Dec 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) skates with the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Bortuzzo To Finally Receive Permanent Starting Gig?

With three defensemen jumping ship this past July, there’s a rough idea of who’s going to fill out the Pens’ blue-line.

However, with a new head coach (Mike Johnston), it’s all a mystery as to who the starting six defensemen will ultimately be.

We can say that Christian Ehrhoff, Kris Letang, and Paul Martin will be automatic locks for the unit. And, yes, of course, Olli Maatta is a given, but as to how long his offseason shoulder surgery will delay him is uncertain.

Rob Scuderi, unlike Maatta, is healthy, but there’s a subliminal doubt for his spot due to such a disappointing 2013-14 campaign. Pittsburgh is said to most likely infuse their younger defensemen this season, meaning Simon Despres may finally get his shot at a season, or players like Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington could crack the roster.

But while Despres is looking like he’ll get his opportunity, will Robert Bortuzzo as well?

Last season, Bortuzzo received more game-action than he ever has, and he even got to experience playing in the postseason for the first time. With size playing a sizable factor these days, Bortuzzo should garner a starting spot in the Pens’ six defensemen unit.

Bortuzzo’s not the best two-way player, but he doesn’t have to be; that’s what Ehrhoff, Letang, Maatta, and Martin are for. Not only does Bortuzzo stand tall and rough players up in the defensive zone, but he sticks up for his teammates – takes one for the club. Bortuzzo will fight, sell his body, and go that extra mile to become a sufficient blueliner.

Mar 11, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) congratulates goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after Fleury earned a shutout against the Washington Capitals at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Considering Pittsburgh’s inevitable clash with clubs like Boston, New York, and any of the west teams, Bortuzzo’s contributions are going to be sorely needed. The 25-year-old right-hander was counted on more than Deryk Engelland in the playoffs, and frankly, Bortuzzo performed better than most of the other defensemen last season in general.

Bortuzzo should have a permanent job in the Pens’ starting six, but for some reason or another, I got some funny feeling Despres is going to outplay him. Pittsburgh will, in all likelihood, be minus Maatta for the start of the season, meaning Despres is the man that’ll probably take his place. However, when Maatta is re-inserted, there’s an outside chance Despres pockets starter duties over Bortuzzo.

Now, by all means, the Pens need to start finding out what kind of player Despres is when given a full season, and it would be in their best interest to showcase him early on for possible trade deadline bait. But as a result, Bortuzzo might not get a solidified starting slot until Despres is gone, or if Scuderi can’t improve off last season.

Nevertheless, this is all pending Despres actually makes the roster, but I’d be willing to wager he does. There’s too many factors that warrant Despres to be a full-time NHL player. Yet, for Bortuzzo, it could be a burden, considering Despres would be taking his spot.

Again, there’s no exact foreshadow to Johnston’s plans, so we can only speculate as to how Pittsburgh will draw up their starting six defensemen. Yet, in the long haul, Bortuzzo and Despres may both eventually have starting spots, depending on if the Pens decide to deal Martin at the deadline.

On the other hand, there’s also the strong possibility Johnston takes both of them over Scuderi right from the get-go.

Ultimately, point being, Bortuzzo deserves a shot at a full-time position.

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