Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has confidence in revamped defense
March 10, 2016 12:00 AM
Thanks to some new acquisitions, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford thinks the team's defense is better suited for a playoff run this year.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The way Jim Rutherford sees it, should the Penguins secure a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs next month, their defense is far better poised to anchor a run than it was earlier this season.
“Our defense is much improved from where we were at the start of the season,” Rutherford said Wednesday, nine days after the NHL trade deadline. “We’ve built more depth, adding more puck-moving, skating defensemen than what we had at the start of the year. We now have eight NHL ‘D’ here which gives the coach a few options and should give us enough depth if we run into injuries.”
Rutherford added Trevor Daley in a trade for Rob Scuderi in December, then picked up Justin Schultz from Edmonton for a third-round pick just before the trade deadline. Both moves, along with the continued development of Derrick Pouliot, have solidified a once questionable top seven into a more solid top eight when Ben Lovejoy returns from injury.
Schultz has played in two games with the Penguins since he was acquired Feb. 28, but his puck-moving ability has been quickly evident against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
“You can’t just go on two games, but based on two games, he’s played well for us,” Rutherford said. “He looks confident, and he’s moved the puck well. He’s fit in. I believe the system that we play works well with him.”
Coach Mike Sullivan scratched Pouliot twice to get Schultz into the lineup but has repeatedly said he will evaluate the defense game by game and go with the six he believes will help the team win on any given night. He also has not ruled out dressing seven defensemen for a game.
If Pouliot’s standing within the organization seemed tenuous out of training camp, it is clear the Penguins are now quite pleased with his development and consider Pouliot a key part of their future.
“We wanted to get him to Wilkes-Barre and help with his development, and you know he’s improved as the year’s gone along,” Rutherford said. “He’s really developed into an NHL defenseman. He’s played very well when he’s in the lineup. He’ll continue to play well and get better.”
The Penguins managed to make the Daley and Schultz moves without giving up one of their remaining two second-round picks in the upcoming draft. That was paramount, said Rutherford, who suggested the June draft will be deeper this year.
“The second-round picks are good picks this year. This is a real good draft,” he said. “It’s good we could retain both of them. We added a young defenseman with a big upside for a third-round pick. Our defense should be fine and should be fine going forward beyond this year.”
NOTES — The league officially announced Wednesday that the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will play at Heinz Field Feb. 18, 2017. It will be the first time the two teams meet outdoors since joining the league together in 1967. … The Penguins signed forward Carter Rowney to a two-year, two-way contract beginning next season. Rowney, 26, leads Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in scoring this season with 17 goals and 22 assists. The deal carries an annual average value of $612,500.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenenedez.
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