The preseason allows fans to evaluate players they normally don’t get to see. Watching Joe Morrow, Philip Samuelsson, and Brad Thiessen last night was like watching the Penguins 2015 lineup. Of course, only some of the organization’s prospects played against the Red Wings. Others will get the chance to showcase their skills tonight against the Blackhawks.
A couple of interesting names were left off the roster for the contest.
For touted prospects like Tom Kuhnhackl and Beau Bennett, playing a preseason game is made difficult by commitments to school and juniors. Neither would make the team out of camp and both will be main contributors for their non-NHL clubs. There is no point in having them play a meaningless game in late September.
Dustin Jeffrey is still not ready to go and will not play tonight. The bottom of the Penguins lineup is crowded so missing action will hurt DJ. Still, the Penguins know what Jeffrey is capable of and he should get his fair share of games this season.
The one roster move I am confused by is the absence of Simon Despres. The 2009 first round pick was cut today along with some of last night’s contributors. Still, why not keep Despres in Pittsburgh for 12 more hours and have him play in the preseason game tonight?
The general consensus is that Despres–while extremely talented–will need at least one year in the AHL. With defensemen like Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, and Alexandre Picard fighting for the sixth defensive spot, the Penguins can afford to let Despres mature in the minors. After his outstanding showing at camp last season though, he should have at least earned the opportunity to play one slightly meaningful game.
Even without exciting players like Bennett, Despres, and Kuhnhackl playing, there are plenty of players to keep an eye on tonight.
As I talked about in this morning’s article, Mark Letestu has competition for his spot on the team. Both Eric Tangradi and Nick Johnson are looking to make the squad. Jeffrey, Richard Park, and Joe Vitale are also candidates to replace Letestu.
Also, keep in mind that Letestu was among the top rookies in scoring early last season and was a vital part of the Pens when injuries plagued the team last year. I believe his spot is relatively safe and he would be the perfect candidate to center a third scoring line if Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin play together. He is not a lock to make the team–which makes the game tonight interesting–but I doubt that he will be sent back to AHL.
Keven Veilleux is an intriguing prospect who will get a shot tonight. He has soft hands for a big man and is a force in front of the net. He also is a physical presence who can cause chaos when battling along the boards. The chances of him making this year’s team are slim, but he has a bright future in front of him.
Defensively, Picard, Brian Strait, and Scott Harrington will all be fighting to stay alive tonight.
Pittsburgh may have reached for Harrington in the draft but he quelled some of those criticisms by having a successful rookie camp. The second round pick is a defensive defenseman who is not overly physical or offensively talented. Look for him to lock down his man tonight and work on his puck moving abilities. It will be interesting to watch him when he is pressured.
Strait–another defensive-defenseman–saw some NHL action last season. Much like Harrington, Strait is not adept at outletting. Both players are worth keeping an eye on tonight.