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Training Camp Outlook: Beefing Up The D

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
After finishing last season ranked 20th in the National Hockey League with a 2.87 goals-against average, general manager Ray Shero’s No. 1 priority during the offseason was to strengthen the team’s defensive corps.

Shero did that in a big way on July 1 when he inked free agents Zbynek Michalek (Phoenix) and Paul Martin (New Jersey) each to five-year contracts.

Michalek, 27, brings a shutdown, shot-blocking presence to the table that the Penguins missed last season after losing Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, the Penguins’ valuable shutdown pairing during the ’09 Cup run, via free agency.

Although Michalek is known more for his defense, the Czech Republic native makes a good first pass out of the D-zone and can contribute offensively. He also adds durability to a back end which suffered quite a few injuries in ’09-10, having played in 72 or more games during each of his five full NHL seasons – including appearing in all 82 contests on three occasions.

“I was able to have a good year last year,” Michalek said. “I put myself in a good position and it worked out well for me. I’m so happy to be in Pittsburgh.”

Martin, 29, is considered one of the top two-way defensemen in the game. He was expected to be one of Team USA’s top blueliners at the 2010 Winter Olympics before he had to withdraw due to a broken forearm.

Martin, who is one of the top transitional defensemen in the league, will be asked to help replace some of the offense lost when Sergei Gonchar signed with the Ottawa Senators. While Martin’s best offensive season was 37 points (5G-32A) with the Devils in ’05-06, that’s more an indication of the Devils’ defensive system than it is Martin’s offensive ability. Expect Martin to flourish in the Penguins’ aggressive, attacking system and to see top power-play minutes with the Penguins.

“It was definitely something that caught my eye, coming here to play with all of the top talent that is here,” Martin said. “It’s something that I am looking forward to and I think it’s going to be a great fit.

“They already have a solid group of guys here. To add Michalek and myself, hopefully we will come in and improve the defense.”

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