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Pens to audition linemates for Malkin and Neal

Jan 8, 2013, 3:22 PM EDT

Malkin Neal

The golden opportunity to skate alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal — who combined for 90 goals and 190 points last season — will be given to a number of Pittsburgh forwards, according to head coach Dan Bylsma.

“That spot with Malkin and James is going to be open and situational,” Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But it‘s going to be open to somebody claiming that spot and making it permanent, too.”

With Malkin entrenched at center and Neal at right wing last year, third wheel duties often fell to Chris Kunitz, who responded with a career-high 26 goals.

That said, Bylsma wants Kunitz on a line with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis — the trio were dynamite together in 2010-11 — and a different Penguin to play with Malkin and Neal.

So…who are the candidates?

Bylsma’s narrowed the field to Tyler Kennedy, Tanner Glass and Matt Cooke — but also didn’t rule out Brandon Sutter, saying he “wouldn’t anchor” Sutter into the No. 3 center spot behind Crosby and Malkin.

If you’re taking bets (and if you are, seek help), the smart money’s on Kennedy to get the gig. He’s a right-handed shot and scored 21 goals two years ago, so he’s got enough offensive prowess to at least hang with the big guns.

Oh, and if you’re gunning for a longshot, do consider what Bylsma had to say about Glass:

Glass, a left winger signed from Winnipeg last summer, has scored just 13 NHL goals. Bylsma said he would play “if we‘re winning.”

Okay then!
  1. superschrec - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Please not Kennedy. How bout Beau Bennet, hes currently tearing up the AHL for WBS

    • bmscalise - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:28 PM

      He’ll be at camp – already healthy-scratched him in WBS. I’m not convinced he’s ready yet – but hopefully teams will have a some games that they can use to audition AHL guys at the beginning of the season without penalty, since there’s no preseason.

      My instinct, though, is to say that Bennett will have more natural chemistry with Sid. Geno plays his best hockey with a big power forward like Neal (and before, Malone), who can pull defensemen off of him and cause a distraction. Sid plays well with straight-ahead guys like Kunitz, but also with those that can think the game at his level, the more creative-type of player. Sid and Bennett are both passers at heart, just with a scoring touch, and seem to think the game in the same kind of way.

    • ucaneverscorenoughgoals - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:47 PM

      Honestly, I almost feel bad that Crosby and Malkin actually have to entertain the idea of feeding pucks to a guy like TK who has never had a shooting percentage in double digits after spending half a decade with a former number 2 pick overall centering his line. If he wasn’t such a gritty two way forward that fact alone might be unforgivable.

      So, if I sound like I feel we are wasting Crosby and Malkin’s prime years by debating whether to put Tangradi or Ferriero or Tyler Kennedy on their wing IT’S BECAUSE I THINK WE ARE! (sorry for making that all caps but ahhhh it’s sooo frustrating.)

      It’s like having a race car and then buying cheap small tires and low octane fuel. Can it still go fast? Sure, but why have the ferrari if we’re not going to take advantage of it’s potential with the right equipment?

      Which brings me to Mr. Bennett. I’m not sure Bennett would be served better in WBS. For a few reasons:

      1.) He’s an elite level talent in the amount of skill he possesses and the way he thinks the game. For his game to grow and evole other elite level players will accelerate that growth more than career third and forth liners.

      2.) We all know he could get a bit stronger and faster. But gains in strength and speed occur in the off season. So, he not going to get any faster or stronger down there than he is up here.

      3.) Elite level talent historically only struggles when it is required to be “the guy”. Bennett doesn’t have to do that with the big club. We have TWO guys who already are comfortable sharing Mario’s cape.

      So in conclusion, I don’t think anything could be better for Bennett’s development than to finally get a chance to ride shotgun with other guys that finally think the game the way he does. To help matters he has more than one choice to choose from!

      • hockeywithdrawal - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:53 AM

        The other side of that is obviously that every team has a cap, which is lower now. Bobby Ryan on wing would be great – but expensive. both Crosby and Malkin make a lot of $$, so the goal for a GM is to find someone that we can win with. I’m not sure we’re wasting their prime years….

        …However I do agree with the thoughts on TK…seems like everyone except Bylsma hates the idea of having him up. Maybe Bennet’s worth a shot, but he’s not really tearing it up in the AHL. And he was hurt all last year – don’t want to have him up if physically he’ll get killed. Tangradi is doing ok too…but I hope this year is his last shot…he’s had a lot of chances and just hasn’t seemed able to compete at the NHL level.

    • hockeywithdrawal - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:32 AM

      No offense – but he’s really not tearing up the AHL…man I wish he was. Actually the entire WBS team leaves a lot to be desired. He’s got talent, and we need talent. In 28 games he’s got 6 goals…he does have 23 points, which is good, but he’s really been hot and cold, at best.

      • ucaneverscorenoughgoals - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:45 AM

        I think Bennett numbers are the product of two things that have nothing to do with him.

        1.) The penguins have one of the lowest percentages in terms of drafted forwards playing on that roster. So the amount of skill that could complement Beau is severly lacking.

        2.) The AHL is a higher level of hockey than it’s been since 04-05.

        Considering Beau is a rookie and still has 23 points in 28 games, that’s quite an accomplishment given the above factors. So, I think he tearinf it up more than his numbers would suggest.

        Keep in mind the penguins didn’t have a Jordan Eberle, or Taylor Hall, or RNH…etc….to send down to their farm team. In terms of elite level talent…..It’s Beau Bennett aaaaannnddd that’s about it.

    • valoisvipers - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:40 AM

      I think Lady Bing Candidate Matt Cooke will get the spot.
      Yes leopards can change their spots.

  2. killerpgh - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    Beau Bennett and Eric Tangradi will also get a look. Tangradi is the one who needs the chance the most. He is a big power forward. Every time he gets a chance to play with the big club he gets stuck with the 4th. He isn’t that type of player. Give him a chance with the big boys and let him park his big frame in front of the net. Bennett start the year on fire and currently has 23 points in 28 games in the AHL. This is Bennett’s first year pro after only playing 10 or so games because of injury in his last year in the NCAA. Bennett has put on 40 lbs of muscle since being drafted in 2010.

    • steelpenbucs87 - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      Tangradi would be ideal, sure – but the Big Dog has never really shown it at the NHL level (even beyond just production from a 4th line position). Really unfortunate – 18 months ago I thought he was going to do the same damage Ryan Malone did in the Burgh

      • killerpgh - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        Thing about Tangradi is that he is still relatively young. It seems like he has been around forever waiting to make his impact. 23 is still “young” for a power forward. Ryan Malone didn’t make the NHL until he was 25. Kevin Stevens was 25 the 1st year he played over 24 games in a season. And there is a bunch of other examples. Power forwards seem to be on the same development schedule as defenseman. Sure there are some the can step in and play at a young age, but most are in their mid 20’s before the are NHL ready.

    • hockeywithdrawal - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:55 AM

      Tangradi has had some opportunities, but he’s been behind the play a good bit…I know he went through hell to get in shape this year, maybe it will help – but if you can’t keep up with Adams and Park, you can’t keep up with Sid. I’m pulling for him, though.

  3. steelpenbucs87 - Jan 8, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Not TK – for the love of god not TK. Malkin and Neal will murder him 2 weeks into the season for throwing th puck at the net from bad angles.

    I like the idea of bumping Matt Cooke – he played well with Sid last year and proved that he can actually put the puck in the net.

    The Beau Bennett pick is the pick for the 2013-2014 season, but he’s too green at this point.

    A real dark horse (and probably not a great one): Mike Knuble. He’s an FA, and it’ll be a short season and he’s had a lot of time to rest up. Sign him for the year to bridge the gap to Beau maybe.


  4. phillyphanatic77 - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    Shane Doan probably would’ve looked good on a line with Malkin and Neal. Thank god that didn’t happen

    • stakex - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:30 PM

      Sure, Doan would have made that line nasty.

      However, Doan was never going to Pittsburgh, and was not something that actually could have happened. The Pens got rid of Staal because they have a cap nightmare coming next season and theres no way they could have added another top line player. They are already over the cap for next season, and only have 15 players signed. How in the hell could they have added another $7.5 million on top of that?

      And funny enough, I would welcome the Pens speaning even more money on their offense. They are never going anywhere because their defense/goaltending is terrible, and they have little cap space to fix it. Spending any more on offense just makes them worse in the long run.

      • stakex - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:33 PM

        *Edit: That was suppose to be “already close to the cap”, not “already over”.

      • valoisvipers - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:51 AM

        I agree with you Stakex The Pens need to shore up the defense and well I’ve never quite been sold on Fleury as he tends to run hot and cold. Often the Pens need their offense out run and gun the other team(eg.Flyers Pens first round last year) They need to get to playing how they played when Sid first got hurt 2 years ago and win those 1-0 2-1 type games.

  5. bihler7 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    What about Dustin Jeffrey?

    • hockeywithdrawal - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM

      That’s actually an awesome point…before his injury (last season? or was it season before?) he was one of the guys I loved watching…seemed like the right fit. I don’t think he rebounded very well…hopefully a comeback year!

    • hockeywithdrawal - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      DJ has some good comments about being back (on the pen’s homepage) so we’ll see!

  6. steelers88 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    I think the Penguins goaltending and defense is better this year than last. You can choose from Flurey or Vokoun then you have Niskanen, Letang, Orpik, and Despres. Plus tons of great defenseman in the minors. Pens have great depth at defensemen more than most teams.

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