While the question as to who the Pittsburgh Penguins bottom-six forwards will be remains, theres a realistic chance that forward Joe Vitale is going to center the fourth-line.
Vitale, 27, was drafted by the Pens in the seventh-round (195th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and has been used for the most part as a utility guy.
Scratched in multiple contests during the beginning of the 2013 postseason, Vitale would eventually be inserted into the lineup for Game 5 against the New York Islanders in round-one — seeking to match the speed of the Isles.
Making an immediate impact, Vitale provided the Pens with exactly that — countering an uptempo style of play with their uptempo style.
However, he wouldn’t see much playing time following that game, as he would go on to skate in the final contest of that series and perform in just four more games the rest of the playoffs.
In six postseason outings, Vitale registered just one assist, and skated to an overall minus-1 rating — but was overall a positive start each time he hit the ice.
Although Vitale isn’t going to wow the organization in point production, he fits the systems plan of attack and maintains a sufficient forecheck — one that the Pens desperately need to reinforce.
And while Pittsburgh could still look elsewhere to fill that fourth-line center void, they only have two other active roster players who qualify — Nick Drazenovic and Andrew Ebbett.
Both of which were signed this summer, and each of whom were bounced back-and-forth between the AHL and the NHL last season.
Combining their statistics together, the two centers played in a total of 36 regular-season contests and scored six points — which barely beats out Vitale’s numbers.
However, as I’ve pointed out before, it isn’t about scoring production — so who knows, Drazenovic and/or Ebbett could start as the fourth-line center.
It’s just a point to make that Vitale played in just three games less than those two combined, and he had just one less point than them.
Even though the Pens have yet to see what each newcomer could offer, Vitale seems to be the right guy for the job — considering his history with the organization and his knowledge towards the game-plan.
We’ll have to see how Pittsburgh decides to go with this — but my money is on Vitale.
In 33 regular-season contests for the Pens last season, Vitale logged five points (2G, 3A) and skated to a minus-7 rating.