Dec 27, 2013; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames right wing Lee Stempniak (22) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference (21) battle for the puck during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Stempniak to Skate With Crosby, Kunitz?


Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager Ray Shero had a quieter trade deadline than of years’ past, however, he did acquire some much needed forward depth.

After first striking a deal for Florida Panthers’ forward Marcel Goc, Shero announced late that he also went out and added Calgary Flames’ forward Lee Stempniak.

Not only did he concoct two under-the-radar deals, but he integrated them into the lineup without having to depart with a player. Both Goc and Stempniak costed Shero just a few draft selections.

Stempniak, whose a year removed from arguably one of his best seasons statistically, is listed as a right winger, speculating the idea he may receive an automatic audition for a slot on Crosby’s line.

For some time now, the Pens’ have been without a solidified right winger for Crosby. While forward Brian Gibbons has performed worthy for a good portion of the season as Crosby’s right flanker, from my own observation, the two haven’t been clicking like they were earlier. And for Pittsburgh to be dominant, they need their top-two lines firing on all cylinders.

Stempniak could be that missing piece.

This is what he had to say regarding the possibility of skating on the Pens’ top-line – according to Michelle Crechiolo of the Pens’ website:

“Obviously [playing on the first line] would be a really exciting opportunity. Sid’s the best player in the world and Kunitz is a great player too. For me, it’d be a great opportunity to be able to play on that line. But honestly, I’m more than happy to play wherever the coaches want.”

Remember, Bill Guerin wasn’t an eye-popping pickup at the trade deadline back in 2009, yet he still managed to mesh with Crosby exceptionally. They complimented each other so well, that, as you know, the team went on to capture the cup. So, while Stempniak probably isn’t the top choice for Crosby’s right winger, we must save our judgement for after the season.

As it stands though, Stempniak could replace the void left when Pascal Dupuis was shutdown for the season. You don’t have to correct me, I know Beau Bennett was the right winger once head coach Dan Bylsma made line adjustments, but he was only there for all of what seemed like a couple minutes after suffering a long-term injury.

Dupuis, who was Crosby’s wingman for the better part of last season, debatably had more chemistry with Crosby than Bennett did. And considering Bennett has played scarcely this season, chances of him resuming top-line duties is questionably doubtful.

Nonetheless, I cannot stress how important it was that Shero nabbed a right winger for the stretch run. Regardless of Stempniak’s caliber, an experienced, reliable forward that could spell the losses of Bennett and Dupuis is alleviating.

There’s still the belief that Bennett will be re-inserted at some point down the road, but should Stempniak excel on the top-line, he could boost the secondary scoring by slotting on Sutter’s line – which is where I’m assuming Goc will play as well.

I’m fully expecting Stempniak to be placed with Crosby and Kunitz for tonight’s game against San Jose. They may not be on the same page right away, but as the game rolls along, I’m anticipating better continuity.

We’ll see.

The tilt tonight against the Sharks can be seen on the NBC Sports Network, and is set to start at 10:30 p.m.

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