The Pens opened their 2015 training camp at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry on Friday morning. Here are the takeaways from the day…
JUST THE FACTS
The 53 camp invitees were broken into two groups that used both ice surfaces at the new practice and training center. The main focus of Day 1 was “systems, details and structure,” according to head coach Mike Johnston. While most drills centered on those elements, they did run three specific drills to allow for management, watching from their perch above the ice surface, to evaluate the compete and decision-making of the players.
(One note: Tom Sestito skated with Group A)
The team used the following lines and defensive pairs in their sessions:
First off, don’t read too much into the line combinations. Don’t forget that it’s training camp. The coaching staff wants to put one young player on a line with two veteran players so that they learn the tempo and pace. Coach Johnston is already on record saying that Crosby and Kessel will start together, as will Malkin and Hornqvist. So even though they didn’t skate together on Day 1 of camp, that doesn’t mean that the plans have changed.
However, there are some notable items that do jump out from some of the groupings. Dupuis is skating on the left wing. He’s a natural left winger and has played on that side most of his career, although for the past several seasons he has played exclusively on the right side. When I spoke to him during the informal skates, he said it would be an easy transition and that he is comfortable on both sides. There are two openings on the Pens’ top-6 on the left side and Dupuis should be a top candidate for those spots.
It was cool seeing Sprong get an opportunity to skate with Crosby. Even though the Pens have said Sprong, the team’s 2nd-round pick in June, will likely head back to juniors this season, it’s nice that he got a taste of playing with Crosby. And you never know. If he blows everyone away at camp he could land a job there. Or maybe we’re getting a glimpse of the Pens’ future. Sprong has a nasty shot already. Imagine Crosby flanked by Sprong and Kessel down the road. Look out NHL.
The defensive pairing of Maatta and Letang, both of whom are returning from extended injuries and summer rehab, will likely be the team’s top tandem this season. It’s a duo that the Pens used at times last year and one that Johnston said he likes together. Letang has fully recovered from a concussion and Maatta is back following shoulder surgery. They both were fully cleared at Thursday’s medical and fitness testing. They’ll be a fun pair to watch this season. PICS ON PICS ON PICS
Click here for a photo gallery
from Day 1 of training camp. A MAATTA OF TIME
It was an encouraging sign to see Maatta on the ice. He underwent shoulder surgery on Jan. 14 and has spent the past nine months rehabbing.
“The shoulder has come along well,” he said in the locker room. “I followed the rehab program pretty good and it feels good right now.”
Maatta, who has full range of motion and power on his shot, has been testing his shoulder’s strength for the past month and a half. He’s been cleared for full contact in practice and has continued to push forward.
“I always grab a couple of guys and battle in the corner after practice to get used to it,” he said.
The Pens’ first preseason game is next Monday. Maatta is hoping to progress enough with his shoulder to see some preseason action.
“Let’s hope so,” he said.
Maatta, 21, was in a similar situation last year. He had surgery at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and rehabbed all season. He missed the entire preseason slate, but still played in the Pens’ season-opener, notching three assists.
Maatta hasn’t played since Dec. 6 of last year. And he’s eagerly awaiting his return.
“I can’t wait,” he said. SNAP SHOTS
*Hornqvist was asked whether Kessel should play with Crosby or Malkin. His response: “Who cares? He’s a great player and ‘Geno’ and ‘Sid’ are probably the two best centermen in the world.”
*Kessel admitted he was a little nervous being in a golf foursome with Mario Lemieux on Tuesday. “On the first tee I duffed a ball playing with him.”
*Johnston pointed out Thursday that Farnham is a player that could be with the team at the start of the season. As expected, he was excited to hear that quote. “That’s all great to hear,” he said. “There might be one or two spots on a bottom-6 role. You keep the same mindset every year whether there is a spot or not.”
*Farnham is an all-out type of player on the ice. His energy and intensity are off the charts. But don’t expect him to tone down his game in the preseason. I asked if he was afraid that would tire him out. He answered: “You have to go. You have one speed. You’re not going to hold anything back in preseason. You’re trying to make the team so you have to make the best impression possible.”
*As one would expect, Sprong enjoyed skating on a line with Crosby. “It was pretty cool. He’s one of the best players in the world, or the best player in the world. Getting an opportunity to be on the same line was pretty special.” PENSTV VIDS