As promised, some postgame notes following the Penguins going to 3-0-0 in exhibition play with a 4-1 win over Chicago at Consol Energy Center:
• C MARK LETESTUscored his first goal of the preseason to cap the Penguins’ output. Even though he’s had a breakout camp, Letestu isn’t going to take anything for granted. “No, I dont’ think 10 games into the season I’d feel comfortable,” he said. “That’s just the way camp sets up, the way the contracts are, and I’ve just got to keep playing the way I have been and hopefully force somebody to keep me here.”
Perhaps what has impressed me most about Letestu is his honesty when discussing his opporutnity to make this team. He is paying attention to reporters such as this one who has noted his strong camp. He is aware he’s the lead horse among a group of prospects that includes LW ERIC TANGRADI and C DUSTIN JEFFREY. He isn’t arrogant, just a realist. He is someone who can see things for what they are; he doesn’t get caught up on what could have been or what might be. Perhaps this is a tangible that allows him to find his game consistently. He sizes up the situation and deals with it. I have no doubt this attitude is what has left such a strong impression with HC DAN BYLSMA. I am beginning to have no doubt that Letestu will be a part of this team after final cuts.
• Bylsma, quoting C MAX TALBOT’S on-bench reaction to G BRENT JOHNSON’Ssave against Blackhawks RW PATRICK KANE: “He said, ‘That’s why we got a goalie.'” If you hear audio of that comment on, say, “The X Morning Show with Tim Benz,” you’ll notice a guy laughing. That guy is me. I’m not sure why this statement cracked me up, but it did.
• I asked Bylsma what he was looking for in terms of minutes and style from a No. 6 defenseman:
“If you look at the top five guys, I think you can expect them to play a significant amount more than the sixth guy, whoever that is. The sixth guy is going to have to bring some kind of element to the penalty kill. He’s got to be counted on to kill a penalty. Maybe it’s an edge in grit. And he’ll need the mentality that he won’t be getting the same minutes as our fifth guy.”
I spoke with three members of management before the game, and from those conversations this is how I would assess the battler for a sixth defenseman: 1. DERYK ENGELLAND; 2. BEN LOVEJOY; 3. ANDREW HUTCHINSON. I’d put Engelland and Lovejoy as a 50-50 loose puck battle, and I get the feeling Hutchinson is closing strong. I wouldn’t be shocked if any of those three guys dressed for the regular-season opener against Philadelphia. All three would need to clear waivers, and I do wonder if the Penguins want to risk it with Lovejoy given his three-year contract, with the last two years one-way in term.
The safe play is keeping Engelland and Lovejoy on the roster, carrying one as the seventh when the other is the sixth. However, I’m sensing the Penguins might explore a post-camp acquisition — either a a defenseman who was waived or one who hadn’t signed but was on a tryout contract (see: MARTIN SKOULA, 2009). And if they find that guy, despite the waivers scenario, I’m not so sure that wouldn’t put prospect SIMON DESPRESon the team until a big road trip that begins in late October. This would give Despres, essentially, an extra month from now under the Penguins control before sending him back to the QMJHL for what the team hopes will be a strong foundation for a dominant season.
Bylsma said the No. 6 defenseman would need to a have the mentality he won’t play as much as the other five. If Despres played, he wouldn’t play a ton given his lack of pro experience and age (19). Bylsma also mentioned Despres as being part of the mix for that sixth slot. Maybe I’m reading too much into what I heard today about Despres because I was asking so much about him, but it seems to me there is some smoke when it comes to him and a possible roster spot for when the season starts.