Penguins notebook: Three players earn All-Star honors

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK Kunitz, Crosby chosen for first team; Letang on second


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Penguins center Sidney Crosby and his left winger, Chris Kunitz, are on the first team and defenseman Kris Letang is a second-teamer in postseason NHL All-Star voting, the league announced Wednesday.

Crosby won the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as determined by fellow players and was a finalist for the Hart (MVP) Trophy, and Letang was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for top defenseman.

But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma figures the All-Star honor was extra special for Kunitz, a first-time All-Star at age 33. Kunitz led all left wingers with 22 goals and 52 points and finished tied for seventh overall in scoring.

"Chris Kunitz, in particular, is a guy who ... stepped into the top echelon this year in terms of wingers and production," Bylsma said. "He was right up there for two-thirds of the year in goal-scoring and points."

Bennett set for new role

Bylsma sounded as if he is leaning toward trying Beau Bennett, a right winger by trade, as a full-time left winger on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

"Beau has played on the left side a lot, so he's comfortable there and he's done a really good job, at the beginning of this year, proving he can play on the left side," Bylsma said. "That's really not an issue."

Bennett, a 2010 first-round draft choice, had three goals, 14 points in 26 games with the Penguins in his first pro season.

"Skill set-wise, the ability to play with high-end players, read the plays, hockey sense and the ability to make plays to and from those players, I think he has shown that. He has grown into that," Bylsma said. "I look at some of the games he played right at the end of the hockey season when we had some injuries, what he did on the power play when Sidney was not in the lineup and Malkin was not in the lineup. He really showed what he could do.

"Over the course of a full season, I think you're going to see him be able to play with those type of players, whether it is a power-play situation ... or a with Malkin and Neal. I think he's got that ability."

Salary cap realities

Bennett will still be playing under his entry-level contract this season, and Bylsma said that the NHL salary cap will force the Penguins to at times rely considerably on other young players because it's expensive to keep core players locked in.

"As you go down the road with the young players and prospects we have coming in -- particularly the ones on defense -- they are going to be playing roles for us," Bylsma said, adding that some prospects might get a shot to play this season.

Among the top prospects on defense, Bylsma pointed to Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot.

Dumoulin, Bylsma noted, "had a good first year of pro hockey, excelled in the second half of the season and the playoffs."

Dumoulin, obtained last summer in the Jordan Staal trade, had six goals and 24 points in 73 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and another two goals, eight points in 15 AHL playoff games.

Beyond him, Bylsma said, "You're talking about Maatta and Harrington, Pouliot, guys that project to be very big players for us down the road on their entry-level contract. I think it's going to be a must."

Maatta and Pouliot were first-round draft picks a year ago, Harrington a second-round pick in 2011. All three played in junior hockey last season.

Bylsma's Olympic memories

Bylsma last weekend was named coach of the United States Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. That is contingent upon an agreement to continue to send NHL players to the Olympics, something that seems close but isn't finalized.

"The preliminary [NHL] schedule this season has got the break for the Olympics in it. ... We're talking about it as if the NHL players are available," Bylsma said.

Bylsma's appointment brought to mind childhood memories of the American hockey gold medal in 1980, including the "Miracle on Ice" upset of the Soviet Union, which was televised only on tape delay.

"My first recollection of the Olympic Games is in 1980," Bylsma said.

"I remember very clearly the [TV] screen and the roll across the bottom of the screen. My memory is that I was watching 'The Joker's Wild' on Saturday night and that came across the screen, that USA beat the Russians in that semifinal game. And then getting to stay home from church -- which is something that never happened in my household -- to watch on Sunday and see how that unfolded."

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published July 4, 2013 4:00 AM


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