Despite plenty of injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played well, and one player, in particular, deserves a ton of credit.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been held together by bubblegum and duct tape for most of the early season. Whether it’s filling three center holes behind Crosby or having to play defenseman Juuso Riikola as a winger – it’s not been easy. And it certainly hasn’t all been fun. Sure the ups were great – like scoring 14 goals in the 24 hours of a back-to-back. But the downs – like being shut out against Vegas – really sucked.
But, the good news has started to roll in. The team is getting healthy again as we look towards November. Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad are back. Galchenyuk and Dumoulin seem to be close. And, after rejoining team practice today, Malkin said he hopes to play this Saturday at home against the Edmonton Oilers.
This leads us to an important question, what now?
Currently, the team has 14 forwards for twelve spots, and if Galchenyuk and Malkin are close, that number swells to 16. That means at least three players need to go down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. But which three?
When they were called up, the assumption by most was that Joseph Blandisi, Adam Johnson, and Sam Lafferty were filler. They were warm bodies. Pieces to plug into a badly injured team and hope they played serviceably. But at least one of those guys had something else in mind. And it’s time to acknowledge it.
Sam Lafferty has no business going back to the American Hockey League.
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The Penguins have some decisions to make before Saturday, and this should be an easy one. Lafferty has proven he can skate with and fit in at the NHL level. So who do you send down? Perhaps this won’t sound great since he finally scored – but Kahun. Dominik Kahun just hasn’t been quite right on the Penguins. That doesn’t mean he can’t be, but it’s abundantly clear he’s been working through the usual hiccups that come with learning a new system. So send him down to the AHL and give him more time to learn about how the Penguins system works – because it’s essentially the same at all levels.
And look, it’s easier to send Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson back down. This leaves one player they have to run through waivers in Blandisi. But it’s just not the right choice to send Lafferty back. He can hang. And he should be afforded the chance to do so.