It's summer and development camp just ended.
We're not going to lie. After the free agency chaos died down we vowed to take some time away from caring about hockey for a little while. It's difficult to pay close attention an ice sport during the hottest days in July. Kudos to the blogs like Faceoff-Factor that have been covering the offseason like it's nobody's business.
That said, we're starting to get the itch to watch hockey again. Maybe it's because of how last year ended with all of the injuries, but we have a good feeling about the coming season... at least right now. As we think about development camp and the players in the system, we're excited. But we're also excited by the fact that they hopefully won't have to see many of them in the line-up in October.
And it's not that we're thinking anything negative about any of the young guys. They're all talented and many of them will be big parts of the Penguins line-up in the future. But after watching the WBS Penguins play against the rest of the NHL for far too long last year, we're looking forward to seeing a real NHL line-up next season. We love Mark Letestu, but if we never see him starting a game as the first-line center again, we'll be happy. Watching the Penguins succeed despite all of their injuries last year was impressive and inspiring, but we never want to see that again.
So who will be on the team next year? Assuming everyone is healthy, there are some locks:
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Arron Asham, Craig Adams and Steve Sullivan will likely be in the line-up every night, or at least almost every night.
On defense, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are guaranteed spots. Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen will likely round out the D.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson will be in net.
Looking at those players, we have 11 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. Toss in a couple guys like Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu, Eric Tangradi and newly-acquired Steve MacIntyre and that's more than a full line-up. Once you consider guys like Nick Johnson, Tim Wallace, Joe Vitale and others who saw time in the NHL last year, you've got more than enough players. There should only be one or two spots up for grabs in training camp.
And that's good.
Last season some young guys were forced to play over their heads. This year, if all goes well, they'll be allowed to develop properly. Fourth-liners will be allowed to be fourth-liners. AHLers will be in the AHL. Young players won't be forced into action before they're ready. Having too many competent players is a luxury we would have killed for last season and hopefully that's what we'll be faced with in the coming campaign. If there isn't a single prospect or player who spent less than 20 games in the NHL last year in the opening line-up, we're happy with that.
It's time for NHLers to play in the NHL. Dear God we hope everyone is healthy...