Defenseman Mark Eaton will not play Sunday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and is expected to miss at least a couple more games. But not to worry – the Pens have a more-than-capable replacement.
After losing Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill in the off-season, Pittsburgh compensated by signing veteran Jay McKee. Alex Goligoski was already penciled in the lineup to round out the Pens’ defense. A question remained, however. Who was going to be the team’s first option in case of injury? Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Nate Guenin were all seen as potential seventh defensemen prior to the start of the season.
But general manager Ray Shero decided to go another route and plucked Martin Skoula off the proverbial scrap heap. Skoula has rewarded Shero’s shrewd move by playing admirably when called upon.
And that’s been more than expected. When an endless parade of Pens’ d-men started getting hurt earlier this season, Skoula stepped in and played important minutes. He was vital in keeping the ship afloat while guys like Gonchar, Orpik, Letang, McKee and Goligoski were on the shelf. Now with Eaton out, he’s back in.
It’s hard to believe Skoula – a former first-round draft pick – was even available to the Penguins. This is a guy who missed a grand total of four games for the Minnesota Wild the past three seasons. Oh, yeah, and he also has his name inscribed on the hallowed Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
But he was waived by Columbus and Shero was there to sign the Czech Republic native on Sept. 29. Good move, Ray. Skoula has 3 goals and 8 points in 24 games.
It certainly wasn’t as high profile as the Guerin or Kunitz trades last year, but this under-the-radar acquisition has no doubt paid huge dividends so far for the Penguins. Even though Skoula will be scratched when the team’s top-six are healthy, it’s comforting to know he’ll be available if another injury occurs.