Penguins give young right wingers a chance



Sure, Ray Shero said, there would be a risk.

Plug an unproven young player into a prominent role in your lineup — say, the one that opened when first-line right winger Pascal Dupuis had a season-ending knee injury in December — and there’s no assurance he will elevate his game to the level of his upgraded responsibilities.

There also is no guarantee the player won’t, which likely explains why the Penguins general manager, doesn’t feel compelled to trade for Dupuis’ replacement before the Olympic roster freeze kicks in the second weekend in February.

And why he might not do it before the March 5 trade deadline if someone inside the organization exploits the chance he’ll get to prove he can handle the job.

“We’re giving some guys like [Brian] Gibbons and [Jayson] Megna opportunities and, actually, I think they’ve acquitted themselves pretty well,” Shero said. “They show good speed, the young guys. You need those young legs.

“What we saw from Beau Bennett last year we really liked, especially down the stretch and in the playoffs when he got in there. This year, he really never got going, unfortunately, but we’ll get him back at some point, as well. We’ll see what happens.”

He cited two examples of relatively unheralded prospects — Boston defenseman Torey Krug and Chicago winger Bryan Bickell — who made the most of opportunities they were given and helped their clubs reach the 2013 Stanley Cup final.

“At this time last year, nobody knew who Torey Krug was,” Shero said. “Until you get an opportunity, how do you know?

“Boston brings him up in the playoffs, and he’s been a great story. He’s a good player, but no one really thought of him.

“Bryan Bickell comes out of nowhere last year and has a great year in the playoffs for the Blackhawks. You need people to overachieve. Someone has to overachieve. Someone has to surprise you.”

Shero has a history of making bold moves at the trade deadline, and there’s no compelling evidence that he’ll stand pat this year, either.

Although the Penguins have a solid lead over second-place Boston in the Eastern Conference, they could be in the market for anything from a top-line right winger to a rugged bottom-six forward to another physical presence on defense.

For now, though, most trade discussions appear to be in the embryonic stages, with general managers trying to get a feel for who could be a potential trading partner.

“I’m not actively shopping any players at this point,” Shero said. “The calls you’re getting now or making now are just kind of, ‘What are you looking to do?’

“I might have something in mind and the other GM has no intention of doing that, and so much for my great idea. Or vice versa.

“That’s where it is now. If you see a fit, possibly, down the road, you keep in touch.”

The Penguins have a surplus of top quality defensemen, both in the NHL and their developmental pipeline, and Shero confirmed that other GMs likely will be interested in prying one or two away from him.

“We do have some pretty good assets, especially on defense,” he said. “Which is encouraging.”

Precisely how much salary-cap space the Penguins have will, of course, be a factor in any moves Shero makes. Or doesn’t make.

Injuries could force them to carry extra bodies — and contracts — on the major-league roster and eat into their cap space, which has happened a lot in 2013-14.

“We’re dealing with the salary cap which, you don’t know where you’re going to be, really,” Shero said.

It’s reasonable to assume that Shero has no intention of parting with, say, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but he declined to say whether any other player or prospect would be untouchable in trade discussions.

“In your mind, I believe you have players you never really would want to move,” he said. “But you just don’t know.”

Much as Shero can’t know at the moment whether Gibbons or Megna or Bennett will emerge as a capable fill-in for Dupuis, negating the need to seriously explore trade options to acquire a replacement.

“Right now, that’s what we’ve got,” Shero said. “And, if this is what we’ve got on March 5, we’re going to go for it.”


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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