CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) General manager Jim Rutherford spent the offseason shuffling the Pittsburgh Penguins roster behind stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Time to find out what coach Mike Johnston can do with the new – and in some cases not so new – talent at his disposal.
The Penguins open training camp on Friday with a handful of familiar faces back after an injury-marred 2014-15 and more than a few fresh ones in place.
Welcome back Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta. Welcome to town Phil Kessel, Eric Fehr and Sergei Plotnikov.
A franchise that limped into the postseason – and was quickly ushered out by the New York Rangers in five games – appears rejuvenated. Rutherford hopes his busy summer means the Penguins won’t have to rely so heavily on its top two lines and the stars tasked with carrying them.
“We had a good offseason, especially with our forwards,” Rutherford said Thursday. “We clearly have more depth up front than we did a year ago. We’ll have a lot more balance. We’ll be able to play the game different ways and I think we’ll have a better chance to score.”
Forwards Kessel, Fehr, Plotnikov and Nick Bonino were each brought in via trade or free agency. Kessel will play to the right of either Crosby or Malkin, while the rest fill out the bottom six to give the Penguins potentially its deepest crop of forwards since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
“I think both (Crosby) and (Malkin) play with pace and speed to their game,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re both a little bit different in how they play the game, but they both play with speed. So, the one thing I like with Phil is he carries his speed well. He’s a dangerous attack player with the puck. He can play a give-and-go game.
“Both of those centers play with a give-and-go attitude.”
Rutherford said each player, except Fehr, has been cleared to participate in training camp. Fehr, who underwent shoulder surgery June 3, could start shooting the puck in two weeks and make his Penguins debut one month into the regular season, Rutherford said.
Dupuis will enter the mix when he returns from a blood clot in his lung that was deemed potentially career-threatening last November. Letang and Maatta, Pittsburgh’s highest-profile defensemen, will also return from season-ending injuries to strengthen a young defensive corps.
“In particular, those three guys (Letang, Maatta and Dupuis), you talk to them, all three are very driven,” Johnston said. “They’re all positive. Like Dupuis, last year, I appreciated everything he did. He worked right to the end to try to be ready for us if we extended our playoff series long enough so that he’d have a chance to get back in. Olli Maatta has had two bad injuries since he’s been here, but we couldn’t have a more positive young guy.
“Then Kris Letang, I just watched him in the room with his tests, he’s a machine now.”