At the commencement of the 2014-15 campaign, the Pittsburgh Penguins could have a handful of new starters on defense.
Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik are unrestricted free agents, and the likelihood that either of them returns is highly improbable. Orpik because of his age/postseason injury; Niskanen due to his impending paycheck; Engelland because of possible interest from other clubs.
That means Pittsburgh has Robert Bortuzzo, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Paul Martin, and Rob Scuderi as the only blueliners set to be on the roster next season. And there’s no telling when Maatta will be ready, given his recent shoulder surgery that will sideline him for the next 4-6 months.
Considering the organization barely has the funds to add significant skill - and if they use money it will almost certainly be to fish-out better wingers – their prospects are going to be utilized. And they should, given the amount of young talent on defense they have in their farm system.
Only problem is, there’s just one or two slots available – barring if Maatta needs more time to recover, of course – but more space can be orchestrated if the team somehow manages to depart with Scuderi.
Scuderi, who signed a four-year, $13.5 million contract last summer to return to the ‘Burgh, didn’t look anything like he was when they won the Cup in 2009. Displaying an inability to clear the puck and picking up his assignments late, Scuderi looked like a 35-year-old man caught in the crossfire of younger, faster NHL forwards.
The guy was and will always be a respected member of the Penguins, but for Pittsburgh to progress they need to occupy his spot with a younger defenseman. Brian Dumoulin, Simon Despres, Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot, and Philip Samuelsson are all ready to jump into the NHL, and it’s better to get them acclimated sooner rather than later.
We witnessed how well Maatta performed this past season, so why should we think less of these prospects – who are all first and second-round picks mind you.
Dumoulin and Samuelsson both had experience playing in the league this past season, Despres has been up-and-down, and Harrington played with Maatta in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). So, the familiarity is there. Pouliot is their prized prospect, but he probably won’t be there at the start of the season because, like Maatta, he underwent shoulder surgery and was given the same timetable (4-6 months).
But as of right now, only a select couple will project to make the roster come September unless Pittsburgh can dismiss Scuderi. I’ll reiterate, Scuderi is a highly-respected player, but he’s clearly lost a step, and given the Pens’ defensive woes, he’s not helping the cause for a turnaround.
However, considering he just inked that new deal, he’ll more than likely be on the team next season. It’ll be interesting to see what new general manager Jim Rutherford does with him, but odds are he stays in Pittsburgh.
Fans just have to hope Scuderi still has it.
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins