The Colorado Avalanche, the opponent Monday night at Consol Energy Center, has a stable of young players who appear to be budding stars.
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon, 18, Matt Duchene, 22, Ryan O’Reilly, 22 and Gabriel Landeskog, 20 — all forwards — are among the key players who helped Colorado carry a 7-1 start into the game.
That’s not an anomaly, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
He can add Nashville rookie defenseman Seth Jones, 19, and Penguins rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, 19, to a long list of young players who have stepped into the league and had a rapid impact in recent seasons.
It’s not, he said, a product of evolving systems.
“I don’t think the league has changed,” Bylsma said.
“There is certainly a thirst to have younger players come into the league maybe quicker than it was years back. I really think the talent and the skill level of the kids — I say kids, but the young players in the game now — the last five years, seven years is completely different than it was 20 years ago.
“What they’re able to do — how they practice, the skill level they bring to the game is significantly different than it was 20 years ago.”
The Penguins went through a stage in the mid- to late-2000s when they had several top players who were teenagers or in their early 20s, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.
All but Staal, now playing for Carolina, still are with the club.
Schedule favors Letang
The Penguins don’t play again until Friday when the New York Islanders visit Consol Energy Center, and that could be enough time for defenseman Kris Letang to get medical clearance to return from an apparent knee injury that dates to training camp.
Letang has been practicing with the team.
Also getting close is winger Matt D’Agostini, who also was hurt in the preseason and has been practicing.
D’Agostini, though, is prohibited from playing before the game Saturday at Toronto because he is on long-term injured reserve, which mandates that a player sit out 10 games and 24 days from the start of the NHL season.
D’Agostini (unspecified injury) is counting on being able to tell the team he is ready as soon as he is eligible.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “You try to work as much as you can in practice to be ready for game situations. When you get into contact and battling, games are much different. I’m getting there and feel a lot better. I’m just waiting for my time to be up.”
Apparently not that close to returning from unspecified injuries are wingers James Neal and Beau Bennett.
Bylsma knows the feeling
The game was the first NHL matchup between MacKinnon and Crosby, both from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
Before the game, Bylsma said he had a feeling what it would be like for MacKinnon, who was a big fan of Crosby’s growing up.
“It will be interesting for him to get on the ice with Sidney Crosby,” Bylsma said. “It is that way for me every day.”
Crosby was named the NHL’s second star for last week, when he had two goals, eight points in three games. He was the No. 3 star the previous week. … Bylsma doesn’t usually get too detailed in his scouting report for the Penguins on opposing goaltenders, leaving that to goaltending coach Mike Bales. But Bylsma played with Avalanche starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere when both were in Anaheim. “This particular one I have maybe a little bit more information than the other ones. I did offer a few things to our shooters, what to look for,” Bylsma said. … Colorado played without winger Cody McLeod, who served the first game of a five-game suspension for boarding Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall Thursday. … The Penguins healthy scratches were forward Dustin Jeffrey and defenseman Deryk Engelland.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.penguins - maatta - nhl