Author: Joe Yerdon

Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin

Poll: Who makes up for James Neal’s goals in Pittsburgh?


When the Penguins dealt James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, it was viewed as a necessary change. Whether it was because of Neal’s penchant for playing things on the edge or not is up for debate, but one thing he did a lot of in Pittsburgh was score goals.

Over the past three seasons, no one in a Penguins uniform scored more goals than Neal. Not Chris Kunitz, not Evgeni Malkin, not even Sidney Crosby. Now with Neal in Music City, the question now is: Who picks up the slack?

The obvious answer would be Hornqvist. In Nashville, the big Swede was able to make a living parking around the net and scoring the dirty brands of goals guys like Tomas Holmstrom and Dino Ciccarelli became known for. With the Pens, putting him around the net while Malkin, Crosby, Kunitz, and Letang fire away could mean he becomes a power play beast.

Then there’s 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen. He has the speed and skill but he’s young and untested in the NHL. If he makes the team out of training camp it could be him. Then again, the Pens’ big guns of Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz could just all step up themselves and make up the difference.

So who pulls it off the most? That’s what we want you to answer.

McDavid to play in Buffalo in October… For his junior team

Connor McDavid

BUFFALO — Connor McDavid will get a chance to show fans in Buffalo what he’s all about… Just not as a member of the Sabres. Not yet, anyway.

The Sabres announced they’ll be hosting an Ontario Hockey League game between McDavid’s Erie Otters and the Niagara Ice Dogs on October 22. McDavid was on hand at First Niagara Center for the announcement along with Otters GM Sherry Bassin as well as coach Kris Knoblauch.

“I’ve been to a couple Sabres games,” McDavid said. “I was here last year and it’s a pretty nice spot. The fans are crazy here – they’re great. I’m really excited to play here with my team.”

McDavid said it’s crossed his mind about what it might be like to play for the Sabres, but said his focus for now is on the season ahead with the Otters.

“Right now it’s all about getting back with the Erie Otters and having a good training camp, preseason, and a good start to the year,” McDavid said. “That’s what it’s all about and you’ve just got to worry about yourself. Then maybe when we get a little closer to the draft and the season’s over I think you start picturing which organization you’ll play with. But right now it’s all about having a good year.”

Both McDavid and Jack Eichel will have a chance to play in Buffalo this year. Eichel will be part of the USA All-American Prospects game in September. You can’t beat having both of the top prospects in next summer’s draft get a chance to see what it’s like to play in Buffalo when the Sabres could wind up with one of the top picks.

Looking to make the leap: Simon Despres

Simon Despres

By now, you may know all about Simon Despres. The smooth-skating defenseman has gotten a more than a few looks the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but now he’s at a bit of a crossroads.

As opposed to other players we’ve featured in our series, Despres is in a tricky position when it comes to making the leap. Instead of trying to blast his way out of junior or college hockey, he’s trying to make his way out of the American Hockey League.

The 23-year-old came in highly-touted when he was taken in the first-round, 30th overall in 2009 out of Saint John. He put up strong numbers for the Sea Dogs and turned pro in 2011. Since then, it’s been a bumpy ride that’s seen him get acclimated to taking the bus between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh.

One of the highlights to his game coming out of juniors was his offensive play. In four seasons he had 134 points in 240 games (0.55 points per-game). Since turning pro, that part of his game has all but disappeared.

In 85 games with Pittsburgh, he has 16 points (0.18 PPG) and in the AHL he had 45 points in 107 games (0.42 PPG). On the bright side, his possession numbers during his time in Pittsburgh have been very strong, especially the past two seasons. On the other hand, he could never find a way to impress Dan Bylsma enough to stick around full-time.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, Bylsma is gone and Mike Johnston is in. With Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik now in Washington, the Penguins are going to have one hole to fill on the blue line. Christian Ehrhoff should take over where Niskanen left off, but with puck possession becoming a more vital part to playing defense, the opportunity for Despres to make a good impression is there for the taking.

The problem he’s going to face in training camp, however, will come from other young defenseman itchy to make it to Pittsburgh themselves. Olli Maatta showed last season that age is but a number and solid play will help you stick around. It’s that example Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot, and Philip Samuelsson will be looking to follow.

With hefty competition amongst young defenseman and many others likely holding spots down already (Ehrhoff, Maatta, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi), the Pens blue line will be more than worth watching in training camp.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, everyone will start with a clean slate for the new coach.

Tanguay helped sell Iginla on Colorado

Alex Tanguay

Jarome Iginla’s had a little bit of help in choosing to sign with the Colorado Avalanche this summer.

According to L.A. Lariviere of TVA Sports (link in French), former Calgary Flames and soon-to-be Avalanche teammate Alex Tanguay helped convince Iginla Denver was the place to be. Here’s a poorly translated quote from the story:

“A week before, Joe Sakic (vice-president of hockey operations) called me,” Tanguay said. “He asked me Jarome’s phone number. They asked me to call him to sell the merits of Colorado. It was not difficult!”

Tanguay and Iginla were teammates in Calgary for two seasons from 2006-2008 and they worked together as part of a dynamic top line with Daymond Langkow. In Colorado, they figure to be more the veteran leaders on a team that’s relatively young and talented.

Iginla’s three-year, $16 million contract after coming off a 30-goal season with the Boston Bruins puts him in a bigger position to help out right away. Tanguay, on the other hand, dealt with injury trouble last season and played just 16 games.

Getting to play alongside Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog probably had a lot to do with Tanguay’s sales pitch. Having Patrick Roy as coach and Sakic running the show doesn’t hurt either.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins

Another year with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their prime turned into another year without a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins got an MVP season out of Crosby, who was head and shoulders above everyone last season, but wound up getting bumped out in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Making matters worse, the Pens had a 3-1 lead in the series until Henrik Lundqvist turned into brick wall.

Crosby struggled in the postseason and not just because of Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky’s heroics. A rumored wrist injury may or may not have slowed him down. He also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Outside of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Niskanen others failed to show up. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang all had lackluster performances.

The Pens got a breakout season from 19-year-old Olli Maatta on defense and managed to dance around a stroke to Letang during the regular season to have a solid year on the blue line. Niskanen’s big season helped soften the blow of losing Letang and Paul Martin was steady as well.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury was steady as anyone putting up a .915 save percentage both in the regular season and playoffs. While he’s always easy to point the finger at when things go south, he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s problem last season. A lack of strong forward depth, especially in the wake of losing Pascal Dupuis for the season, and defensive injuries helped make life a lot harder than it had to be during the season and worse still during the playoffs.

Offseason recap

If was a summer of front office changes for the Pens. Both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were sent packing and in came former Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as well as first-time NHL coach Mike Johnston from the WHL Portland Winterhawks. After bowing out to the New York Rangers, that was the last straw for Penguins ownership.

The Pens also made big changes on the ice as well as they traded Neal to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik bolted for the truly greener pastures of Washington to join the Capitals. They also let Jokinen, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale walk in free agency.

Pittsburgh may have made the sneakiest splashes of the offseason landing former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and former Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie on one-year deals. Blake Comeau, along with Spaling, will also help their bottom six be not as easy to push around.