Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
Training Camp 2001 Preview
September 11, 2001
Today it all begins. It's the first official day of activity at the Iceoplex at Southpointe. Players will reports for pictures and photos. There will be open ice for them from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. The real practices start tomorrow, with tournament games scheduled for 8:00 am and 11:30 am. The same is scheduled for Thursday and Friday. I was a little surprised when I first heard that. Usually they practice for a while before the tournament starts, but this year they're getting right into it. No complaints here! Drills are great and all, but the tournament games are always my favorite part of camp.
Camp 2001 will be odd at first, as this will be the first camp in a long time without Jaromir Jagr. That brings up the first of many questions for this year: who will replace him and his production?
Obviously, no one person can or will. He has been the best offensive force in the game the last 4-5 years, and one sub-par year (by his mammoth standards) cannot diminish that in my mind. Losing his 120 points is cause for concern to be sure. However, Mario Lemieux will be around for a full season, or at least as much of it as his health permits. I believe he will not take games off unless he is bothered by some kind of ailment. That will make up part of the deficit. The rest of it will be the responsibility of the KLS line and whomever ends up as Lemieux's linemates.
That takes us to the next couple of questions: where will Lemieux play and who will be his linemates? Obviously, the first part will play a role in determining the second. If he stays at center, Kevin Stevens would figure to get a shot at left wing. If Lemieux moves to left wing, Milan Kraft would likely be given first crack at center. Regardless of where Lemieux plays, I think Stephane Richer will get the first crack at right wing on his line. Richer has no place on this team if he can't score goals anymore, so they'll need to see what he's got right away. If he fails, I look for Aleksey Morozov to get a shot.
A lot has been said since Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals about young guys stepping in. The Penguins have 9 forwards with one-way NHL contracts. They are: Jan Hrdina, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang, Lemieux, Morozov, Krzysztof Oliwa, Wayne Primeau, Stevens, and Martin Straka. Listening to Lemieux, you might as well add Kraft to that list despite his two-way deal. Barring a trade, they will all play. That leaves 2 forward sports open for the likes of Richer, Bob Errey, Dan Lacouture, Bill Tibbetts and others to compete for. A Toby Petersen or an Eric Meloche could also make a push for the final spots. If Tibbetts can keep his temper in check, I'd give him the edge over the rest of the pack. Errey, with his speed and smarts, has an outside shot if his conditioning is up to NHL level. Also with all the centers (Hrdina, Lang, Lemieux, Primeau, Kraft, and Tibbetts, who can also play center) someone will have to move to wing even if Lemieux does not. Two of Lang, Lemieux and Kraft will likely end up as the top two centers and Primeau seems likely to land the third spot. I can't imagine they'd use Hrdina as a fourth line guy so maybe he moves to wing or gets traded. If he is dealt, I would hope it would be for defensive help.
The biggest question marks on this team are on the blueline. The group was suspect last year and that was before the trade of Jiri Slegr. Bob Boughner is gone and Janne Laukkanen is gone until at least November, maybe longer. I wonder if Craig Patrick wishes he would have extended the three year deal to Boughner instead of Laukkanen. I am hoping that Darius Kasparaitis shows up as the same competitor he has been in years past. However, if he allows his latest contract impasse to affect him on the ice, then defense is even weaker. Hans Jonsson at his best is a steady performer and Ian Moran is a good guy to have around so long as you don't ask too much of him. Mike Wilson says he knows he needs to be more physical. If he follows through on that, it would be a big plus for the Penguins. So even with Laukkanen out, there are still 4 guys with NHL-only deals that are locks for four of the six spots on defense. That means only one job back there is up for grabs for Josef Melichar, Michal Rozsival, Brooks Orpik, David Koci and the others to fight for, because you know Andrew Ference is up with the big club to stay. My concern with this group is that they have a lot of #3 guys that will be asked to play like #1s and #2s. Ference should be a solid #2 as he continues to develop, but he's not quite there yet. I hope the organization doesn't rush their young guys up because they need help. Also, who among these guys will be the leader of that group? I can't believe they're willing to bring Michel Petit in on a tryout, but have seemingly walked away from Marc Bergevin. He wouldn't be a number one by any stretch either, but at least they blueline would have some leadership.
The goaltending is set with Johan Hedberg back for a full year and Jean-Sebastien Aubin seemingly ready to bounce back from a down year. I suppose there could be questions about the Moose pulling a Brian Boucher, but by everything I've seen and read, that seems very unlikely.
How will it shake out? The next three weeks will tell us that, but I guess I have to take a shot at how the roster will shake out come October 3rd, so here goes:
Hrdina and Tibbetts could swap spots depending on how under control Tibbetts is and how down the organization is on Hrdina. If Errey's conditioning is not up to NHL level, then I look for Dan Lacouture or Eric Meloche to get in there.
I'm not going to try and guess at defensive pairings because I'm not sure which side everyone plays, but here are the six guys I think will make it: Ference, Kasparaitis, Moran, Wilson, Jonsson, and Melichar.
Hedberg will start in goal and Aubin will back him up. ;-)
netwolf is an odd sort who actually enjoys spending some of his vacation days sitting on a cold metal bench in a chilly ice rink to get a glimpse of the Penguins future...
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