Apr 26, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) celebrates with defenseman Paul Martin (7) after Letang scored an empty net goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Pens' Starting Defense for 2014-15

The Pittsburgh Penguins have some questions regarding their defense heading into next season.

This past postseason, Pittsburgh’s defense was horrendous. Failing to pick up assignments and displaying poor puck management, the blue-line crew was utterly inconsistent.

Granted, two of their best defensemen – Kris Letang and Paul Martin – were injured/out for a good portion of the season, and had only returned just prior to the playoffs commenced. However, as a whole, they didn’t execute solid fundamentals in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

I know it’s only May – on the brink of June – but it’s never to early to start predicting who will fill out the Pens’ starting six defensemen.

Here’s a look at their 2013-14 defensemen set to test the market:

  • Deryk Engelland
  • Matt Niskanen
  • Brooks Orpik

Out of those players, I can honestly only envision Engelland coming back, and I don’t even think that’s going to happen. The main reason being that the Pens have a bunch of defensive prospects ready to contribute. And it would be a smart decision to start getting them acclimated to the pros.

Given their defensive options excluding those three unrestricted free agents, here’s what they have on their roster already:

  • Robert Bortuzzo
  • Kris Letang
  • Olli Maatta
  • Paul Martin
  • Rob Scuderi

Maatta just had shoulder surgery, and his timetable is 4-6 months, so there’s no idea when he’ll be ready exactly. Of course, Maatta will be starting one way or another; however, to start the season, it’s a little iffy. Hypothetically, that leaves two spots open.

If it was up to me, Scuderi would be the odd-man out, but he won’t. Derrick Pouliot was speculated to finally be introduced to the National Hockey League (NHL), but because he underwent shoulder surgery, it might have cost him a spot. So, here’s a list of prospects who could take the final two vacancies – barring Maatta’s return, of course:

  • Simon Despres
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Scott Harrington
  • Philip Samuelsson

Harrington probably won’t be on the roster, considering the other three have NHL experience, and it’s honestly a toss-up between those three. Is this the year Despres finally gets his permanent fixture? It’s hard to say, but I’d imagine Dumoulin and Samuelsson have just as good a chance as Despres.

Both Dumoulin and Samuelsson dressed for Pittsburgh this past season for a short stint, and each provided a glimpse into what their future defense would look like. Dumoulin and Samuelsson each bring size, and have stay-at-home like defensemen games, which is currently lacking on the Pens’ blue-line.

Given what Pittsburgh has, here’s my starting six:

  1. Kris Letang - Simon Despres (Maatta if healthy)
  2. Paul Martin – Robert Bortuzzo
  3. Brian Dumoulin – Philip Samuelsson – (Rob Scuderi)

I’m sure there will be moves made this summer to ensure stability on the back-end, but this is how I would line ‘em up. This is all depending on if Niskanen departs as well.

Either way, we should see some new faces in that defensive corps.

Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins

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