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Training Camp Outlook: Replacing Sarge

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were strong additions defensively, but replacing Sergei Gonchar’s offensive prowess won’t be easy. Gonchar posted 50 or more points during each of his four full seasons with the Penguins, and he was the quarterback and calming influence on the power play.

As the Penguins’ young core continues to mature, leaders such as Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal should be able to make up for Gonchar’s lost intangibles. Offensively, young blueliners Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are going to have to continue where they left off in the postseason.

Letang, who signed a four-year extension in March and is still just 23, is one of the best skaters in the game and possesses a rifle for a shot. He tied a franchise record for defenseman with five postseason goals in 2010 (Larry Murphy), and looked as comfortable as ever on the power play against Ottawa and Montreal.

“I am here to play my game,” Letang said. “With one more year in the bag it’s going to be better for me this year coming in with more confidence. I am just going to try to improve my game.”

Goligoski, whose offensive upside might be the higher of the two, also took forward strides in the postseason. The Grand Rapids, Minn. native tied for the team lead with six points (1G-5A) against Montreal. In parts of three seasons with the Penguins, Goligoski has averaged .5 points per game with 59 (14G-54A) in 117 contests. Expect those numbers to only increase in ’10-11.

“It’s tough to replace a guy like (Gonchar), but I’m looking to take some steps forward and kind of take my game to the next level that way,” Goligoski said. “I just want to build off the experience that I have gotten the past couple of years.

“He was definitely one of the best to learn from. He was a great guy to learn teaching points from and just to be able to watch him out there, the way he conducts himself and reads plays – I definitely learned a lot from him.”

Having both players, along with offseason acquisition Paul Martin, all combining to help absorb Gonchar’s offensive production should help make the job that much easier for everyone.

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