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Pittsburgh’s youth movement will be vital

Aug 29, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

Ray Shero Getty Images

Ray Shero has identified the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and locked it up for a long time.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi are signed through the 2016-17 season. Combined, they’ll earn $41 million annually and, what’s more, all seven of them have some form of no-movement clause.

So, barring something major, those are your Pittsburgh Penguins for the next four years.

That’s the easy part.

Where Shero’s job gets difficult is in finding people to play with that core. The reigning NHL GM of the Year has always been an active in the trade and free agent market, but now it seems his best course of action might be an old fashioned one:

Draft and groom.

There’s a blueprint for success out there, and it involves getting production from guys on entry-level and second contracts. Last season, Chicago surrounded its pricey core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) with key contributors on cheap deals: playoff hero Andrew Shaw, Calder nominee Brandon Saad, defenseman Nick Leddy and power forward Bryan Bickell.

None of those players made more than $900,000 last season; Bickell (who to be fair, was on his third contract with the club) made a mere $541,667 while finishing second in the team in playoff goals, with nine.

In Pittsburgh, a similar development may unfold.

Beau Bennett, who scored 14 points in 26 games last year as a rookie, has two more years left on his deal at $900,000. Big things are expected from the 2010 first-rounder this season, especially with the departures of forwards Jarome Iginla, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow.

“He played 26 games for us, and showed what he could do power-play-wise, what he could do making plays with the puck,” Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said of Bennett. “I think there is an opportunity for Beau, and I think he’s capable of adding in that regard on our top six with our skilled players.

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people by the end of the year with how he can help our team.”

On defense, the Pens will have a number of young options to choose from. Simon Despres, the club’s first-rounder from 2009, seems ready for full-time action, and has one year left on his ELC at $840k.

There are also 2012 first-rounders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta, still a year or two away from contributing but ready to potentially replace the likes of Brooks Orpik (who’s deal is up after this season) and Paul Martin (done after the 2014-15 campaign).

Shero acknowledged the importance of having young guys at the ready.

“When it is time to turn some of your club over,” he told, “it is really helpful to have guys like that ready to step in.”

  1. pitpenguinsrulez - Aug 29, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    You forget to mention that besides from Martins deal expiring after 14-15 you also Fleurys deal that is up as well. With the Pens drafting Jarry this season it makes you wonder if hell be the back up after this season cause I don’t see Vokoun playing after this season. Then after a season as a back up to Fleury in 14-15 could Jarry become the starter in 15-16. You can also toss in Hartzell as well into that situation. Makes you wonder?

    • illashell - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:15 PM

      Jarry is AT LEAST 3 years away from a backup job in the NHL. The upcoming season will be his first campaign as the starter, so there’s a lot that remains to be seen. Hartzell probably has a better shot in the short run since he’s older, but even he’s a project. Either way, can’t turn a team with SC aspirations over to an unproven rookie goalie if or when MAF moves on. With all the D-men piling up, I wouldn’t mind seeing one of them moved for a goalie with pedigree. It is, after all, GMRS’s M.O.

  2. blackraven1313 - Aug 29, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    Can’t wait for the season to begin! Lets go PENS!!!!

  3. biasedhomer - Aug 29, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    Problem is, in recent years the Pens have been one of the worst at drafting outside of the early 1st round.

  4. gregman98 - Aug 29, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    Admittedly, this is a bit off-topic, but kudos to the PHT writers, who at least are generating somewhat relevant topics of interest to Pens fans during the summer season, as opposed to the PTrib staff who’ve had this story on their main Pens page for more than a week:

    “Penguins release roster for annual rookie tournament” (Aug 22)

    Can’t they at least hire a summer intern who get a quote from a player sticking around in the city about “how excited he is” about the upcoming season????

  5. isithockeyseasonyet - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    Been hearing about this youth movement for how many years now?

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