It is that time of year again, the kids have finished up the annual rookie tournament (see the recap of the 2019 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo) and the players are gearing up for the main NHL training camp activities. Barring any last minute additions of invites who impressed during the rookie tournament the Pittsburgh Penguins have invited 54 players: 6 goaltenders, 17 defensemen, and 31 forwards. They will need to be down to 23 players (and cap compliant) before the start of the 2019-20 NHL season on October 2.
Like usual we are going to take a look at the schedule, seeing where one can reasonably expect cuts to occur, and look at who all is attending camp, what their chances of making the lineup are, and what the roster could look like going into the season.
The open camp on Friday September 13 split into 3 groups, Teams 1 and 2 each have a morning practice and then a scrimmage while Team 3 has two afternoon practice sessions. On Saturday September 14 it is Teams 2 and 3 with the morning practice and scrimmage while Team 1 hits the ice for the afternoon sessions. Then Sunday September 15 Teams 1 and 3 scrimmage while Team 2 gets the late practice.
On Monday September 16 they split into a game group and a non-game group, with a non-game practice for the larger group and a morning skate for those who will be playing an away game against the Buffalo Sabres at 7:00pm in Penn State. There is a scheduled day off on Tuesday, so this may be the ideal place to see the first round of cuts taking place as when the teams return on Wednesday September 18 they will be split into two practice groups. The first cuts will likely be those players who are heading back to juniors or invites on AHL deals who were up just to get experience with the big club.
On Thursday September 19 they have a game day skate and a separate non-game practice for those not playing and then their first home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7:00pm. They have split practice on Friday September 20 with Team 1 in the morning and Team 2 in the afternoon. After that they head on the road, the players that remain behind have a morning practice session each day while those who travel play Columbus at 2:00pm on Saturday September 21 and the Detroit Red Wings at 5:00pm on Sunday September 22.
This is another ideal place for them to make roster cuts. There is a scheduled day off on Monday September 23 and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins should be starting their AHL training camp around this time as they play their first preseason game on the 25th. Additionally when the players return to the ice on Tuesday September 24 they are slated to be down to a single practice group. At this point the roster should be close to what one would expect from an opening night lineup, although there may still be a few extra fighting over the final roster spots. The guys getting cut here are those slated for the AHL, although it is possible some could be used as mid-season call-ups.
On Wednesday September 25 they have a morning skate and then a home game against Detroit at 7:00pm. They have afternoon practices again on Thursday September 26 and Friday September 27. The final game is against Buffalo at 4:00pm on Saturday September 28, this is presumably the annual Free Game for Kids as they always schedule that as a Saturday afternoon home game. The final practice is scheduled for Sunday September 29, after which they may plan their usual team building trip before the regular season officially begins. Any final cuts will be made right before the deadline as they drop down to a 23-man opening night lineup and get under the salary cap.
1 Casey DeSmith – 2017 free agent signing
30 Matt Murray – 2012 3rd round pick
33 Alex D’Orio – 2017 free agent signing
35 Tristan Jarry – 2013 2nd round pick
60 Emil Larmi – 2019 free agent signing
65 Dustin Tokarski – AHL contract
Barring any unforeseen injuries we can assume that Murray will be the starter and DeSmith the backup once again. Jarry is in an unfortunate situation where he is NHL ready but stuck behind two other young netminders. He has also played long enough that he will need to be placed on waivers in order to be sent back to the AHL. I am somewhat surprised that he is still here, but the rumours are suggesting the team tried trading him over the summer but couldn’t find any interest. That does mean that it may be easier for him to clear waivers, although it could just be that teams didn’t want to trade for him when they could just snag him up for free anyway. Either way I don’t really see a future for him with the Pens because of the other moves they made this summer.
The assumption was that they brought in Larmi to be the AHL starter, he is coming off a solid Euro career where he led his team to a Liiga championship. Tokarski was brought in as a veteran backup to help the young kids, a role he played last year under new WBS HC Mike Vellucci during the Charlotte Checkers Calder Cup victory. It may take Larmi a little time to adjust to the smaller ice and speed of the game in North American, but I expect him to be the starter by the end of the year. This all of course means that D’Orio should be starting his pro career down in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers.
The Jarry situation complicates things. They could trade another goalie to keep him up, but I think DeSmith is a better option and I just don’t see them being willing to part with Murray. They could find a last minute trade partner or lose Jarry trying to waive him down. But if Jarry clears then everything gets muddled. Since Larmi may need time to adjust it wouldn’t be terrible to let him start in Wheeling (or as a backup), but eventually they would want Larmi taking over as #1 in the AHL. They could loan Jarry to another team and still try to trade him, or they could loan out Tokarski or even send him to the ECHL, although I don’t see that one happening as Vellucci is already familiar with him. That will be one of the more interesting questions during camp, what happens to Jarry this year and who will the AHL goalies be?
NHL (2) – Murray/DeSmith $5.000M
Minors (5) – Jarry, Larmi, Tokarski, D’Orio, Ruby
2 Chad Ruhwedel – 2016 free agent signing
3 Jack Johnson – 2018 free agent signing
4 Justin Schultz – Acquired from Edmonton in 2016
5 Zach Trotman – 2017 free agent signing
6 John Marino – Acquired from Edmonton in 2019
7 Kevin Czuczman – 2017 free agent signing
8 Brian Dumoulin – Acquired from Carolina in 2012
25 Matt Abt – AHL contract
28 Marcus Pettersson – Acquired from Anaheim in 2018
44 Erik Gudbranson – Acquired from Vancouver in 2019
50 Juuso Riikola – 2018 free agent signing
55 David Warsofsky – 2019 free agent signing
58 Kris Letang – 2005 3rd round pick
67 Michael Kim – AHL contract
73 Pierre-Olivier Joseph – Acquired from Arizona in 2019
76 Calen Addison – 2018 2nd round pick
79 Niclas Almari – 2016 5th round pick
There are seven D on one-way NHL contracts, an RFA that they still hope to re-sign before the season begins, and two other D who spent part of last season up in Pittsburgh, not to mention a newly returning AHL veteran who was a favourite of HC Mike Sullivan the last time he played with the Pens.
It seems like it should be fairly straightforward. Letang Schultz, and Gudbranson anchor the 3 D pairings on the right side while Dumoulin and Johnson join them on the left. What complicates matters is that Pettersson remains unsigned as an RFA and they can’t really fit him under the cap without making a trade (although if they go with a 22-man roster and he signs at his QO or less they can just make it). Ideally he would be on the 2nd pairing while Johnson sits as the #7 D, but as of now that is not looking likely to happen.
The Pens normally like to carry 8 D because it makes practice easier to not have to split up the pairings, but as it stands now with their cap issues they may have to go with just 7D, and as of now we are counting Pettersson as one of those 7 even though he remains unsigned. That basically leaves Riikola, Ruhwedel, Trotman, Czuczman, and Warsofsky battling over the final roster spot. All of them need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL, but I don’t anticipate any issues with them making it through. Riikola is at a disadvantage because he makes more than the rest and he got sent down late last season, whereas Ruhwedel has been mostly in the NHL since joining the Pens and Trotman was called up late last year and remained through the playoff run. And while Warsofsky was a full-time AHL guy last year, he saw time in Pittsburgh back in 2015-17 and Sullivan liked to use him.
Of course in a perfect world where they kept 8 D they would probably have a left-handed and a right-handed guy, but if they only go with 7 then a lefty (Riikola/Warsofsky/Czuczman) may have an edge because they are pretty set along the right side. However they really like Ruhwedel so we may be better off penciling him in as the #7 D. This unfortunately means Johnson is in on the 3rd pairing, and relies on the assumption that a deal can be reached with Pettersson.
Addison should be back in the juniors, he is only 19 and this will allow his contract to slide. Marino and Joseph are rookies that are waiver exempt, so one can reasonably assume they will be playing in WBS. If they had the cap space I wouldn’t mind giving Joseph a shot in the NHL (and if Pettersson remains unsigned they could end up doing so), but based on what I saw i the rookie tournament I don’t think Marino is anywhere near NHL ready. Almari is waiver exempt but due to his experience in Finland he isn’t really a rookie. Abt spent all of last year in WBS and Kim is an undrafted free agent who looked decent enough in the rookie tournament. There will be some trickle down to Wheeling, however it will depend on how many they plan to keep up, who clears waivers, etc…
NHL (7) – Dumoulin-Letang/Pettersson-Schultz/Johnson-Gudbranson/Ruhwedel $24.800 + RFA
Minors (15) – Trotman, Czuczman, Warsofsky, Riikola, Joseph, Marino, Almari, Abt, Kim, Erkamps, Siebenaler, Lizotte, Titcomb, Skudalski, Kohls
11 Oula Palve – 2019 free agent signing
12 Dominik Simon – 2015 5th round pick
13 Brandon Tanev – 2019 free agent signing
17 Bryan Rust – 2010 3rd round pick
18 Alex Galchenyuk – Acquired from Arizona in 2019
19 Jared McCann – Acquired from Florida in 2019
20 Kasper Bjorkqvist – 2016 2nd round pick
22 Samuel Poulin – 2019 1st round pick
24 Dominik Kahun – Acquired from Chicago in 2019
26 Andrew Agozzino – 2019 free agent signing
27 Nick Bjugstad – Acquired from Florida in 2019
34 Nathan Legare – 2019 3rd round pick
36 Joseph Blandisi – Acquired from Anaheim in 2019
37 Sam Lafferty – 2014 4th round pick
45 Jake Lucchini – 2019 free agent signing
46 Zach Aston-Reese – 2017 free agent signing
47 Adam Johnson – 2017 free agent signing
51 Joseph Cramarossa – 2019 free agent signing
53 Teddy Blueger – 2012 2nd round pick
54 Thomas Di Pauli – 2016 free agent signing
56 Ryan Haggerty – 2018 free agent signing
57 Anthony Angello – 2014 5th round pick
59 Jake Guentzel – 2013 3rd round pick
61 Justin Almeida – 2018 5th round pick
64 Jordy Bellerive – 2017 free agent signing
71 Evgeni Malkin – 2004 1st round pick
72 Patric Hornqvist – Acquired from Nashville in 2014
75 Ben Sexton – AHL contract
80 Sam Miletic – 2017 free agent signing
82 Jan Drozg – 2017 5th round pick
87 Sidney Crosby – 2005 1st round pick
There may not be many surprises up front as the Pens have 12 guys on 1-way NHL deals plus another still on an ELC that spent all of last season up in the NHL. The camp battles will likely be trying to figure out who fits where in the lineup, since there are a number of new faces, and what the pecking order will be for mid-season call-ups. There are a couple guys who look like they could be right on the verge of breaking into the NHL, but their waiver exempt status probably means they will at least start the season down in WBS.
Up front we can assume that Crosby will still be the #1 C with Guentzel on his LW, and Malkin is the #2 C likely skating with the newly acquired Galchenyuk on his RW. The question will be which guys will move up to join them. I like to assume that Kahun will be up there, he is listed as LW so he could slot in with Malkin. Hornqvist has had success playing on Crosby’s RW, so there is familiarity there, but last year he spent a lot of time on the 3rd line so it is possible that Rust will get bumped up. And those aren’t even the only options, they had given Simon a shot (he is listed at RW) and ZAR got some work in the Top 6 (they have him as LW), and they even has McCann up with Malkin last year (he is listed at LW although I prefer him as a C).
One can imagine that Bjugstad will slot in at 3 C since that is what they wanted him for when they made the trade, and based on how much they talked him up I’d expect Tanev to join him as 3 LW. They will probably be joined by whichever of Rust/Hornqvist don’t play with Crosby. That leaves them with ZAR, McCann, Simon, and Blueger for the 4th line. Of those unfortunately Blueger is probably the odd man out who will be scratched more often than not, but I like what he brings as a defensively responsible PK guy.
Agozzino and Blandisi both saw some time in the NHL last year with their former clubs, and both need to clear waivers before joining the AHL. Cramarossa, Di Pauli, and Haggerty will also all need to be waived, although I don’t really anticipate any problems with them. Johnson spent a couple weeks in Pittsburgh last year, but he is still waiver exempt so I can’t imagine he won’t be back in WBS. Angello, Lafferty, and Miletic could all make a push for NHL minutes this year, but their still being waiver exempt means they should start the year down in the minors and be options for mid-season call-ups. Palve is not a rookie since he spent years playing in Finland, but he is waiver exempt this year so it would make sense for him to begin his North American career down in WBS too. Lastly Drozg, Almeida, Lucchini, Bjorkqvist, and Bellerive are waiver exempt rookies who could even wind up spending time in Wheeling depending on how packed the roster is.
Poulin and Legare are only 18 and still unsigned so they will be returning to the juniors.
NHL (13) – Guentzel-Crosby-Hornqvist/Kahun-Malkin-Galchenyuk/Tanev-Bjugstad-Rust/Aston-Reese-McCann-Simon/Blueger $50.175M plus $2.850M bonus
Minors (27) – Agozzino, Cramarossa, Haggerty, Sexton, Di Pauli, Johnson, Blandisi, Palve, Angello, Lafferty, Miletic, Bellerive, Bjorkqvist, Drozg, Almeida, Lucchini, Devane, Scarfo, Hirano, Krastenbergs, Berger, Hawkins, Powell, Brown, Drobot, Saracino, Butcher
Projected Roster and Cap Hit
Based on the 22-man roster (2 G, 7 D, 13 F) listed in the sections above the Pens would be at $82.958M, although if we ignore the bonus cushion we are looking at $80.108M. That gives them $1.393M to work with in order to get Pettersson signed, but even if they can convince him to sign for league minimum (doubtful) that wouldn’t leave them with enough wiggle room should they need injury call-ups. Rutherford has said he isn’t anticipating any more trades right now, but one would think that something has to give at some point during the season because of their cap situation and the less than ideal D corps.
A Jarry trade would make sense, but it is looking less likely, although perhaps they will find more interested parties if he clears waivers. Personally I would be more comfortable with a DeSmith-Jarry combo in net, but they are not going to trade Murray so we’ll just have to hope he can figure out his game this year. And if he can translate his success to North America is may not be long before Larmi is making a push to move up as well.
On D they have serious cap issues because Johnson and Gudbranson are both overpaid but shouldn’t really be more than 3rd pairing guys (and Johnson I’m not even sure about that). Ideally one of them would be traded, preferably Johnson, but unfortunately the team really likes him and I don’t think they will have luck finding any takers on the trade market. Gudbranson might be easier to trade but even him I think will be difficult because of how much he makes. Of course even if they could be traded it doesn’t help much because the D in the pipeline behind them aren’t really any better. Ruhwedel, Trotman, Riikola, Czuczman, Warsofsky… none of them are really ideal 3rd pairing D either, although at least the cap is much better. As mentioned maybe Joseph, and if he plays better than he did in the rookie tournament then maybe Marino could eventually make a push, but I am guessing we will be pretty much stuck with the D we have for the time being. Which is unfortunate because there are a few guys who will be FA next summer that would be so much easier to bring back if we could clear out some cap space first.
Up front they are pretty set, there are enough guys who could be playing Top 6 minutes to field a deep lineup and even the 13th F is a guy I wouldn’t mind having dressed every night. However, if a trade is going to be made then it will be easiest to move a good forward rather than a bad D, and thankfully also easier to replace. Hornqvist would be best as he is an older guy who may not even be in the Top 6 (although I have penciled him in to it), but he also happens to have an NTC which limits the Pens options in trying to shop him. Tanev is the main issue as they vastly overpaid for him and signed him long term, but they sut added him so they aren’t getting rid of him even if they could find somebody stupid enough to take on that contract. Unfortunately it may be Rust who has to go, as he is the next highest cap hit and should actually have decent trade value on the market.
The added benefit of trading forwards of course is that it opens up spots for the youngsters to move up. Angello, Lafferty, and Miletic all have a year left so would need new contracts in the summer, and all of them could be making a push to move up to the NHL next season, but they can only do so if there are roster spots to be had. I imagine Palve would like to get that opportunity as well, he didn’t come over from Finland just to play in the AHL, and I’m sure Bjorkqvist didn’t leave school early in the hopes of having a long minor league career. Not to mention the new additions Poulin and Legare who hope to make it up in the big league some day.
Being right up against the cap is an issue for the future because there are soome big money guys who will be looking for more next summer. Murray and Schultz could come with hefty price tags, as could newly acquired Galchenyuk and Kahun, and even McCann may want to see a boost if he plans to stay. I expect there will be a lot of turnover again this year, especially if the team struggles again, we may find players who want to get an opportunity on a team where they will have more ice time rather than being small fish on a stacked Pens lineup.