With the new collective-bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, and the ratification process beginning on Wednesday with training camps opening Sunday, new question marks have come up regarding the lineup of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The top line of the Penguins is basically set with Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis, but the second line seems to have a vacant spot after James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. There are a couple options to consider for the vacancy, and they are:
Tyler Kennedy: The most likely of the candidates to fill the spot on the Malkin/Neal line is Kennedy. The forward had a career year in 2010-2011 scoring forty-five points, including twenty-one goals. However, the 2011-2012 season came was a disappointment for Kennedy, only playing in sixty games and scoring eleven goals. Kennedy spent the lockout working out in Pittsburgh with teammates.
Dustin Jeffrey: Jeffrey is an intriguing option to fill the second line void. Primarily a center, Jeffrey can and has played some wing. The red flag on Dustin Jeffrey is his health and staying out of Dan Bylsma’s doghouse. When healthy, Jeffrey has shown that he has a scoring touch. The most games Jeffrey has played in a season at the NHL level is twenty-six last season, and that season saw him score four goals and chip in with two assists. The twenty-four year old forward spent the lockout playing in the Austrian Hockey League with Medvescak Zagreb where he scored twenty-three points in twenty games.
Eric Tangradi: Even with the shortened season, this could be a make or break season for Eric Tangradi. A piece of trade that brought Kunitz over from the Anaheim Ducks, the twenty-three year old has produced at the AHL level with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but has not yet been able to translate that to the NHL level in his sparse appearances. The 2011-2012 season saw Tangradi appear in twenty-four games, but only produce two points and zero goals.
Long shot: Beau Bennett: The youngest of the candidates, Beau Bennett may have had more of a shot with a longer training camp. The Penguins’ first round pick in 2010, Bennett is currently leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in points with twenty-three, including six goals. Bennett may be the person who takes the spot in the future, but for right now, he may continue the season in Wilkes-Barre with the occasional spot duty in the NHL if there are injuries.
Wild card: Kunitz: Last season Chris Kunitz spent a lot of ice time playing on a line with Malkin and Neal. That line combination scored 104 points during the 2011-2012 season. Of course, if Kunitz would play with Malkin and Neal, who would play with Crosby and Dupuis? Therefore Kunitz is only classified as a “wild card.”