Following a full season with the Penguins and armed with a new two-year contract, defenseman Matt Niskanen seem poised to be "a big factor" for the Penguins' slightly re-tooled blue line in the words of Dan Bylsma.
Yesterday, Niskanen talked about the shortened training camp and his chances for a taking on a larger role with the team.
How do you approach this training camp differently given the circumstances?
"I think with a short training camp, that’s really going to be an issue. Paying attention to details is going to be really important. Teams that really play together as a unit or on the same page early are going to have a huge advantage at the start of the season. I think if we all do that, we can get off to a great start."
Is it fair to call this an open competition for jobs and roles among the defensemen?
"Yeah. There’s constant evaluation here. Ten games into the season, there will be evaluations made. And that’s a good thing. That pushes everyone in the organization. Young guys trying to come up and push us (veterans) to be better. We compete with each other, in a healthy way obviously, for ice time, penalty kill time, second or third spot on the power play, things like that. That’s a good thing. That’s what good teams do. We have a number of good players push each other."
Do you anticipate taking on a larger role with the power play?
"There’s a possibility. We have four pretty good forwards and Kris Letang who is a two-time all-star. I can count. But there is always that possibility. Knock on wood, we’ve had injuries the last two years. We don’t want have them this year. But if that does happen, I think I’ve shown at times I can step in there and contribute on the first unit. And if not, then you try to prepare yourself to be efficient on that second unit."
How about the penalty kill?
"Yeah. We lost Zybnek (Michalek). He chewed up a lot of those penalty kill minutes. He played a lot there. Somebody’s going to have to fill that role. That’s something I’ve talked about with coaches. That’s might be looking at. I might get a few more minute there and get an opportunity to kill some penalties."
You play the Flyers in less than a week? Are you eager for that game?
"Anxious to play real games again. It’s been too long. I can tell just by the way guys are acting in the dressing room that everyone’s hungry and ready to go. Playing Philly, that just adds a little extra to it. Can’t wait to get started."
(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)