First-day back (thoughts on Crosby, Staal, Orpik and Tangradi).


Well, dear readers, Monday marked my first day with the club after missing the start of camp while battling through an unknown illness. Consol Energy Center was refreshingly cold and catching up with some of the media regulars was nice, but the real thrill was getting back into the room and around the players. Anyway, some observations:

= C Sidney Crosby (concussion) showed some promising signs in a controlled scrimmage and a following practice. He once again donned a white helmet to signify his non-contact status. At one point during the scrimmage — more on that later — Crosby dashed into the offensive zone and around a defensemen before getting a puck on net. Hardly full speed — the scrimmage that is — but Crosby looked to have his hockey faculties about him. Of most interest to me were the conversations he shared on the bench with RW Steve Sullivan, whom I’m told thinks the game as a superstar such as Crosby would. Encouraging stuff, and word from Crosby’s teammates was that he “looks comfortable” now that he is back around the Penguins’ family-style setting. I’m not sure he’ll play in the opener at Vancouver, but I’m not sure I’d bet against it, either.

= C Jordan Staal said his brother, Rangers D Marc Staal, didn’t really know how bad his concussion was during the offseason. Marc Staal didn’t accompany the Rangers on their trip to Europe because of lingering concussion symptoms. Scary stuff, indeed. As for the Penguins’ Staal, Jordan looks to be in wonderful condition — and in this space I will predict a standout season from him, including offensive consistency on the point-production end. A lot of criticism came Staal’s way last season, and at the risk of being again labeled a “Jordan Staal Apologist,” might I remind everybody that his assignment last season was to serve as a No. 1 center for the first time in the NHL about two weeks after his first significant hockey action in eight months — over the course of which he had underwent four surgeries. A big-bodied player such as Staal needs an offseason and training camp to find his legs. (Most players do, actually.) His big crime was not scoring like Crosby or C Evgeni Malkin while filling roles vacated by their absences. His defensive play — his bread and butter — never dropped off, and the leadership experience he gained from having to carry the offensive load for the Penguins late last season could prove worth its weight in Silver this season. My point, and indeed I won’t make it again for a while: Staal was wrongly ripped last season considering the circumstance, and only a fool would write him off as a potential offensive force in this league.

= D Brooks Orpik didn’t practice Monday, and thus per policy he wasn’t made available to speak. Coach Dan Bylsma didn’t rule out Orpik, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, being ready for the opener at Vancouver. Noteworthy, though, is that Bylsma didn’t go so far as to suggest he was expecting Orpik for that game — or even that trip through Western Canada. If Orpik can’t go on the trip, I wonder who the Penguins would carry as a seventh defenseman. My choice: D Brian Strait.

= Candidly, the Penguins’ exhibition game Tuesday night at Kansas City against Los Angeles is probably the biggest of LW Eric Tangradi’s career. His play without the puck will be watched closely by coaches. Tangradi, the Penguins’ top prospect only two years ago, needs to show he can skate well enough to play in this system. He hasn’t shown that yet, and if he doesn’t against the Kings the bet here is he won’t get too many more chances in this camp.

= Bylsma said there are “probably” two rounds of cuts coming this week. He also said the games this weekend at Chicago and Detroit will be mostly for guys on the roster, to establish lines, etc. Translation: Kansas City might be the last stop for many of the guys who took the ice Monday.

= I don’t think there is a lot of benefit to keeping D Joe Morrow past the game at Kansas City. Sending him back to the WHL on a high note would be how I handle him given his stellar camp. Something to build on being my thinking. That said, I’d not be shocked if he stuck around to the final cuts. I don’t think he makes the team — though, Orpik’s status does leave open the possibility of some wonderful hot-stove action on that topic — but I can say there are people who’ve been at every camp session who do think Morrow is as close to NHL-ready as any young defensemen the Penguins have brought to camp in the post-lockout era.

= The Malkin Twitter account — @malkin71_ — is real, dear readers. I suspect we’re in the process of being introduced to the side of “Geno” that I’ve long known has existed — the funny, sharp, and very human side of a player far too few in the local media have taken the time to really know. He’s something else, as his Tweets have proven. The one from Sunday night with his screen shot of the Steelers game, as if to prove he was watching, so fits the mold of “Geno” I’ve come to know over the last five years. He’ll be Vincent Chase B-I-G by the end of the season. (Note to self: “Entourage” references are so over… until the movie)

= Good to be back, though still not at a daily pace. Thanks to my man Josh Yohe — and a hat tip to Trib high-school guru Chris Harlan, who filled in over the weekend — for picking up the slack.