came back and played.”

He also emphasized that there are absolutely no lingering effects from the severe back injury that caused him to miss the entire 2007-08 season and saw him earn the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2009 because of his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“The back hasn't been an issue at all,” he said. “Ever since I’ve come back from those two surgeries and all the rehab we did – the 11 months of rehab it took to come back – from the moment I stepped on the ice when I came back, it’s been an absolute nonissue. “

He understands how incredulous it may seem to have no reoccurring problems from an injury of that magnitude. But that’s simply how it is.

“I don’t know why, but it feels better than ever,” he said. “We did a lot of core work and got the area extremely strong afterwards. I think that might have been an issue – the back gives out because of other areas that aren’t able to hold it up. We’ve strengthened everything else around it, from the hip flexors to my core area.”

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