It will take more than GPS to find Penguins roster spot

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Jason Williams got lost Wednesday on the way to Allegheny Country Club for the Penguins annual charity golf outing.

"Probably five or six times," said Williams, a forward who signed with the club as a free agent over the summer.

"Driving around has been painful so far," he said. "I try to follow the GPS as much as possible, but it's been really bad. I've been getting lost left and right. It's a tough city to get to know. It's very frustrating. You think you're following [directions] and you make one left turn or a right turn and you're lost for about 10 minutes."

Pittsburgh's hodge-podge layout and terrain are nothing. Wait until he sees how difficult it might be for him and several others trying to navigate their way onto the Penguins opening-night roster.

"It's going to be a healthy competition," said another newcomer, defenseman Alexandre Picard.

Picard has a meeting scheduled today with Penguins assistant Todd Reirden. It will be a crash course in the team's system and the defensemen's responsibilities within that.

Coach Dan Bylsma said earlier this week that he foresees as few as two or three roster spots up for grabs at training camp, so performance in the next couple of weeks is crucial.

Players report Friday, with the first practices scheduled for Saturday.

Veteran Steve Sullivan might be the only newcomer essentially guaranteed to make the roster. He is penciled in as a top-six forward and an important addition to the power play.

The Penguins have invited 55 players, including 32 forwards and 18 defensemen, to camp. Some quickly or eventually will be sent back to their junior squad or assigned to the organization's minor league camp with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

A select few could join the proven holdovers on the roster for the season opener Oct. 6 at Vancouver.

Last year, it was a minor surprise when rookie forward Mark Letestu, forward Chris Conner and defenseman Deryk Engelland became roster fixtures -- Letestu and Engelland out of camp, Conner some weeks later.

This year?

"Something's going to happen at camp," Bylsma said. "There's going to be an injury. There's going to be people who have an opportunity that maybe you didn't see was there before.

"Competition for those spots, having quality people to be able to fill them, is something we have. It will happen."

It won't be easy. In addition to Sullivan, the Penguins signed three forwards in the offseason with NHL experience -- Williams, Richard Park and Steve MacIntyre -- and have journeyman Ryan Craig returning. On defense, they brought in Picard and Boris Valabik, who have NHL experience.

There also is a long list of prospects who have played some in the NHL and/or seem close to breaking that barrier. They include, but are not limited to, forwards Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson and Joe Vitale, and defensemen Simon Despres, Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo -- although Bortuzzo got an unspecified injury at a recent prospect tournament.

"It will be a challenge," said MacIntyre, who is in line to replace Eric Godard in the enforcer role. "We'll see what happens at the end of the day."

Bylsma said players will be scrutinized in practices, scrimmages and games.

"I love the competition all over the place," he said.

"That's what you want," Sullivan said. "Coming out of training camp, you want the best team available. The players know that there are jobs available, and they're going to fight for them. It's going to get everybody going right off the get-go and set the tempo very quickly."

Williams said the Penguins' status within the NHL makes it worth it to enter into that kind of numbers game. At this time of year, he said, players think about the teams to beat.

"Anytime you look at the East, your top three, Pittsburgh's got to be in there," he said. "They've become that organization that players want to go to because they want to win. Winning's fun.

"I'm hoping that I can stick around and be a part of this."

NOTES -- Bylsma said it has not been determined yet to what extent, if any, captain Sidney Crosby can participate in camp. He is recovering from a concussion. ... Bylsma said forward Dustin Jeffrey, who is coming off ligament surgery on his right knee, should be ready for the start of the season but will be evaluated by doctors this week and might not be able to compete at full strength at the start of camp. ... With the prospects camp in Oshawa, Ontario, concluded, Jessey Astles, Stefan Fournier, Daniil Tarasov, Ian Watters and Maxime Lagace were returned to their junior teams.


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


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