Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Off-Season Forward Additions Make Penguins a Deeper and Better Team

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Off-Season Forward Additions Make Penguins a Deeper and Better Team

Article excerpt

Productive July makes Penguins a deeper team


Forget about the March of the Penguins. This is the July of the Penguins.

Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford has completely revamped his forward group this month, adding more star power on the wing in Phil Kessel and plenty of depth with centre Nick Bonino and forward Eric Fehr. While the Penguins looked on shaky ground with difficult salary-cap situation after a first-round exit, they could now be primed for another few long playoff runs.

That's a strong possibility because the Penguins still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their primes and because Rutherford has gone about addressing past problems. Now there are enough established veterans and young players with potential to overcome cap issues and injuries if they arise this season.

"Based on what we went through last year with a number of injuries and everything, I like our depth at forward now," Rutherford said on a conference call Tuesday. "We do know that injuries are going to play a part here, and some of these (young players) are going to get their opportunity."

Last season Pittsburgh dressed 24 different forwards because of injuries and trades. Many were far from productive, leaving Crosby and Malkin to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load.

On opening night the Penguins could feature a top nine of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, David Perron, Patric Hornqvist and Beau Bennett, with Fehr stepping in once he's back from elbow surgery. And those spots aren't set in stone, as Rutherford expects a competitive training camp and season under coach Mike Johnston.

"It's not like guys are automatically put in a top-six or in the top-nine," Rutherford said. "We have enough good players now that guys are really going to have to compete for those spots and compete for them all year. If a guy falls off, there's a guy waiting to jump right in there."

Put 2012 pick Oskar Sundqvist and free-agent addition Sergei Plotnikov in that category along with second-year players like Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and Bobby Farnham. Rust, Wilson and Farnham don't have flashy skill, but Rutherford believes the Penguins' bottom six is better than it has been. …

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