Pens to audition linemates for Malkin and Neal

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The golden opportunity to skate alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal — who combined for 90 goals and 190 points last season — will be given to a number of Pittsburgh forwards, according to head coach Dan Bylsma.

“That spot with Malkin and James is going to be open and situational,” Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But it‘s going to be open to somebody claiming that spot and making it permanent, too.”

With Malkin entrenched at center and Neal at right wing last year, third wheel duties often fell to Chris Kunitz, who responded with a career-high 26 goals.

That said, Bylsma wants Kunitz on a line with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis — the trio were dynamite together in 2010-11 — and a different Penguin to play with Malkin and Neal.

So…who are the candidates?

Bylsma’s narrowed the field to Tyler Kennedy, Tanner Glass and Matt Cooke — but also didn’t rule out Brandon Sutter, saying he “wouldn’t anchor” Sutter into the No. 3 center spot behind Crosby and Malkin.

If you’re taking bets (and if you are, seek help), the smart money’s on Kennedy to get the gig. He’s a right-handed shot and scored 21 goals two years ago, so he’s got enough offensive prowess to at least hang with the big guns.

Oh, and if you’re gunning for a longshot, do consider what Bylsma had to say about Glass:

Glass, a left winger signed from Winnipeg last summer, has scored just 13 NHL goals. Bylsma said he would play “if we‘re winning.”

Okay then!