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Q: I love the way this roster has shaped up. As always, the team will not remain completely healthy, but the overall depth is the best it's been, in my opinion. That said, with the team healthy to start training camp, along with Eric Godard, do you believe Craig Adams could be the odd man out of the top 12? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, Mike Comrie, Matt Cooke, Arron Asham and Mike Rupp would all seem to be locks. And not that Adams hasn't played well, but his skill set is one comparable to several others on the roster (i.e., Talbot, Kennedy, Kunitz, Dupuis). Eric Tangradi, on the other hand, while young, brings a style no one else on the team really possesses. A lot would obviously be based on his training-camp performance, but assuming he held his own, while he is unproven, do you believe, with his upside and skill set, Tangradi could/should beat out Adams for a roster spot?
Rocco, East Liverpool, Ohio
MOLINARI: The point you made about training-camp performance being a critical factor in personnel decisions cannot be overstated. Although the first 13 forwards you listed have one-way contracts, members of the front office insist that prospects such as Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey and Nick Johnson will get a legitimate opportunity to prove that they're ready to contribute at this level. (That said, having one contender for a job on a one-way contract and the other on a two-way makes for a pretty easy tiebreaker when the competitors are fairly even.)
As for the established guy who might be most in danger of being the odd-man out among the first 13 you mentioned, the thinking here is that it likely is Kennedy. No one denies that Godard is one-dimensional, but general manager Ray Shero and the rest of management feel that Godard fills an important niche, and does it well. He's not going to dress for 82 games, but it's hard to imagine him being jettisoned from the Penguins' plans, either.
Adams, meanwhile seems to be a real favorite of coach Dan Bylsma, and that never hurts a guy's job security. Kennedy, meanwhile, has had problems with injuries and inconsistency over the course of his career. With Staal apparently ticketed for a top-six role, it's entirely possible that the No. 3 line will get a new job description this season, and that would open the door to personnel changes. If Bylsma alters that unit's role, bringing in different guys to handle those duties hardly would be out of the question.
Q: With Gonchar gone, who is most likely to wear the second "A?" Is it Brooks Orpik? Staal? Someone else?
Cameron Meindl, Washington, D.C.
MOLINARI: Orpik would seem to be the logical choice, not only because of his tenure and proven commitment -- he played the second half of last season despite an abdominal injury that prevented him from doing a single sit-up and required surgery in the summer -- but because Crosby is the captain and Malkin an alternate. With both of those letters belonging to forwards, having an alternate captain to represent the defense makes a lot of sense.
Q: Do you think that by putting any two of the three (top) centers on the same line, the depth of the lines would be diminished? Are the Pens that comfortable with using that many younger players? If so, who are the front-runners for the spots that are open?
Tom Walker, Windsor Heights, W. Va.
MOLINARI: There's no question that shifting Staal, when he gets healthy, from the middle of the third line to center on the No. 2 unit will have a major effect on both groups. Ideally, making Staal a top-six guy will lead to the Penguins having two offensively productive lines, but removing him from between Cooke and Kennedy on what has been one of the NHL's best third lines will create a huge hole and, as suggested above, could lead to the line getting new members and responsibilities.
Moving Staal won't necessarily open the door for younger players, however, also for the reasons noted above. While some of the young forwards will be given an opportunity to play their way on to the major-league roster, the bar figures to be set awfully high for them. As for a prospect worth keeping an eye on -- at least based on his performance during the recent rookie tournament in London, Ontario -- Dustin Jeffrey might be the guy.
Dominating that competition the way Jeffrey did won't -- and shouldn't -- automatically translate to a spot on the NHL roster, but he offered up a well-rounded game that made suggestions that he might be capable of playing on one of the top two lines not seem as outrageous as they might have at this time a year ago.
Q: Is Shero gun-shy about moving Tangradi to Pittsburgh? I hope he does not err by trading Tangradi for a disappointing veteran like he did with Luca Caputi. As far as I'm concerned, his reluctance is beginning to look like the kind of short-term thinking that will harm the team over the long-term.
Steve Zielinski, Allison Park
MOLINARI: Shero has said or done absolutely nothing to hint that he has even considered the idea of trading Tangradi, let alone that it's something he plans to actively pursue. He is one of the top-rated prospects in the organization, and had hurdled Caputi in those rankings well before Caputi was sent to Toronto in the Alexei Ponikarovsky (remember him?) deal at the trade deadline.
The Penguins clearly could use a guy with Tangradi's size (6 feet 4, 221 pounds), hands and willingness to battle in front of the net, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Tangradi is just 21 years old and has participated in just 66 regular-season games as a pro. He is coming off a so-so performance in the prospects tournament, and will have to upgrade his play significantly during camp if he wants to give the decision-makers reason to keep him around.
If Tangradi proves he's capable of contributing here at this stage in his development, he should be in the opening-night lineup. It would be foolish, though, to put him in the NHL if he is not ready. Still, sending a guy his age to the AHL hardly is tantamount to writing him out of your long-range plans.