The NHL bumped its roster-finalization deadline back to 5 p.m. Friday to give teams more time to make difficult decisions, but the Penguins will have no need for that leeway.
Following the team’s intrasquad scrimmage on Wednesday night, the Penguins elected to reassign forwards Beau Bennett, Philippe Dupuis and Jayson Megna, plus defenseman Brian Strait, to their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. According to the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi, Dupuis and Strait are out of options, so they will have to pass through the waiver process in order to stay in the Penguins organization.
Dupuis is a depth player at best and Strait doesn’t project as a difference-maker at the NHL level, so the focus of these moves will be on Bennett and the survival of blueliner Simon Despres on the big-league roster.
Many media observers were skeptical that Despres would stick with the Penguins, reasoning that a six-day training camp wouldn’t be enough for him to sell the team’s player evaluators on his viability at the NHL level.
Conversely, the conventional wisdom surrounding Bennett was that the former college star had impressed in camp while occasionally skating alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, as Rossi writes, general manager Ray Shero and other front-office staff believe the 21-year-old rookie pro could use more seasoning in a scoring role, which would be available in the AHL.
My feeling is that the Penguins’ hockey operations staff got a good idea of what they were going to do this week based on observations gleaned from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While the AHL can’t match the speed and efficiency of the NHL, drawing conclusions from a half-season of Baby Penguins games has as much merit as judging based on a week of drills and scrimmages.
It appears Despres will be paired with fellow offensively-minded French-Canadian Kris Letang for the Penguins’ opener in Philadelphia on Saturday. Oft-maligned blueliner Ben Lovejoy will likely remain on the roster to start the season, as will Robert Bortuzzo.
With 23 players left in camp – 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies – the Penguins have met the NHL’s requirement for roster size. Further moves may come, but this seems to be the group that will embark on Game 1 of 48.