The Penguins loaded up on forwards for training camp, including prospects and a few veterans hoping to get a skate in the door for what might be one or two spots on the bottom two lines.
Those players bring varying amounts of skill, versatility, experience and toughness. All have a burning hunger to stick with the club into the regular season.
None so far has expressed that quite as succinctly as center Nick Drazenovic.
"I'd chew rocks to play in the NHL," Drazenovic said.
He won't have to do that. Probably.
Drazenovic survived the first round of cuts at camp earlier this week, but he still faces strong competition to begin the regular season with the Penguins when it starts two weeks from today, rather than with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Drazenovic has played in one preseason game and is not scheduled to play tonight when the Penguins visit Chicago for exhibition game No. 3. He might get into the lineup Saturday afternoon for a home game against Columbus.
In a 4-1 loss Monday against Detroit, Drazenovic played a respectable 9 minutes, 58 seconds, won half his 10 faceoffs, was second on the team with five hits (including one in the third period that appeared to throw Red Wings defenseman Danny Dekeyser off of his game) and was even in plus-minus while centering a line with veteran AHL winger Brian Gibbons and Craig Adams.
"From playing with him for a few days, he seems like a well-rounded player who can handle the puck and make plays, but also he was finishing his checks," said Adams, an established member of the Penguins' fourth line. "I thought he played well."
In practice Wednesday, Drazenovic skated on what looked distinctly like an AHL line, with wingers Steve MacIntyre and Jayson Megna.
The Penguins signed the 6-foot, 192-pounder on the first day of free agency in July, and it would be understandable if Drazenovic had flown under the radar of most Penguins fans before that.
"He hasn't gotten even a couple of handfuls of NHL games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Drazenovic was a sixth-round pick by St. Louis in the 2005 NHL draft, but has played in just 11 games with the Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets with no points.
He has had success in the AHL, meanwhile, including 100 goals, 254 points in 381 games, and he is ready to move on.
"I'm 26..." he said.
He had a setback in 2011-12, when he missed several weeks because of a concussion and neck problem that were exacerbated when he was rear-ended while driving before the concussion healed.
"It's a different injury," said Drazenovic, who followed the news about Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who was dealing with a similar but longer-term injury at the same time.
"Sometimes, you would feel OK and you would feel stupid sitting out of a practice, and then an hour later you wouldn't feel good," he said.
He is healthy now, and champing at the bit to get his career moving forward.
"Everyone's in a different situation, but, as far as I'm concerned, those guys are trying to take my job," Adams said. "We've got a lot of good players in this organization who are going to help this team, whether it's today or tomorrow, down the line. I see a lot of competition around."
Drazenovic doesn't project as a prolific, high-end forward if he gets a chance to become a regular in the NHL, but he's got other things to offer. Bylsma said the Penguins considered him a solid two-way player in the AHL.
"We've tried to put him in [spots] to give him opportunities to be that type of player," Bylsma said.
Bylsma said that Drazenovic is best suited to play a position where the Penguins are pretty stacked.
"I think he has played wing, could play wing, but, in terms of putting him in position to play his optimal spot, it's centerman."
Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter have the top center spots sewn up, and Joe Vitale is the incumbent on the fourth line. Drazenovic said he knew the Penguins were deep, but he jumped at the chance to sign.
"This is such a good team," he said. "Anyone would want to come here."
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: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published September 19, 2013 4:00 AM