Penguins' Bylsma sees strength in numbers
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma on his team's depth: "There are people who have put themselves in position to compete for [a place on] our team with their play last year."
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LONDON, Ontario -- There's nothing secret about the numbers, and Dan Bylsma knows it.
Everyone associated with the Penguins -- and most people who have even a passing interest in the team -- is aware that general manager Ray Shero has signed 13 forwards to one-way contracts for the 2010-11 season.
Those deals pay the player a major league salary, regardless of where he works. And while having such a contract comes with no guarantees, most clubs are reluctant to pay guys $500,000 or more to ride buses in the American Hockey League.
Nonetheless, Bylsma, who is entering his second full season as the Penguins' coach, insists that his stable of forwards for this winter is not set as the team prepares for the start of training camp this weekend.
"[The 13 one-ways] alone would make it seem like it's tough to crack, but there are people who have put themselves in position to compete for [a place on] our team with their play last year," he said.
"They are still in that position, regardless of what [personnel] moves we've made on our team. Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson, Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey are those guys who, within our organization, have a chance to move higher."
And the list of contenders for spots in the NHL doesn't end there, he said, citing two forwards who signed two-way contracts as free agents during the offseason.
"Ryan Craig is a guy who kind of is flying under the radar, in terms of what I've read in the media, but he's played a lot of NHL games," Bylsma said. "I think he's healthier now than he has been in the last couple of years. He had a back injury.
"I think he's a guy who has the potential to come in and have a great camp and outplay people who are on one-ways. That's a substantial number. He's a guy who can play in the National Hockey League. He'll get an opportunity to have a good camp and do that.
"Brett Sterling ... I think there wasn't a chance for a guy last year coming into camp, according to the one-ways, and we picked up [Chris] Bourque on waivers, and he played three months with us, or so.
"I kind of see Brett Sterling as a guy who has that ability maybe score goals with [Evgeni] Malkin or a [Sidney] Crosby, in that kind of position. He's going to get a chance to do that in training camp, to see if he can be that kind of player.
Barring injury, five defensemen -- Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski -- are virtual locks to be in the opening-night lineup Oct. 7, with Ben Lovejoy the favorite to hold down the No. 6 spot and Deryk Engelland the front-runner for the seventh slot.
Bylsma, however, said a handful of other defensemen will get an opportunity to crack the major league roster over the next few weeks. They include some who are competing in the prospects tournament at the John Labatt Centre, such as Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Simon Despres, and others with more pro experience, including Andrew Hutchinson and Corey Potter.
"On defense, that's the place where there are names that are on the sixth and seven spots are in pencil," Bylsma said. "There are probably four or five [players in contention for those roster spots]."
Regardless of who plays his way into, or out of, the lineup between now and the opener Oct. 7 against Philadelphia at the Consol Energy Center, the Penguins' power play will have a new look by then.
Two fixtures from the No. 1 unit, point man Sergei Gonchar and forward Bill Guerin, have left the team, creating voids that will have to be filled.
Bylsma said Letang, Martin and Goligoski will compete for the two point jobs on the top unit, and that a handful of men will audition for the net-front presence role Guerin filled.
"You'll see possibly up to four or five guys competing for that," Bylsma said. "Once we define what that position is going to be, the person who does it the best will be the guy who takes [a spot on] the first power-play unit."
The personnel turnover also gives Bylsma and his staff an opportunity to make some fundamental changes in the way they approach man-advantages on the ice, and he said they will explore the tactical possibilities.
"That's something we've looked at," he said. "What we can do better, what other teams do well. We have done a lot of pretty good homework that we're going to be implementing."
NOTES -- The Penguins, 2-0 in the prospects tournament at the John Labatt Centre, will play their final game today, against Chicago. The Blackhawks have lost to Toronto and Ottawa. ... The Penguins and Central Blood Bank will conduct a blood drive from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the Consol Energy Center. Donors must be at least 18 and healthy, and will receive a T-shirt and be allowed to watch practice.
First Published September 14, 2010 12:00 am