At most, four spots are up for grabs on the Penguins opening day roster. Most likely, three of those spots will be occupied by offensive players while one will be left open to fill the final defensive vacancy. Pres-season competition has mainly been centered around six guys:
Mark Letestu: Basically a lock at this point. Letestu has been the apple of the Penguins brass’ eye and has had an amazing camp to top it off. Your typical Penguin, the 25-year-old is a scrappy grinder who can put the puck in the net and center a third or fourth line. He is also one of the smartest players on the team. At some point Penguins fans are probably getting sick of the ‘low-on-skill, high-on-hustle’ prototype. The upside of this is when there is such fierce competition between these such players the one who emerges with the roster spot tends to be pretty good. Prime example: Mark Letestu.
Mike Comrie: Another guy who you will see on opening night. Comrie was told he would have to earn his spot even though there was a small chance that Dan Bylsma would not keep him on the roster. Apparently the ex-Oiler Michael Scott fan because he has made GM Ray Shero look like a genius in his short time with the Penguins. There is also a slight chance that Shero actually is a genius. The bottom line is that Comrie has a loads of talent but has never skated with other talented players. Can you say 30-goal-scorer? Don’t get worked up if you actually can’t say it cause honestly 30 goals is Comrie’s ceiling.
Brett Sterling: He may not be tall enough to ride the Steel Phantom but the 26-year-old could be skating along side Sidney Crosby in 10 days. A former 55-goal scorer in the AHL, Sterling knows how to put the puck in the net. There is a reason why he’s been a career minor-leaguer though–he is only 5’7″. However, outside of Letestu, Sterling has had the best camp of any Penguin. He has a legitimate outside shot to crack the starting line-up on Oct. 7.
Eric Tangradi: The Penguins best prospect and a player who finally seems to be putting it together. Tangradi has all the physical skills to become a big time goal scorer. He also seems to know his role based on the last game against Columbus. The Ryan Whitney trade prize was sighted in front of the net, coasting through opposing players, and ripping darts on net last Friday. What is best about Tangradi is that he could provide a net-front presence on a top line or quarterback a third line. As long as Stall is out Tangradi should be on the roster.
Dustin Jeffrey: His successful move to wing in the AHL last year makes Jeffrey a tough cut this season. He has the ability to step into center and win a crucial faceoff or complement a skill player on wing. Ultimately I think he will lose out on a roster spot because of the wealth of talent on the Penguins and off-season acquisitions of Comrie and Aaron Asham. Don’t be surprised if Jeffrey earns a permanent spot on the team when an third or fourth liner falls to injury this season though.
Tyler Kennedy: A significant part of the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup winning team and 2010 second round losing effort. Unfortunately for T.K., the latter is the fresher memory. The scrapper hasn’t showed that he can out-preform Letestu or Comrie and probably will find himself without a roster spot when Jordan Staal returns. It never hurts to have guys of Kennedy’s caliber waiting for their second chance though.
Simone Despres: As offensively gifted as any defensemen in the Penguins system. Unfortunately, he is still young and raw. The 2009 first-round pick will benefit from a year in the AHL to sharpen his defensive skills and tone his offensive ability. Potentially, Despres could be the best defensemen on the Penguins roster in four years though. Have you looked at the blue line lately? That is how high I am on this young prospect.
Ben Lovejoy: Alright so Lovejoy is the obvious pick for the Penguins final defensemen. I just wanted to give Despres his due. It appears as though the 26-year-old is finally going to make the roster. He is solid in front of the net and will grind in the corners. Some thought he was a better prospect than Alex Goligoski–I am not one of those people. I think Lovejoy will be solid but realistically when your blue line consists of Goligoski, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Zbynek Michalek, you can stick any sixth defensemen in the line-up and he will produce. That being said, don’t sleep on Lovejoy–there is a reason why Shero has kept him in the system all these years.