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Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com

Camp 2011, Day 1

September 17, 2011

As always (or at least since last year), I live-tweet from open practices. Follow me at @LGP_netwolf or visit http://twitter.com/LGP_netwolf

In today's sessions, Tyler Kennedy had 2 goals and an assist in his team's dominant 5-1 scrimmage win, Evgeni Malkin actually scored on a penalty shot, and Sidney Crosby appears to be the same force we all remember pre-Winter Classic. You already know that; you have internet access. So rather than solely focusing on what happened I'm going to take a look at what you can take away from Day 1, given that it is only Day 1.

Let's start with Sidney Crosby because, hey, he's kind of a big deal around here. As Crosby headed down the runway towards the ice and came into view of the jumbotron camera, the crowd began to cheer. The closer he got to the ice, the louder the fans became, until he was in full view of everyone. The building was as loud as it would get this day and everyone was on their feet; a standing ovation at training camp.

Just seeing 87 on the ice would have been enough for most in attendance, but just being there has never been good enough for Crosby. In fact, "good enough" may not even be in his vocabulary. He promptly ripped his first four shots into the net. Now, it's only the first day of practices, but it was still a sight to see. He maintained the same high level throughout his group's session and looked exactly like the same player we all know and cheer for.

The most encouraging information regarding Crosby came out after he left the ice, when he told reporters he had pushed himself as hard as he could and felt no symptoms afterward. I know the tendency of some fans will be to start thinking he'll be 100% shortly, but let's just take the comment at face value. Crosby will be back when he's back; there's no need to play the guessing game with it.

Another big topic of discussion this time of year is line combinations. Given how head coach Dan Bylsma likes to change things around, perhaps they shouldn't be, but everyone likes to talk about them anyway, so here goes. Malkin played with Kennedy and newcomer Steve Sullivan. Jordan Staal lined up with Chris Kunitz and James Neal. That tells you who Bylsma has as his top six in the event Crosby isn't ready. I don't know of many other people that would have come up with those, but there's obviously something to the Malkin line.

Kennedy and Sullivan are both small, yet speedy wingers that should be able to get in on the forecheck and create problems for the opposition. They definitely did that today, especially Kennedy. At one point, Kris Letang had the puck in his end and appeared to have any easy out. Kennedy forced him to turn back, chased him into the corner, and eventually caused a turnover. Later, he went into the corner with Staal and Carl Sneep, and still came out with the puck. This line has the potential to be very productive (suppose that's true of any line with 71), but the lack of size could be a problem, particularly against more physical teams.

Kunitz played with Staal a bit when he first came over in the Ryan Whitney trade with Anaheim, so seeing them together is not much of a surprise. Despite his goal today, I don't know how well Neal fits there. He showed the nice shot today and it's always been said that he's at his best when he plays with a good playmaking center. I like Staal's game and there are plenty of things he excels at. I don't know that he's ever been described as a playmaking center though. Then again, maybe Neal playing with those two results in him simplifying his game a bit and going to the net more. With his size and hands, that wouldn't be welcome news for opposing goaltenders.

As mentioned before, Crosby was between Cooke and Dupuis. Unless he's been demoted to checking line duties, I think it's safe to say he's just a placeholder there. Once he's ready, he trades places with Staal. If he isn't, then who goes there? Could it be Dustin Jeffrey, who is coming off a severe knee injury of his own? Maybe Mark Letestu, who did finish the season, but was clearly limited once he returned to the lineup? For what it's worth, Letestu centered Ryan Craig and last year's AHL goal-scoring leader, Colin McDonald.

Arron Asham and Craig Adams are locks for the fourth line, but the center is up in the air. Coming into camp, it didn't look like anyone from Wilkes-Barre had much of a chance to crack the bottom six, but Joe Vitale was one of the first names mentioned. However, it was Zach Sill centering those two today. He acquitted himself quite well in development camp and in the rookie tournament and it's reported that the coaching staff really likes his game. Still, it would be tough for him to jump to the NHL out of camp.

That leads into my next point. Have the Penguins ever had this much organizational depth? At forward, they have Kunitz, Crosby, Neal, Sullivan, Malkin, Kennedy, Cooke, Staal, Dupuis, Asham, Letestu, and Adams all on one-way deals. Jeffrey and Nick Johnson have to clear waivers to be sent down, so that's 14 guys assuming management doesn't want to risk losing either for nothing. Behind that group, the Pens also have Eric Tangradi, Jason Williams, Richard Park, Keven Veilleux, Craig and McDonald. That's some great depth for the farm team this season, and I still haven't mentioned Paul Thompson, Ben Street, Nick Petersen, and if he turns pro, Tom Kuhnhackl.

On defense, once again the top club is stacked with seven guys on one-way deals: Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engellang, and Matt Niskanen. After that, you also have Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Alex Grant, Alex Picard, Philip Samuelsson, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait, and Boris Valabik. Joey Mormina is also on a minor league deal and while neither figures to turn pro this year, 2011 draftees Joe Morrow and Scott Harrington have signed contracts.

Quite simply, this is a very, very deep hockey club.

I'll wrap this up with what may be the biggest takeaway of the day for me. Coming into camp, there were a lot of injury questions. Not only was there Crosby's concussion and Malkin's knee, Jeffrey also had a pretty bad knee injury. Adams and Orpik were coming off off-season surgeries. Letestu returned from his injury, but was clearly not at full strength. Tangradi, Asham, and Johnson all had concussions. Grant missed almost all of last year. All of those players participated today, and none of them looked like they were still bothered by their injuries. The road to recovery is a beautiful thing.

Back to Netwolf's Camp Report List

 
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