Greetings, hockey fans. Thought you might like some tidbits as we enter training camp.
The Penguins have been working out informally for the past couple of weeks at Consol Energy Center and Southpointe, respectively. Attendance has been strikingly good, as almost every player on the roster has worked out during this stretch, perhaps a good indication of how hungry this team is and how much the players wish to please the new coaching staff.
In fact, the only locks to make the team who haven’t appeared yet are Kris Letang and Simon Despres. It’s September hockey, so it’s not to be taken too seriously … but, I’ve made some observations and figured I’d pass them along.
1. If you think the Penguins will feature anyone but Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on Sidney Crosby’s line, you’re probably wrong. The players scrimmage at the end of every one of these workouts. And, wouldn’t you know it, Crosby, Dupuis and Kunitz are almost always together. They’re pretty inseparable. If Crosby has any say regarding his linemates — and it’s hard to imagine a new head coach is going to tell Crosby who his wingers are — it says here those two will flank Crosby to begin the season.
2. Dupuis looks great. Would it be wise to play him 20 minutes a night in October? Absolutely not, and I don’t believe the Penguins will do that. But, if you never knew that Dupuis blew his ACL in December, you’d swear he was 100 percent. He looks great skating and should be poised for a strong season.
3. If Crosby’s wrist is bothering him, he’s doing a fine job of hiding it. He is shooting the puck with authority. Also, and perhaps more importantly, Crosby is handling the puck beautifully. You’ll recall during the postseason that Crosby was having trouble receiving passes. At the time, no one knew his wrist was a problem. Everything looks fine.
4. While we are talking health, Beau Bennett told me recently that his wrists feel better than at any point during the past year. This is a huge year for Bennett, and he knows it. I expect him to begin the season on a line with Evgeni Malkin. Bennett looks fine handling and shooting the puck.
5. OK, one last health-related note is necessary. Olli Maatta looks spectacular. Does that mean he’ll be ready to start the season on Oct. 9? I wouldn’t bet on that. Shoulder surgery is a big deal, especially for defensemen, who routinely skate backwards to retrieve pucks before getting drilled into the boards, with their shoulders often exposed. However, coach Mike Johnston recently said that Maatta is progressing especially well from the injury. Good news, obviously.
6. Rob Scuderi is hungry for redemption. He knows many fans have written him off. He knows his performance last season wasn’t acceptable. Scuderi told me on Monday that his struggles coincided with the mental hurdle of dealing with the ankle injury he sustained early in the season. He also said that every disappointing season he has endured was the result of an injury that took place early in the season. One last thing: He wasn’t making excuses. Scuderi sounds like a man who was exceptionally unhappy with how he played last season and is hungry to prove himself.
7. Christian Ehrhoff wears a Batman T-shirt under his uniform. I felt like everyone needed to know this.
8. I believe Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist are going to be a very positive influence on the Penguins’ locker room. Hornqvist carries himself with a quiet confidence. Spaling is one of those people that you immediately like upon being introduced. Great personality, a lot like Brandon Sutter. You’ll like him.
9. Crosby bulked up this summer. Because of all the injuries he’s sustained in recent seasons, Crosby hasn’t always had time to work out in the summer. In the summer of 2011, he was still recovering from The Concussion. In the summer of 2012, I think Crosby was still getting himself completely healthy from The Concussion, plus the lockout was a distraction. In the summer of 2013, he had recently dealt with a broken jaw. Heck, he even had a wrist injury this summer, but is clearly recovered and clearly had time to work out during the summer. His upper body looks bigger.
10. Kasperi Kapanen is oozing with confidence. I’m not saying he’s arrogant or cocky. But he feels like he belongs. You can see he’s the son of a former NHL player. Kapanen looks so comfortable in the locker room, and so comfortable on the ice. It will be interesting to see if he’s given a real chance to make the team. I still think it’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t be shocked by it.
Camp opens on Thursday, and the first practice is Friday. More observations will come soon.