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Examining the Penguins' roster - 01-18-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The NHL's 5 p.m. deadline to finalize all season-opening rosters has come and passed. Here's our player-by-player examination of the 2012-13 Penguins:

Forwards

9 - Pascal Dupuis, RW - Dupuis (right) finished last season on a 17-game scoring streak and set career-highs in goals (25) and points (59) and was a big part of what proved to be the NHL's third-ranked penalty kill in the regular season. He did all of that while playing most of the season without his usual center, Sidney Crosby. He enters this season entrenched on the right wing of a refreshed Crosby. He could improve on last season's numbers on a point-per-game basis. Additionally, he's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  He'll be hungry.

10 - Tanner Glass, LW - A free agent signing in the offseason, it won't take long for the punchy Glass to become popular in Pittsburgh. Finishing tenth in the NHL with 246 hits last season, Glass also engaged in seven fights for the Jets in 2012-13. A true energy player, Glass could flourish in Dan Bylsma's system which demands a strong forecheck. Glass will also contribute to the team's penalty kill. While he doesn't have a lot of offensive touch, Bylsma suggested he could get see a few shifts on the team's second line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Expect him to primarily fill Arron Asham's role on the fourth line.

14 - Chris Kunitz, RW - Spending most of last season on a line with Malkin and Neal, Kunitz  (right) enters this campaign reunited with Crosby and Dupuis. A reliable 20-goal threat, Kunitz set career highs in goals (26) and points (61) while also playing in all 82 games last season. While his offensive touch should never be overlooked, Kunitz might be more  important with regards to his tenacious forecheck. He creates space for his linemates and can create turnovers against opposing defenders. What's most important however, is that Crosby is comfortable with him as a linemate.

15 - Dustin Jeffrey, LW - Jeffrey enters the season a true enigma. Is he still the multi-talented player who has shown scoring touch in the past as well as a willingness to fill roles on all four lines? Or is he still in the coaches' doghouse he seemed to inhabit all of last season while trying to rebound from a devastating knee injury which ended his 2010-11 campaign prematurely? On paper, Jeffrey's versatility seems to be his greatest asset, especially in a compacted 48-game season which will won't allow players to fully heal from bumps and bruises. Expect to see Jeffrey in a variety of roles.

16 - Brandon Sutter, C - If you're going to jettison a skilled third line center from a famous hockey family with ties to agriculture, why not replace him with a skilled third-line center from a famous hockey family with ties to agriculture? Sutter is not Jordan Staal, but he's not far off. He's probably more of a true defensive third-line center than Staal. That said, he doesn't possess the natural physical talents or scoring touch Staal has, but again, he's not far off. During his time with the Penguins, Staal's offensive numbers benefited by drawing third defensive pairings while Crosby and Malkin drew first and second pairings. Sutter will do the same. Additionally, his linemates on the third line, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, are upgrades over his primary linemates in Carolina, Patrick Dwyer and Andreas Nodl. If this was an 82-game season, Sutter could easily hit 20 to 25 goals. Also, like Staal, Sutter will be a big part of the team's penalty kill.

18 - James Neal, RW - After a 40-goal season and numerous accolades, what can Neal (right) do for an encore in his second full season with the Penguins? With Crosby back and seemingly at full steam, the team's second line could produce even more as it won't be the primary focus of opponent's defenses. Regardless of who ends up being the left wing on this line, Neal should once again be an offensive dynamo. Look for his role on the power play to change a bit as he has been used on the point with Kris Letang.

24 - Matt Cooke, LW - A re-focused Cooke appeared in all 82 games last season and set a career high in goals with 19. More importantly, he avoided any supplemental discipline after a rocky 2010-11 campaign. Can Cooke repeat those results? After Wednesday's scrimmage, he appears to have developed some chemistry with Sutter. Additionally, he's an unrestricted free agent after this season. Like Dupuis, he'll be playing hungry.

25 - Eric Tangradi, LW - After years of development in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Tangradi finally appears to be getting a full-time chance to earn a top-six role. After a cup-of-coffee in 2010-11 with Mike Comrie and Malkin, Tangradi's NHL experience in 2011-12 was limited to fourth-line minutes. Team brass appeared satisfied with what Tangradi was able to do in terms of developing the "details" of his game (i.e. forechecking, backchecking, boardwork, skating) in that role. By many accounts, he took a step forward this season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the lockout. Regardless, this is pretty much do or die for Tangradi in terms of his future with the Penguins. Given his size, he could be the physical forechecking presence Kunitz was on the Malkin-Neal line last season. Bottom line, if Tangradi doesn't make the most out of this chance, the team will look elsewhere at the trade deadline for a left winger.

27 - Craig Adams, RW - A favorite of Dan Bylsma, there isn't anyone who fits this team's style better than Adams. A true grinder, Adams is entrenched on the fourth line as well as the team's penalty kill. Adams will fight, block shots, take faceoffs and hit anything in a different jersey. He also appeared in all 82 games last season while helping the penalty kill excel during the regular season. Given the nature of this compacted season and the tolling style of Adams' game, it's hard to imagine him being fully healthy as this campaign wears on. He too is playing for a new contract this offseason.

46 - Joe Vitale, C - Another favorite of Bylsma, Vitale (right) is fully versed in this team's system having played in it for four seasons between the AHL and NHL levels. Vitale's game is pretty simple. One of the team's top faceoff specialists (55.7 percent), Vitale will once again be asked to grind during five-on-five play and kill penalties. Even with two years remaining on his contract, expect Vitale to remain hungry. He needs to in order to remain at the NHL level.

48 - Tyler Kennedy, RW - A target of scorn from Penguins fans, Kennedy struggled through a 2011-12 season which saw him deal with injuries and diminished offensive production. Kennedy game is pretty one-dimensional. He's a third-line winger who runs up and down the ice full bore and pops a ton of shots at the net. After a strong offensive performance in the postseason, Kennedy seems poised to regain the form which led to his 21-goal effort in 2010-11. Scheduled to be restricted free agent in the offseason, Kennedy will have a role on the team's second-power play and could possible see some time on the second line with Malkin and Neal.

71 - Evgeni Malkin, C - The NHL's reigning MVP and scoring champion, Malkin (right) enters this abbreviated season having spent parts of four months ripping up the KHL. At the early portion of this season, he should have an advantage over the majority of the league which hasn't been playing in competitive games. Teamed with Neal, Malkin should once again be the most dynamic player in the game. One reason for concern is Malkin's workload as the season wears on. Will he be worn out having already played games in the KHL as well as in the World Championships this past spring?

87 Sidney Crosby, C - The NHL's most recognizable icon enters a season fully healthy for the first tme in two and a half years. Having been able to fully train this past offseason, Crosby is poised to regain the form which appeared to make him the would-be MVP and scoring champion in 2010-11 before injuries derailed his career for parts of two seasons. Teamed with his trusty linemates in Dupuis and Kunitz, Crosby could do some serious damage in terms offensive numbers. The team has also experimented with him on the penalty kill during this brief training camp. Either way, expect to see the Sidney Crosby of old provided he stays healthy.

Defensemen

2 - Matt Niskanen, D - Entering his second full season with the Penguins, Niskanen is coming off a campaign which saw his overall game and confidence flourish in Bylsma's system. A safe but hardly spectacular presence, Niskanen is a dependable player in every situation. With the offseason trade of Zybnek Michalek, expect Niskanen to take on a larger role in five-on-five play, the second-power play unit and on the penalty kill.

5 - Deryk Engelland, D - After making a name for himself in 2010-11 by taking on all challengers as a fighter, Engelland (right) showed off what he could do as a hockey player last season. Seeing an increase in time on ice, Engelland developed into a safe, reliable, physical third-pairing defenseman. He even set a career-high in points with 17. Expect more of the same from Engelland, primarily as a five-on-five player. His ability to fight any and all types of fighters makes him even more valuable in that is spares the Penguins from wasting a spot in the lineup with a goon.

6 - Ben Lovejoy, D - Following a disastrous run in the postseason, Lovejoy entered this training camp on the bubble. He held off Brian Strait to remain on the team. His NHL experience likely gave him an advantage in terms of keeping his job. There are definitely better options than Lovejoy for all situation on this roster, but given the grueling nature of this 48-game schedule and the Penguins' recent track record of injuries on the blue line, there should be plenty of opportunities for Lovejoy to contribute this season. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

7 - Paul Martin, D - Where do we begin with Martin? Public enemy No. 1 among Penguins' fans, his hefty salary cap hit ($5.5 million) and horrendous play in 2011-12 had fans hoping for the Penguins to find a way to cut ties with him. Following the offseason deal of his former defensive partner Michalek, the Penguins must rely on Martin to regain his form which made him a shutdown defender in 2011-12. He has been teamed with Orpik throughout training camp and the two seem to be comfortable with one another. Either way, he MUST be better.

41 - Robert Bortuzzo, D - Another product of the organization's development in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Bortuzzo's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) likely gave him an edge over Strait in terms of making the roster. A defensive, shutdown player, Bortuzzo (right) will see plenty of opportunity this season given the meat-grinder a compacted 48-game schedule will be. He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason.

44 - Brooks Orpik, D - The "old" man of the team's nucleus, Orpik enters a season fully healthy for the first time in many years. A productive offseason and plenty of downtime during the lockout allowed Orpik to train the way he wanted and probably spared him plenty of wear and tear which comes with his style of play. We would expect a resurgence in his game. Anticipate him being on the team's top shut-down pairing with Martin.

47 - Simon Despres, D - A first-round pick in 2009, this is his first real chance to earn a job out of training camp. He will get every chance to succeed playing on the team's top defensive pairing with Kris Letang. Expect him to play a safe, dependable stay-at-home game which will allow Letang to take some offensive chances. Despite his large body (6-foot-4, 214 pounds), Despres is hardly a blood-and-guts type of physical presence. He relies more on positioning than hitting with defense. There is room for concern given his inconsistent season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the lockout, but the future is now for Despres.

58 - Kris Letang, D - Arguably the team's most important player, Letang is coming off an up-and-down 2011-12 campaign which saw him battle injuries while racking up 42 points in only 51 games. There isn't anything he isn't capable of on the rink. But his decision-making can be questionable. The Penguins need him to mature a bit in that area as he contributes in virtually every facet of the team's game. He'll have to take on a bigger role on the power-play as its quarterback with the departure of Steve Sullivan. If he stays healthy and limit mistakes, Letang could win the Norris Trophy.

Goaltenders

29 - Marc-Andre Fleury, G - After a strong effort throughout most of the regular season, Fleury's (right) game started to erode late in the campaign and completely imploded in the postseason. Some felt he carried too much of the team's workload in the pipes as he matched a career-high with 67 games. That issue should be resolved with the addition of Tomas Vokoun in the offseason. With Vokoun expected to play upwards of 20 games in this abbreviated season, Fleury's workload should be lessened. Either way, Fleury needs to be better when the playoffs begin.

92 - Tomas Vokoun, G - A former all-star, Vokoun is at the end of his career and is playing for Stanley Cup ring. He's still talented and consistent goaltender who is fully capable of taking over the reigns should Fleury not be up to the task. The plan is to have him pick up nearly half the workload in order to keep Fleury rested. Given Vokoun's recent history, injuries can be a concern for him. Regardless, he is an upgrade over former backup goaltender Brent Johnson.

(Photos: Dupuis and Malkin-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Kunitz and Vitale-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Neal-Chris Chambers/Getty Images; Engelland and Fleury-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Bortuzzo-Harry How/Getty Images)

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