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Pens Cut Eleven Players As Roster Battle Heats Up

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11 dreams are dashed, but some young players are closer to making the NHL.

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From the team release:

The Pittsburgh Penguins reduced their training camp roster by 11 players, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.

Forwards Chris Conner, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling, Joe Vitale and Tim Wallace, defensemen Robert Bortuzzo, Corey Potter, Brian Strait and Steve Wagner and goaltenders John Curry and Brad Thiessen were assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Notably, Brett Sterling had a chance to play significant time with Sidney Crosby and even found himself rounding out a line with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in last Saturday night's preseason game against Columbus. While Sterling wasn't bad, he didn't stand out neither, and at just 5'7", his size made him a question.

Youngsters Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo had impressive camps as well, but the sheer numbers of blueliners competing for ice time may have been too much.  Both can go down, develop more and possibly make their NHL debuts sometime this season should injuries to the NHL team necessitate them.

Most of the other cuts have been expected.  The Pens are still officially carrying three players, forwards Ryan Craig and Casey Pierro-Zabotel and defenseman Alex Grant, who are all injured and should be sent to the minors after procedural motions allow it.

But there are battles left for NHL jobs, and the cuts are not over yet.

As it stands now, defensemen Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, Andrew Hutchinson and Ben Lovejoy are four players battling for two spots on the roster, including one spot in the lineup for opening night.  Lovejoy entered camp with the inside edge here, but hasn't wowed.  Despres, a 19-year-old, is unlikely to play more than nine NHL games before the Pens would have to send him back to his junior team to retain a season worth of restricted free agent eligibility.  Engelland and Hutchinson are two vets also still very much in the mix. 

For the forwards it's come down to Dustin Jeffrey, Tyler Kennedy, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi battling for two spots.  Keeping three would most likely mean having 14 forwards on the roster, which due to the salary cap does not seem very likely.  All have had above average camps and impressive showings to make it this far, it would seem that Kennedy, Tangradi and Letestu all deserve to stay, which will likely mean some tough decisions for management.

All of this competition and having to cut worthy players is a nice change for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year, the Pens had to sign defenseman Martin Skoula (who was in training camp with Florida) and they also claimed Chris Bourque off waivers after Washington had cut him. Those moves were required because of a lack of depth at the bottom of the lineup, and neither worked out.  Bourque scored no goals and had three assists in 20 games before being waived, and Skoula played up and down for the Pens before being included in a trade deadline deal in February.

Contrast that to this season, where more players put on great training camp performances than Pittsburgh has available places on the NHL roster. A good problem to have is still a problem, but it's encouraging to see young players like Despres and Tangradi - and even older prospects like Jeffrey, Letestu and Lovejoy - perform well and show they can handle NHL roles, unlike last September.

A case like this must be preferable to the Pens' brass rather than having to make multiple moves to fill out the bottom of the Pens' depth chart with other team's castoffs.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.