Penguins’ Development Camp Among First Tests for Kyle Dubas

Given the relatively tumultuous nature of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2022-23 season and the reckoning that has come with it, the new owners, Fenway Sports Group, set about revamping their entire front office. Kyle Dubas and Jason Spezza arrived from the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Penguins look to set a new course. First up for new President of Hockey Ops and interim general manager (GM) Dubas is the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville and the Penguins’ prospect development camp from July 1-3.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Penguins’ President of Hockey Ops Kyle Dubas (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins begin their new season in hopes of re-tooling their roster to address the issues that cropped up last season — goaltending and defence are their primary areas of concern. Addressing these core issues are the top priority for the new management team, and the development camp invitees are reflective of these needs.

Penguins Focusing on Goaltending of the Future

Just as they did in 2022, the Penguins invited four goaltenders to participate. Included on the list is former Portland Winterhawks’ goaltender Taylor Gauthier, who signed to an entry-level deal with Dubas’ predecessor Ron Hextall. Since signing that deal, he hasn’t made much noise but nonetheless entrenched himself as a solid backup for the Penguins’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. At age 22, he only just completed his first professional season. Competition at this year’s development camp will allow him to improve and make a name for himself. Among his competition is Penguins’ top goaltending prospect, Joel Blomqvist.

Joel Blomqvist Kärpät
Joel Blomqvist of Kärpät (Kärpät)

Blomqvist spent the majority of last season as the starter for Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga and has played a total of 45 career games. In those games, he posted a record of 14-9-5, a goals against average (GAA) of 1.92 and a save percentage (SV%) of .917. Although the limited sample size may scare some, it’s due to multiple concussions he suffered last season. His first occurred on Oct. 7, which caused him to miss nearly a month before he returned to action on Nov. 7 to start 14 consecutive games. His season was shut down on Dec. 16 after his second concussion.

Related: Penguins Make Goaltending a Priority at 2020 Draft

At the time of printing, Blomqvist is relatively low on the Penguins’ goaltending depth chart, but a solid showing at camp, coupled with the pending free-agent statuses of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltenders Dustin Tokarski and Filip Lindberg, could pave a way for him to make the jump to North America full-time (from “Penguins A to Z: Joel Blomqvist is a big part of the future, but not yet,” Seth Rorabaugh, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2023/04/28).

Defence on Display in Steel City

The Penguins’ defence corps was much maligned during the home stretch of 2022-23, and Dubas and company have used development camp as an opportunity to examine the wealth of prospects at that position in the system. Returnees include 2022 first-round pick Owen Pickering and new blueliner Nolan Collins. Pickering’s skillset has been well-documented, and his potential to succeed as a top-four defender meant he was selected at 21st overall and as the first Penguins’ draft pick. Collins, meanwhile, is considered by most to be a more underrated prospect. At just 19 years of age, his chances to make training camp are relatively slim, and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out his first Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season.

Nolan Colllins Sudbury Wolves
Nolan Colllins, Sudbury Wolves (Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

Collins fit Hextall’s prospect profile perfectly: of the five defencemen he selected during his tenure, all of them have stood over 6-foot-2 and can serve as the anchor of a good defensive team. Prospect reports have him in the top 25 but near the bottom. It seems the most accurate NHL comparison to Collins is the St. Louis Blues’ Robert Bortuzzo, originally drafted by the Penguins in 2007. Although another long-shot prospect, Collins has the opportunity to impress the new brass next weekend.

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Dubas has a lot on his plate as he arrives in Pittsburgh during the busiest offseason period. All eyes will be on the draft and the resulting selections this weekend, but development camp next weekend will present an additional challenge for Dubas as he not only evaluates the talent pool at his disposal but can serve as the baseline for addressing some of the issues that plagued the Penguins last season.