The Pittsburgh Penguins have begun the most awaited training camp in recent memory, with a multitude of high profile free agents and talented youth giving the organization plenty to think about.
Amongst the highest profile signings since the Penguins last took the ice in the NHL include forwards Mark Recchi, John Leclair and Ziggy Palffy, defensemen Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. These signings mean even more competition for the prospects that are coming into the NHL frame, with the exception of Sidney Crosby, who will walk into one of the top two center positions on opening night.
There was plenty of news during the summer in regards to prospect signings with a total of nine draftees putting pen to paper.
At forward, Stephen Dixon (Cape Breton, QMJHL), Jonathan Filewich (Lethbridge, WHL), Daniel Carcillo (Mississauga, OHL) and Ryan Stone (Brandon, WHL) will compete for minor league spots, with Stone the best of the bunch. The signing of Carcillo was an intriguing one, with repeated suspensions and bad behavior on his rap sheet causing speculation about his value as a pro.
The Penguins made five signings on the blue line, highlighted by Harvard captain Noah Welch. The 6’4, 212-pounder is widely expected to become a fixture in Pittsburgh in the near future, but may be stationed in Wilkes-Barre to begin with.
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Joining him at camp is his Harvard teammate Ryan Lannon, Andy Schneider (North Dakota, NCAA), Paul Bissonnette (Owen Sound, OHL) and Swedish big man Daniel Fernholm (Djurgarden, SEL). Fernholm in particular is an interesting prospect having spent his entire pro career thus far in the Swedish Elite League, and brings a good blend of size and mobility that should get him a start in the AHL this season.
The only Canadian junior player who was not signed from the 2003 draft class was Czech Lukas Bolf, who has elected to return home and play for Sparta Praha this season.
Sep 19 – v COLUMBUS – 7.00PM ET (Nationwide Arena, Columbus)
Sep 21 – v BOSTON – 7.00PM ET (Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre)
Sep 23 – v OTTAWA – 7.00PM ET (Broome County Arena, Binghamton)
Sep 24 – v OTTAWA – 7.00PM ET (Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre)
Sep 25 – v WASHINGTON – 5.00PM ET (Giant Center, Hershey)
Sep 27 – v COLUMBUS – 7.30PM ET (Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh)
Sep 29 – v OTTAWA – 7.30PM ET (Corel Centre, Ottawa)
Sep 30 – v WASHINGTON – 7.00PM ET (MCI Center, Washington)
Oct 2 – v WASHINGTON – 7.30PM ET (Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh)
MAKING THE CUT
Even with all the free agents coming into the team, there are still some prospects who have a great chance of making the big club.
With at least one center spot up for grabs, there are a number of forwards who will be looked at for the job. One contender for the job has been eliminated with Kris Beech being traded to Nashville this week for a conditional draft pick. That gives Shane Endicott an excellent chance of locking down a spot in the line-up if he excels at camp.
On the wing the best chances belong to Colby Armstrong and Michel Ouellet. Armstrong in particular should get his NHL chance this season at some point, whether it be out of camp or as a call-up later in the season. He showed last season in Wilkes-Barre that he can score as well as be defensively responsible and has a good future on a checking line with Pittsburgh.
On defense, Ryan Whitney has the greatest chance of a roster spot, having already had a successful full season in the AHL under his belt. It is simply a matter of time for Whitney as he is considered the premier blue liner in the Penguins system. At this stage there are not many vacancies in this position due to the signings of depth defensemen Lyle Odelein from the Florida Panthers and Steve Poapst from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The situation in net for the Penguins seems set, with Jocelyn Thibault to be the starter and Sebastien Caron the likely backup. With that said, both Marc-Andre Fleury and Andy Chiodo have a chance of some NHL games this season, especially Fleury who will continue to be groomed as the future No. 1 goaltender in Pittsburgh.
FREE AGENT INVITEES
The Penguins have invited a number of free agents to this year’s camp. Forwards include Colorado Avalanche outcast Sean Collins (New Hampshire, NCAA) who has some skill but lacks size at just 5’9 and 180 pounds, Mike Doyle (St. Cloud State, NCAA), Kurtis McLean (Norwich, NCAA) and Tim Verbeek (Idaho, ECHL).
There are two invitees on defense, with Brent Henley (Edmonton, AHL) and Jeff Mason (Providence, NCAA) joining the team this week.
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