Penguins' Engelland and Guenin battling for roster sport
Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger and Penguins defenseman Nate Guenin chase a loose puck during the second period of a preseason hockey game Thursday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
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They're less than a year apart in age, similar in size, both shoot right-handed and possess similar, but not identical, skills. Right now, they are chasing the same thing.
Assuming the Penguins plan on opening the season with seven defensemen, they will have to decide in the next few days whether the final spot will go to Nate Guenin or Deryk Engelland.
Guenin appears to be slightly ahead, but there is one more preseason game -- tomorrow at Detroit -- and a couple more practices before rosters have to be set Wednesday.
Those two became the front-runners to make the club when they survived a big round of roster cuts this week and another top contender, Ben Lovejoy, learned his shoulder injury could keep him out for weeks.
"I knew coming in there was an opening for the seventh spot, and there's a couple guys competing for it," Guenin said yesterday after practice at Southpointe. "As a player, all you can ask for is an opportunity."
Guenin, 26, signed with the Penguins in the summer after playing 12 games over the past three seasons with Philadelphia. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder grew up in Hopewell and played youth hockey for the Pittsburgh Hornets before playing four seasons at Ohio State.
"For this chance to be with this organization, with the history and it being a first-class organization, that would be great," Guenin said. "For it to be your hometown, that would just be icing on the cake."
Guenin and Engelland are defensive defensemen -- "I don't want the puck; just get it to the forwards and let them go," Engelland said. Guenin is known more for being positionally strong and blocking shots, while Engelland is a more physically tough player who will fight, as he did in the Penguins' preseason opener when he dropped Columbus' Doug Lynch with a series of rights.
Guenin has 1 goal, 3 blocked shots, 9 hits and a plus-minus rating of plus-1 in three preseason games. Engelland also has played in three games and has 5 hits, 2 blocked shots and is minus-2.
Engelland and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who coached Engelland with the club's American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, remember game-planning especially for Guenin when he was with Hershey of the AHL.
"We had to put some systems in just around him," Engelland said.
Guenin wants to continue to be such a pest.
"Every game I want to take the body and block shots and compete," Guenin said. "We have a great group of forwards here [in Pittsburgh], so move the puck up to them. My game's pretty simple -- be really tough to play against."
While Guenin took the college route, Engelland, 27, played four years of junior hockey with Moose Jaw, then worked his way up through the ECHL and AHL. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder has not played in the NHL.
"Just to get this far is a great accomplishment for myself," said Engelland, who knew what to expect at training camp because the Penguins and Wilkes-Barre use the same system.
"It definitely is an advantage," he said.
Engelland and Guenin watched the Penguins' moves this summer and knew that, even coming off a Stanley Cup championship, there was an opening they could chase.
"I saw that, and I liked my chances," Engelland said. "I gave a little extra push over the summer with training."
NOTES -- As expected, center Sidney Crosby skipped practice after he left in the first period of Thursday's preseason game at Columbus because of a sore groin. ... Goaltender Brent Johnson, who left Tuesday's game at Toronto because of a knee injury, practiced.
First Published September 26, 2009 12:00 am