After last year’s defensive nightmare — in which injuries forced them to play some regular-season games with five d-men, and use Taylor Chorney in the playoffs — the Penguins are taking a proactive approach this season, and will carry eight defensemen.
All of which, you’d think, plays into Sergei Gonchar’s favor. It’s even easier to think that after hearing what Pens GM Jim Rutherford said on the eve of training camp.
“We want to start with eight defensemen just based on the competition we have going here,” Rutherfor explained, per the Tribune-Review. “Each individual will take care of (himself) based on how they play. Certainly, (Sergei) Gonchar will be a guy that everybody will be watching. He’s had a very good career.
“We’ll see how much he has left and can he keep the tempo, but he’s a smart player. I think he can contribute to our team. Now we just have to watch these games, but having eight defensemen in the early going makes some sense, and then we’ll see how that plays out.”
Gonchar, 41, is at Pittsburgh camp on a PTO after a disappointing ’14-15 campaign — he appeared in just three games for Dallas before getting shipped to Montreal, where he appeared in 45 contests, but none during the Habs’ playoff run.
Despite some modest offensive output with the Habs — 13 points — Gonchar looked slow and unable to keep pace, which is fairly normal for a guy that’s played 1,300 games over a 20-year career.
But how does that play into the Pittsburgh situation?
Per the Trib, it’s safe to project Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Ian Cole, Derrick Pouliot, Ben Lovejoy, Brian Dumoulin and Rob Scuderi as the first seven d-men. After that, Gonchar is (presumably) up against Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon for the No. 8 spot, both of whom are virtual greenhorns in comparison.
Clendening has 21 games of NHL experience, Erixon 93. So it could very well come down to whether Rutherford wants a veteran presence on defense, or some young legs.
It should be noted, however, that both Clendening and Erixon would need to pass through waivers to get to Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. That could also play into Rutherford’s decision.