The biggest question that Pens fans asked following the blockbuster acquisition of dynamite winger Phil Kessel this summer was whether he would play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Now we have an answer. Well, sort of.
“You’ll probably find (Kessel) starting on the right side with ‘Sid’ to begin with. But things do change in camp,” head coach Mike Johnston said.
However, Johnston noted that the team will experiment with Kessel on both Crosby’s and Malkin’s wing during camp practices and possibly during preseason contests.
“What we want to do, we have eight exhibition games, so with the games we want to try combinations together so that we’re ready for the beginning of the season,” Johnston said. “We want to give guys a chance to play together. We also want to look at different looks at practice.”
So it appears that Crosby with be with Kessel, at least at the onset of camp, and Malkin will have Patric Hornqvist on his right side. That leaves the left column open for spots to be filled. Those enlisting will include Chris Kunitz, newly signed Sergei Plotnikov or even Pascal Dupuis. Johnston also noted that natural right wingers like David Perron and Beau Bennett could be in the running due to their ability to flip wings.
Speaking of players like Dupuis, Pittsburgh has several injured players hoping to begin training camp with a clean bill of health. The most notable are Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (shoulder) and Kris Letang (concussion symptoms).
“Kris Letang said he had a great summer,” Johnston said. “Pascal Dupuis seems really good. He was chomping at the bit to play, if we had extended the playoff series last year. And Olli Maatta. With those guys, that type of energy with guys that had long-term injuries, especially Dupuis and Maatta, coming back into the lineup, it’s going to be exciting for the group.”
Pens general manager Jim Rutherford gave his team a major makeover when he took the job one year ago. He continued that makeover this past offseason, particularly up front, with the acquisition of players like Kessel, Plotnikov, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen.
“We’re definitely deeper,” Rutherford said. “Our forwards have a lot more depth. It’ll be really competitive for where guys fit in. Our defense is not quite as experienced, but probably has more depth because we signed a lot of good depth guys. I’m not comfortable calling them depth guys because they’ll fight for a spot on the team. We have a lot of defensemen that have a chance to make this team.”
Rutherford and Johnston joined Pens alumni in the 18th Annual Penguins Alumni Charity Golf Classic at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray on Tuesday morning. Proceeds from the classic will benefit ACHIEVA, Magee-Women’s Research Institute & Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
Stay tuned to the Pens official website for a video of the event courtesy of Celina Pompeani.