Dissecting the Penguins’ Forwards

Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma is blessed with an incredible luxury as the lockout comes to an end and he dusts off the dry erase board to create a lineup for the 2013 season. There are very few mysteries for the Pittsburgh Penguins forwards going into training camp, but the questions that do exist are awfully intriguing.

Before we talk about any line combinations, let’s take a look at who we can expect to see on the training camp roster. Players will have less than a week to get back into shape, coaches will be cramming the details of their systems into cramped training schedule, and the fact that the AHL and junior leagues are in full swing means that we will not see a full compliment of skaters being invited to camp for a tryout. General Manager Ray Shero has indicated that he will likely have a list of 26 names to practice with the big club once camp starts.

The middle four are pretty well set in stone and the Pens have a few utility forwards who can double as centers/wingers. I’ve included them as wingers on this list.

Center (4): 
Craig Adams, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter

Left-Wing (5): 
Matt Cooke, Tanner Glass, Dustin Jeffery, Chris Kunitz, Eric Tangradi

Right-Wing (4):Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, James Neal, Beau Bennet

Defense (7):Robert Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik

Goal (2):Marc-Andre Fleury, Tomas Vokoun


That leaves four more invites that are open according to Shero’s number, but these are the players who will really be competing for roles out of camp. Bortuzzo, Tangradi and Bennett have been healthy scratches in Wilkes-Barre since the lockout ended, so they’re likely a lock to be called up once the CBA is officially ratified. Any additional players  would likely be a simple formality to encourage their own development and raise the “compete level” of training camp.

We’ll take a look at the defensemen and goaltending later in the week–but for right now, let’s dissect the Penguins’ forwards.


Top line couldn’t be more obvious, as head coach Dan Byslma confirmed at today’s press conference. Sidney Crosby will center Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.

Line One: Crosby, Dupuis, Kunitz

The second line is without a doubt where we have most fun! Bylsma indicated That Malkin and Neal are a lock, and that’s a no brainer. But the biggest mystery is who will be the ying to James Neal’s yang.

Line Two: Malkin, Neal, ???

The third line shouldn’t change much from the formula that has made it successful over the past few seasons. As much as it can remain the same without center Jordan Staal, anyway. Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke make up the identity of the third line that can grind teams down and force them to chase the puck in their own zone.

Penguins fans should welcome the newly acquired Brandon Sutter with open arms. He’s an ironman defensive center who appeared in all 82 games with the CarolinaHurricanes last season while scoring 17 goals, 15 assists and finished -3 on a Canes’  team that finished 25th in goals against in 2011-12.  Sutter is a shot blocking centerman and his bread and butter is on the penalty kill. He is also a rare bird on this Penguins lineup because he’s brand new to the Penguins system. With only a week to catch up, there may be a slight learning curve to start the season, but nothing that a four-year NHL veteran should have too much trouble managing.

Line Three: Sutter-Kennedy-Cooke

You guys remember Craig Adams, American Hero (despite being born in Brunei and raised in Calgary), and labor relations superstar. Well, as it turns out he also plays hockey and he’ll continue to center the fourth line and rack up minutes on the Penguins’ penalty kill.

Meet Tanner Glass. He’s a tough dude. He’ll replace winger Arron Asham who signed a deal with the New York Rangers last summer. Glass played 78 games with Winnipeg last season and registered 73 PIMs and 246 hits. Glass’ penalty minutes are right on par with Asham, but he nearly triples the numbers that the former Penguin put up with his body outside of fighting.

The twelfth and final forward spot will likely be split between spark plug Joe Vitale and a Dustin Jeffrey who hasn’t been the same since the knee-injury that hampered his development in 2011.


Line Four: Adams-Glass-Vitale/Jeffrey

So the only major question regarding the forwards going into camp is who should fill that hole on the second line left wing. The logical candidates are : Eric Tangradi, Beau Bennett, and Tyler Kennedy

ERIC TANGRADI: Left Wing by trade. His skating has improved since being acquired from Anaheim along with Chris Kunitz for Ryan Whitney. First step is quicker and he has NHL experience now. His growth has hit a few snags due to injury, including a concussion after the assault at Nassau Coliseum in 2011.




Verdict on Tangradi: It’s second line or bust. He’s a waste on the third or fourth line. However, he’s also worthless to the Penguins as trade bait in the AHL and he’s too valuable to become worthless.


BEAU BENNETT: Right Wing by trade. Bennett suffered wrist injury while playing with the University of Denver that required surgery in the Fall of 2011 and is just now reaching full strength after a long rehab. He has been playing his rookie season as a professional in the AHL since October.




Verdict for Bennett: I’ll say this much, that release that will eventually be very scary with Neal as other option on opposite wing. His play making has also improved. 17 assists playing with Riley Holzapfel and Benn Ferriero could translate very well if you put him on the same ice with Neal and Evgeni Malkin. Like Tangradi, it’s second line or bust for Bennett as playing on the Penguins’ 3rd or 4th line would do nothing but stunt development of the young winger.


TYLER KENNEDY: Right Wing by trade. You know him. He’s polarized that Penguins’ fan base, you either love him or hate him. Kennedy hasn’t played competitively since last spring.





Verdict on TK: I just don’t see him making any sense on the Penguins’ 2nd line. He’s fits his role perfectly on the 3rd line and fits well on the Pens top PK unit. He’s also never been a more expendable part of the Penguins’ organization. Joe Vitale is more than worthy as a replacement for Kennedy on the 3rd line. If TK comes out and puts up big offensive numbers early in the season, the Ray Shero should jump at the opportunity to move him to improve the team’s defensive corps.

I’ve also seen a lot of people make a case for Matt Cooke. I don’t disagree that he’s an option and I think that he would have personal success there; but if the Penguins are in a situation where they have to employ Cooke in this role, then 2013 could get ugly. Matt Cooke, along with Tyler Kennedy, are just too vital to the identity of the Penguins’ third line. It’s a formula that provides the Penguins’ with the most balanced lineup, and the ability to rotate four lines with confidence is crucial in the National Hockey League.

So it’s a battle between Tangradi/Bennett, and they’ve both been staying sharp while playing in Wilkes-Barre. One thing that is almost certainly not an option is keeping both. Whomever doesn’t stick with the be club will be sent back to the AHL rather than sit idle as a 13th winger.

Know this, barring a trade (and it better be an incredible return), Beau Bennett will play with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is poised to become the home grown “winger for Sid” that Pens fans have been clambering over for the past seven years. The question is, is now the time to see what he can do?

This is Eric Tangradi’s moment and he knows it. Even if he’s not the best player coming out of camp, he may stay to audition for trade and allow Bennett to continue to hone his skills in the American Hockey League.


What are your thoughts on the Pens forwards? Do you agree or disagree? You can reach Ken on Twitter @PensNation_Ken



Ron Lucia @rlucia957
@PensNation_Ken No way! Despres was not scratched because he has been injured and needs work before the season. Hes our 4-5th d.

Meghan Herlihy @CuigeMumhan
@PensNation_Ken I still think they should’ve kept Steve Sullivan.

Got Kasparaitis @GotKasparaitis
@PensNation_Ken I wrote Cooke earlier today in my write up, but would prefer Beau. Tangradi’s a -9 with 5 fewer pts in 5 more gms in wbs.

Jason Silbers @Silber_Bullet
@PensNation_Ken Bennett is game ready and has the most upside. Pens have had big success with a few other 21 & under talents.

Andrew Rothey @AndrewRothey
@PensNation_Ken great article. I suspect internally Pens are down on ET, high on BB but fear rushing him, injuries have cost him last 2 yrs

Joseph Guzy @ZMatrix
@PensNation_Ken I think TK would benefit much like Neal did. But giving the other two a shot could always surprise us in a good way.

Sports Fanatic @ryan_the_great
@PensNation_Ken of those 3 Kennddy should be favorite. Bennett I dunno if quite ready and Tangradi is only a big body. Belongs on 4th line

Mike Schroeder @K_Even_Stevens
@PensNation_Ken I’ve watched a few WB games this year and it looks like Tangradi’s first step has improved & I’d like for him to get an actual look

Damian Romano @Jagrmeister
@PensNation_Ken doesn’t Tangradi’s stats include a hatty? Makes the offensive stats even more impressive.

JayRKay77 @JayRKay77
@PensNation_Ken Keep TK w/24-16 on 3rd, ET & BB can battle in short camp to get a shot. BB first season in AHL more impressive than ET

Got Kasparaitis @GotKasparaitis
@PensNation_Ken 100% agree. Bennett doesn’t have bottom 6 skill set. Would rather have him in wbs getting top 6 min than here sitting on the bench.

Eric @ThePittsburgher
@PensNation_Ken what about Cooke?Sports Fanatic @ryan_the_great@PensNation_Ken any free agents or trade targets you see GMRS going after for that role?

Ron Lucia @rlucia957
@PensNation_Ken I think Tango will be traded by the deadline. He doesn’t fit the mold in Pitt. Bennett will plank geno and Neal by playoffs

Sports Fanatic @ryan_the_great
@PensNation_Ken i don’t like Tangradi on 2nd line but if if helps him get traded I like it. I am a Cooke fan why not give him a shot

Paige Lewis @RatTrickLewiz
@PensNation_Ken Kunitz again probably. I’m more curious to see who Sid is playing with again.

Fred Hoffmann @fredhoffmann3
@PensNation_Ken Really hope Bennett gets a shot in the first few games. Sick skill that I’d like to see with Crosby or @malkin71_

Allie C @Allie874
@PensNation_Ken Cooke is probably more likely than all those guys, IMO. #Darkhorse

Allie C @Allie874
@PensNation_Ken But I do agree with you that Tangradi should get a look w/ Geno (even tho it didn’t work the first time). It’s time.

You can reach Ken on Twitter @PensNation_Ken