Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
2013 Camp, Day 4 (Scrimmage)
January 17, 2013
There was no open practice to talk about Wednesday, but the Pittsburgh Penguins did hold a split-squad scrimmage after recalling half of the minor league club. I opted to watch from the confines out my couch as I had a fantasy hockey draft to tend to. Because of that I wasn't really zoned in on the game for the first two periods, but that's what DVRs are for right? (Yes, I recorded it AND I am watching it as I type this. I need help.)
The first thing to note is the crowd. Yes, admission was free, but the turnout was unbelievable. Word of fans being lined up around the building began to circulate 2+ hours before the opening faceoff. The building was filled quickly and many fans were still outside. Good on the Penguins then for re-opening the doors and putting those folks into suite level. Yet another example of this team having nothing to worry about with regards to any potential backlash over the lockout.
Watching a game on TV handcuffs you a little as far as making observations. For the most part, your eye is going to be drawn towards the more offensive guys. For the players whose strength lies in doing all of the little things right, you need to be able to watch them away from the puck. TV doesn't let you do much of that. Disclaimer over; here we go.
The first player I want to get to is Brandon Sutter. If tonight is any indication, his fit into the lineup will be about as seamless as you can get. He's been with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy since camp opened, but it looks like they've been together for a long time. If you aren't excited about him yet, give it time. I'm looking at 11-15 goals from him in this shortened season, which would be about 20-25 over a full season. He should also be a huge plus for a penalty kill, which has a tendency to be overly passive at times. Opposing power plays will need to be aware of his speed and aggressiveness.
Evgeni Malkin looked every bit the reigning Art Ross and Hart trophy winner. It almost isn't fair that while so many of his peers were sitting around, he was out playing real games against a high level of competition. He certainly looked to be a step or two ahead of everyone else tonight. It was great to see him galloping around the ice, swooping in and out of traffic. I missed seeing that rising wrist shot from the slot.
Beau Bennett was also very noticeable. He has a ton of skill and it was on display most of the night. There's no question his hands are NHL ready. He was making good passes and smart decisions with the puck. I don't recall any glaring mistakes by him with the puck on his stick. His goal should have been stopped (though I really would have liked to see a reverse angle of it though), but you can't fault him for that. That dancing spin-o-rama he pulled off in the third was fun to watch, wasn't it?
Is tonight enough to get him a spot though? I'm honestly not sure. He definitely has the skill necessary, but the little things are often what makes or breaks you as an NHL player. I do think that if they are going to give him a shot, he should play with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. If he's playing with them, he can concentrate on making plays and being creative offensively. He wouldn't be absolved from defense (no one on a good team is), but he wouldn't need to focus on it as much either. Pascal Dupuis could play with James Neal and Malkin, which wouldn't exactly be a big demotion for him.
That takes us to Eric Tangradi. He's spent most of this abbreviated camp in the open spot along side 71 and 18. It's fair to say he was less noticeable than Bennett was. It's also fair to say that given the differences between in their games, that will usually be the case. There isn't much about Tangradi's game that is going to grab your eye like Bennett's stickhandling will. Case in point: Early in the 2nd, there was a loose puck near the white team's offensive blueline. Tangradi got to it, absorbed a hit, chipped it over the line and allowed Bennett to skate into it and easily gain the zone. It was a quick, little play that was easily missed if you weren't watching closely, but those are exactly the kinds of things he needs to do (along with getting to the net and occupying a defenseman or two) to be successful at this level. That's one of the things Chris Kunitz adds to a line, and the little things are what Malkin and Neal need in a linemate; they have the bulk of offense covered.
The future is bright for Simon Despres, but I don't think he's ready yet. I know he looked very good last season, but as I've mentioned on Twitter, he played the most guarded minutes on the team. He's struggled on and off at Wilkes-Barre this year (though, to be fair, most of that team has been streaky), even being a healthy scratch. I know Bylsma said it was possible he'd end up with Kris Letang to start, but I'm not seeing it. Going from AHL healthy scratch to top pair in the NHL in less than 2-3 weeks is quite a leap. In my view, he hasn't been good enough to warrant keeping him ahead of someone they'd have to waive.
I'd hate to get through one of these without saying something good about Robert Bortuzzo, but again, TV doesn't give you the freedom to focus in on guys. I do remember seeing him out against Malkin once. Despite Malkin flying all around the rink, Bortuzzo stuck with him and didn't allow a scoring chance. I want to say he blocked a shot or pass or poke checked him, but I can't quite remember. Anytime you're out against 71 and don't come to the bench a minus, that's a good job.
The Penguins are off Thursday, and then return to Consol Energy Center on Friday for an 11am practice. Final rosters are due into the league by 3pm Friday. Cuts could happen anytime between now and then.
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