It’s Their Time: Pittsburgh Penguins’ Young Defensemen Being Held Back


As I watched Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Marcel Goc limp from the ice after taking a slapshot off of his foot Friday night against Carolina, I was hit with a sobering realization – There is no “next man up” when it comes to Penguins’ forwards. The cupboard is bare in Wilkes Barre — and why wouldn’t it be?

The Pittsburgh Penguins organization has become a victim of its own success. Since 2007, the Penguins’ first round draft position, with the exception of one year, has been no higher than 20th, and there were two years in which they had no first round pick at all.

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Generally speaking, the pool of elite offensive talent is pretty well picked over in most drafts by the time the process gets to the 20th pick, so the Penguins have usually been left to decide between selecting from what is left of the foreword crop or taking a higher rated defenseman.

Of course, the smart play is to go with the better hockey player which is what the Penguins have generally done. This accounts for the shortage of offensive prospects and the surplus of top defensive talent in their farm system.

Thus, the 2014 Pittsburgh Penguins, as successful as they have been thus far, are operating on a razor thin margin when it comes to offensive personnel. Recent injuries and health issues, such as the ones concerning Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett, will have a profound effect on the team’s success going forward.

That is why, if you are like me, you feel more than a bit uneasy when you see any Penguins’ starting forward hobbling back to the bench.

The solution lies in the bevy of young defensemen they have stockpiled. If the Penguins have no viable options at forward to bring up from the minors, then they must look to their top defensive prospects instead. In other words, they need to play to their strength.

Defensemen, Scott Harrington (21 years old), Philip Samuelsson (23 years old) and Brian Dumoulin (23 years old) — currently a plus 16 in Wilkes Barre — are ready for prime time but are trapped in a log jam behind higher paid, veteran blueliners like Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin.

Derrick Pouliot (20 years old), drafted eighth overall in 2012, may be the best of the bunch, and considering Olli Maatta’s tremendous success as a nineteen year-old in the NHL as well as in the Olympics, there is no reason to believe that Pouliot, who was the 2013 CHL Defenseman of the Year, couldn’t perform at a similar level if called upon to do so.

Why not deal both Paul Martin (33 years old) and Rob Scuderi (35 years old) for some offensive depth? Martin is in the final year of a $5 million  contract, so trading him at this point really makes sense. He’s more than likely gone at the end of the season anyway. Also, Martin is a very good defenseman who would garner significant interest from playoff contenders looking to shore things up before heading down the stretch.

Similarly, Rob Scuderi has had a bounce back season after a sub-par 2013 campaign. Even at 35, he’s shown that he can still lock it down in a third pairing. The problem with moving Scuderi is his $3.37 million contract which pays him through the 2016-2017 season.

Question – Did Ray Shero hit his head on his way to the negotiation table on the day he made Scuderi that offer?

Regardless, the Penguins need to move him. If they need to take on some minor league contracts to help a potential trading partner with the money then so be it, but room must be made on the roster for the younger defensive talent, otherwise the labors of the last eight drafts will be rendered meaningless.

In order for a franchise in any sport to stay successful it must constantly be infusing younger talent into its lineup. Reloading is always preferable to rebuilding.

Going forward, it is a forgone conclusion that the Penguins will have to overcome more injuries to their offensive personnel. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been uncharacteristically injury-free thus far, but their histories are against them.

Pascal Dupuis, after getting his extended $3.75 million deal, played in no games last season and in just 16 this year, but hey, the guy is 35. Stuff happens when a player gets older. Again, what was Shero thinking locking up a 34 year-old until the 2016-2017 season?

Then we have Beau Bennett — very talented, lots of upside, but he’s as brittle as Elijah Price, Samuel L. Jackson’s character in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable.

Penguins’ fans know the injuries will keep on coming, and Penguins’ GM, Jim Rutherford has to know it too. Last year, Pittsburgh led the league with 512 man games lost to injury.

The Penguins can apply some band-aids in the forms of Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl, Andrew Ebbett, and Bryan Rust along the way, but these guys are not really what Jim Rutherford had in mind when he wanted to fortify the third and fourth lines in preparation for a Stanley Cup run.

No, the organization will have to look to the rosters of other teams to find the depth they need.

The Penguins most valuable assets are their defensemen. Using Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi as currency in trades will not only help the team acquire the offensive depth it desperately needs, but will also clear roster space at the top allowing an opportunity for the Penguins to invest in themselves by playing their young talent.

Dec 14, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sport