There are some who believe the Penguins have little choice but to carve out a spot for Alex Goligoski on their major league roster over the next few weeks, and it's easy to see why.
He played in the American Hockey League all-star game just months after his pro debut.
He set the AHL record for playoff points by a defenseman with 28 in the spring.
He has excellent offensive abilities and instincts, qualities even more valuable than usual because Ryan Whitney will miss a significant chunk of the season while recovering from foot surgery.
All that makes a compelling case for Goligoski to be among the 24 players the Penguins take to Sweden for their season opener against Ottawa Oct. 4.
Trouble is, other factors suggest Goligoski should expect to be in Wilkes-Barre when the Penguins go to Stockholm.
Like how, even with Whitney removed from the mix, they have seven veteran defensemen on one-way contracts.
How keeping Goligoski would be almost a $1 million salary-cap hit to a team whose projected payroll is flirting with the cap ceiling.
How he could be assigned to the Baby Penguins without having to clear waivers.
So, where Goligoski is working a month from now is difficult to project and likely hinges on a number of variables.
The most critical, of course, is how he performs in the prospects camp that began yesterday and the regular camp that follows. If Goligoski plays well enough to claim a place among the top six at his position, general manager Ray Shero and his staff will find it much harder to ship him to the minors.
How Mark Eaton rebounds from the surgical reconstruction of his right knee. If he's back to 100 percent, Goligoski might be a bit more expendable in the short term.
How aggressively, if at all, Shero tries to trade one of his veteran defensemen before the regular season. There's always a market for capable defensemen, so Shero has to decide whether he wants to keep all of them as insurance or shed some salary and pick up an asset or two by moving one before the season starts.
So many factors, so little Goligoski can do to control most of them. Which probably explains why he said yesterday that he doesn't dwell on details like cap hits and waivers regulations.
"I really have no idea [about such things]," Goligoski said.
Shero does, but that doesn't mean he knows where Goligoski will open the season.
"I don't want to put the expectation on him or us that he's going to be in the NHL," he said. "If he is, it's for a reason. And, if he's back in Wilkes-Barre, it doesn't diminish the fact that he's a really good prospect who will play eventually. Probably sooner than later."
That much, at least, seems certain. Goligoski had a strong three-game cameo in the NHL last season -- "It was pretty apparent the coaches saw the talent he had, the skating ability," Shero said -- and has a style tailored to the NHL's post-lockout (2004-05) style.
"He's a great, great skater," Shero said. "His mobility is excellent. He sees the ice very well. He passes the puck. I thought he made great strides last year in Wilkes-Barre, confidence-wise and experience-wise. He was a quick learner. He's very receptive [to instruction], very smart."
Although Goligoski's size -- he is listed as 6 feet, 185 pounds -- is fairly modest and upgrading his strength is a priority, he compensates by playing an intelligent game in the defensive zone.
"He outsmarts a lot of guys with body positioning," Shero said. "He's quick. He angles well. ... He's not the biggest guy, but all the other attributes he brings to the table make up for it in a big way."
Goligoski seems a bit overqualified to be taking part in the prospects camp and tournament -- he could be cashing an NHL paycheck this fall, while some other participants might be manning a drive-thru window -- but insists he is happy to have been asked.
"I actually prefer it a little bit," he said. "I can get my feet under me before the main camp starts. It's better than sitting at home for an extra week. I get to get some games in. I should be hitting my stride when camp starts."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .