Penguins' Potter puts himself into mix

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If Corey Potter is on the bubble with the Penguins -- and, by nearly all accounts, he is -- that bubble must be the size of a hot-air balloon.

And even if it is, it likely is pretty crowded.

The Penguins have about a half-dozen defensemen in contention for the sixth and seventh spots on their NHL roster, and Potter is part of that group.

Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland, who were the pre-training camp favorites for those positions, can be found there, along with Robert Bortuzzo, Andrew Hutchinson and Steve Wagner. Even Simon Despres and Brian Strait still are in the mix.

Potter did not dress for the Penguins' 5-4 victory against Columbus at Nationwide Arena Friday night, but is a candidate to get back in the lineup when the teams meet again at 7:08 p.m. today at the Consol Energy Center.

He was signed as a free agent in July and pulled on a Penguins sweater for the first time Wednesday night, logging 23 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time in a 5-1 victory against Detroit.

Potter's workload included three minutes, 44 seconds of short-handed duty, more than any teammate except defenseman Zbynek Michalek (4:45).

He is 6 feet 3, 206 pounds, and his willingness to get involved physically is part of the reason he draws penalty-killing duty -- and has a legitimate shot at claiming a place on the Penguins' depth chart for the regular-season opener Oct. 7 against Philadelphia.

Potter's penchant for contact was evident from the earliest days of camp and was mentioned early on by coach Dan Bylsma. Potter figured that playing the body was a good way to make sure that the decision-makers were aware of his presence.

"I'm the new guy coming in here with all these guys who have been here for a while," he said. "I'm just trying to make a name for myself and get noticed a little bit."

Well, it's worked. Especially after he dropped enforcer Jesse Boulerice with a hit.

"I didn't really notice that [it was Boulerice] until after I took him down," Potter said. "He's a pretty tough guy. I was just trying to play physical, no matter who it is."

That's something management is counting on him to produce, although his skating and ability to move the puck well have not gone unnoticed.

"He skates real well and has good size," general manager Ray Shero said. "He brought a physical element to the game. If he can be strong down low, he puts himself in position for the sixth or seventh spot. Consideration, anyway."

Potter, 26, appeared in eight games with the New York Rangers over the past two years. He also has 177 games with the Rangers' American Hockey League in Hartford on his resume, having put up 17 goals and 57 assists in those.

"I try to get up on the rush and chip in offensively," he said. "I try to work both ends of the ice."

He did that well enough with the Wolf Pack to earn some power-play time, although that will not necessarily be part of his job description with the Penguins. Shero, his staff and coaches seem more interested in having Potter play well defensively, move the puck effectively and use his body when the opportunity presents itself.

So far, he has. Which is why Potter still is a candidate to start the season with the Penguins.

"We'll see how the next little while goes for him," Shero said.

It's a crowded field, though, and separating himself from the rest of it won't be easy.

"At the beginning of the year, everybody's pretty excited, everybody's ready to go," Potter said. "Early in the year, guys are fighting for those jobs. It's an exciting time."


NOTES -- Coach Dan Bylsma said he and assistant Todd Reirden will oversee the power play this season, and that defensemen Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are competing to take over Sergei Gonchar's role as the player who brings the puck up ice during a man-advantage and then quarterbacks the power play. ... Defenseman Brooks Orpik said Friday he still had not heard from the league office about his hit on Detroit winger Johan Franzen Wednesday, and there is growing evidence that the NHL has no plans to fine, let alone suspend, Orpik over that incident.


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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