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Examining the Penguins' roster - 09-30-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A player-by-player look at the Penguins' 23-man roster after today's transactions:

Forwards

9 - Pascal Dupuis, RW - Dupuis (right) took what was believed to be less than market value when he re-signed with the Penguins as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. Why? No other team can offer a chance to be Sidney Crosby's right wing. Few winger have been able to establish the type of chemistry Dupuis has with the Penguins' captain. And despite several injuries which have limited Crosby the past two seasons, Dupuis has produced back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Additionally, Dupuis has been one of this team's best penalty killers in recent seasons. At 34, he's definitely on the back nine of his career, but he shows few signs of slowing down.

14 - Chris Kunitz, LW - While he might not offer the prettiest game, Kunitz performs an invaluable service on the team's top line as the "F1" forward who forechecks, forces turnovers and creates scoring chances for Crosby and Dupuis. Like Dupuis, Kunitz has produced despite multiple absences of Crosby in recent seasons. He has reached the 20-goal mark three consecutive seasons and was recognized as a first-team all-star last season. At 34, Kunitz is hardly a spring chicken and considering his style of play injuries are always a concern, but like Dupuis, there's little evidence of decline in his game.

15 - Tanner Glass, LW - A free agent signing in 2012, Glass appeared in all 48 regular season games in 2012-13 but was largely disappointing. The benefit of participating in a true training camp this season is due to benefit him but he must preform better to live up to his salary cap hit of $1.1. million. A strong forechecker who also serves as a penalty killer, Glass, 29, isn't afraid to drop the gloves and can serve as a de facto enforcer. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

16 - Brandon Sutter, C - The primary return in the blockbuster trade for Jordan Staal in 2012, Sutter (right) appeared in all 48 games last season with mixed results. While he provided several goals in clutch situations, he would disappear for stretches of time. Like Glass, a true training camp should benefit him. He will enter this season while trying to breaking in new wingers as Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy departed this past offseason. Sutter, 24, will once again be one of the team's top faceoff specialist on the penalty kill and is expected to face to opponents top lines in five-on-five play. He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after this season.

17 - Dustin Jeffrey, C - A player who never seemed to fully recover from a serious knee injury in 2011, Jeffrey, 25, never seems to go away. Fully capable of playing multiple roles on all four lines, Jeffrey has seemed to embrace a "Swiss Army Knife" approach to his game by playing on both special teams, including as a point man on the power play. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, this might be Jeffrey's last true chance to stick with the team.

18 - James Neal, LW - Neal (right) once again will be slotted in as the right winger on Evgeni Malkin's line. There are few tandems in the NHL which possess the dazzling offensive chemistry Malkin and Neal have developed the past two seasons. A concussion slowed Neal down a bit last season, but he figures to once again be a dominant offensive goal-scorer this season. A vital member of the team's power-play, Neal has scored the second-most power-play goals in the NHL over the past two seasons with 27.

*- 19 - Beau Bennett, RW - A first-round pick in 2010, Bennett made his NHL debut last season and showed he could keep up with the speed and physicality of the game while playing as a left winger on a line with Malkin and Neal at times. This preseason, Bennett appeared to take a step forward in regards to his physical play while serving as an F1 forward on that line. He is in a battle with Jussi Jokinen for playing time on that line but it appears the two of them will alternate between the second and third line as the situation dictates.

22 - Matt D'Agostini, RW - A 20-goal scorer in 2010-11 with the Blues, D'Agostini comes to Pittsburgh hoping to rediscover his scoring touch in Pittsburgh. If he's to do that, it will happen as a bottom-six forward, potentially as a replacement for his childhood friend Kennedy. Like Kennedy, D'Agostini is a willing shooter who can skate. Also like Kennedy, D'Agostini is prone to bouts of inconsistency. Plagued with a "lower-body" injury in the latter stages of training camp, D'Agostini is signed to a one-year one-way contract with a salary cap hit of $550,000.

23 - Chris Conner, RW - Returning to the site of greatest NHL success, Conner, 29, is a favorite of Bylsma. A speedy, tenacious player, Conner has shown an ability to fit into this team's style of play, especially as forechecker. He is rather limited in his puck skills and doesn't offer a ton of size (5-foot-8, 190 pounds). If Conner makes it, he'll be a bottom-six forward.

27 - Craig Adams, RW - The prototypical "Dan Bylsma player," Adams, 36, is one of the most respected players in the team's dressing room primarily for his work with the NHLPA and his style of play. Entrenched on the fourth line, he's a key part of the team's penalty kill. Capable of taking a faceoff, dropping the gloves or laying out a big hit, Adams (right) offers a lot in the form of intangibles to this team.

36 - Jussi Jokinen, LW - A last-minute acquisition at last season's trade deadline in the wake of Crosby's jaw injury, Jokinen proved to be a versatile and productive player in his short time with the Penguins. A former 30-goal scorer with the Hurricanes, Jokinen can play all three forward positions and is a dominant force in the faceoff circle. He made his case to be the left wing on the second line with Malkin and Neal with a hat trick in one preseason game. He will likely alternate with Bennett between the second and third lines. In addition to his occasional work on the penalty kill, Jokinen, 30, is one of the best shootout specialists in the NHL.

46 - Joe Vitale, C - A tenacious skater who is strong in the faceoff circle, Vitale, 28, figures to be the center on the fourth line. Limited in what he offers with the puck, Vitale has stuck in the NHL through work as a defensive energy player. He could see a little more work on the penalty kill this season.

71 - Evgeni Malkin, C - The Hart Trophy and Lindsay Award winner in 2011-12, Malkin (right) was slowed last season by injuries and inconsistency. One of the most dominant players in the NHL, Malkin can shift the ice anytime he wants too. Teamed with Neal during five-on-five play, they are one of the most dangerous offensive tandems in the NHL. Malkin, 27, is still prone to taking selfish penalties. If he can eliminate that from his game and stay healthy, he's a threat to lead the NHL in scoring once again.

87 - Sidney Crosby, C - Crosby was set to once again claim the Hart and Art Ross Trophies once again until a broken jaw derailed his 2012-13 campaign. Before that injury, he regained the form which made him the league's best overall player. Teamed with Kunitz and Dupuis, Crosby is part of what might be the league's best line. A key part of the team's power play, Crosby has additional taken on some penalty kill shifts. If healthy, there's little to suggest Crosby, 26, can't once again be the NHL's most valuable player.

Defensemen 

2 - Matt Niskanen - Entering the final year of a contract with a salary cap hit of $2.3 million, Niskanen (right) was all but destined to be traded before the start of the season due to salary cap concerns. Even before Kris Letang was placed on injured reserve, management seemed hesitant to depart with Niskanen who has re-built his career in Pittsburgh. A versatile player who does nothing outstanding but everything well, Niskanen, 26, is primarily a third pairing blue liner who can play in a variety of roles. A smooth skater who can move the puck, Niskanen can log significant minutes.

3 - Olli Maatta - A strong preseason and uncertain status of Letang seems to have earned Maatta a nine-game "tryout" as a junior eligible player. Maatta, a first-round pick in 2012, showed maturity well beyond his 19 year of life in this recent preseason. A steady, reliable player who seems to never get flustered, Maatta seems destined to be a top-four defender who will log upwards of 25 minutes of ice time a game and do little to get noticed ... and in a good way.

4 - Rob Scuderi - After experiencing various degrees of success with the likes of Jay McKee, Jordan Leopold, Dan Hamius, Zbynek Michalek and Mark Eaton, the Penguins finally realized the best replacement for "The Piece" was "The Piece" himself. Scuderi is a reliable and positionally sound defensive player who should improve the Penguins' defensive zone in a multitude of ways. He seemed destined to be teamed with Letang but Letang's injury could throw those plans out of whack. Regardless of who he is partnered with, Scuderi will make this a better team in its own zone and could improve the postseason fortunes of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Scuderi's age (34) and his rugged style of play do present some injury concerns.

5 - Deryk Engelland - One of the NHL's best fighters, Engelland, 31, appeared to take a step back last season in term of his play on the ice. After a solid, 2011-12 campaign, Engelland's 2012-13 season was largely inconsistent. With the team not carrying a true enforcer on the roster, Engelland's fate with the Penguins seems safe with the likes of Zac Rinaldo and Jared Boll roaming the Metropolitan Division.

7 - Paul Martin - Rebounding from a dreadful 2011-12 campaign, Martin proved how valuable he was in 2012-13 by becoming part of a strong shutdown defensive pairing with Brooks Orpik. With Letang sidelined, Martin, 32, becomes even more valuable and could see plenty of time on the team's to power-play unit. Martin (right) also sees plenty of shifts on the penalty kill. His offensive numbers and physical play won't impress anyone but Martin is an intelligent player who seems to make the right play with the puck nearly every time he touches it.

41 - Robert Bortuzzo - A third round pick in 2007, Bortuzzo patiently waited for his turn to become a full-time NHLer. A strong training camp has finally afforded him that chance. Displaying boosted confidence and improved skating this preseason, Bortuzzo, 24, seems set to be a third pairing defenseman who will also get some time on the penalty kill. The team's largest player at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Bortuzzo has an impressive wingspan and isn't afraid to drop the gloves.

44 - Brooks Orpik - The "original" member of this team's core, Orpik enters the final year of his contract. Teamed with Martin last season, Orpik (right) saw a lot of assignments against opponent's top forwards. His physical style of play and age (33) are reasons for concern, but Orpik missed only two games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign. One of the team's leaders, Orpik has extra motivation this season as he'll be playing for a new contract.

52 - Harrison Ruopp - The most curious roster move made today was the recall of Ruopp from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Entering his first full professional season, Ruopp was injured much of training camp and did not participate in a preseason game. This appears to be procedural move for the sake of the salary cap, but the team has not offered comment regarding any of its moves today. Ruopp, 20, is a nasty, physical player but he's not ready for the NHL.

**-58 - Kris Letang - An apparent "lower-body" injury suffered during a team-building trip to West Point has landed Letang on injured reserve. The team has yet to offer an update on his status. If his injury is long-term, it will be difficult but not impossible to overcome. Letang logs some of the toughest minutes among any blue liner in the NHL as he sees plenty of ice time in five-on-five, power-play and penalty kill situations. A finalist for the Norris Trophy last season, Letang is simply one of the best defensmen in the NHL and could end up on Canada's roster for the Olympics provided he is healthy. Still prone to occasional mental errors, the Penguins had planned to team Letang, 26, with the steady Scuderi.

Goaltenders

29 - Marc-Andre Fleury - The most scrutinized member of the team's roster, Marc-Andre Fleury (right) faces a make or break season. After a strong regular season in 2012-13, Fleury struggled once again in the postseason. Anointed the team's clear-cut No. 1 goaltender by management in the offeason, Fleury must carry the load with Tomas Vokoun's status up in the air. A new goaltending coach, visits with sports psychologist and the return of Scuderi will go a long way towards Fleury, 28, regaining his form as a franchise goaltender. The talent and the skill are still there. It's up to Fleury to regain the results.

37 - Jeff Zatkoff - A career AHL goaltender who was stuck behind the likes of high-end talent such as Fleury and Vokoun with the Penguins as well as Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick with the Kings, Zatkoff, 26, is finally getting his chance as an NHLer with Vokoun dealing with blood clots. A third-round pick in 2006, Zatkoff has been an all-star at the AHL level. It's unclear how often the Penguins will play him with Vokoun's status still up in the air. Currently on a two-way contract, Zatkoff is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

**-92 - Tomas Vokoun - Taking over for Fleury in the postseason this past spring, Vokoun was arguably the most reliable player for the Penguins during the playoffs. He appeared poised to take over as the team's "1A" backup goaltender and appear in almost half of the team's regular season games this season, but blood clots have shelved those plans for the time being. If healthy, Vokoun is a steady, reliable goaltender. Age (37) and health issues are always concern with Vokoun who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Notes:

*-Bennett was assigned to Wheeling of the ECHL today in a move which is presumably procedural for the sake of the salary cap. It is assumed he will be on the opening night roster.
**-On injured reserve
-Right winger Chuck Kobasew remains on a professional tryout contract and is not officially part of the roster.

(Photos: Dupuis and Malkin-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Sutter and Adams-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images; Neal-Chris Chambers/Getty Images; Niskanen-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Martin-Paul Bereswill/Getty Images; Orpik-Claus Andersen/Getty Images; Fleury-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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