The 2022-23 NHL season is just around the corner and the excitement is building for the Pittsburgh Penguins. General manager (GM) Ron Hextall did a fine job this past offseason, ensuring the core of the team stayed intact while also managing to refresh his defense.
However, training camp is going to be a battle for some of the depth players. The internal competition of the Penguins is fierce and it’s going to take a strong camp from start to finish to win over coaches and management. As such, here are three Penguins who will be in tough to make the team for opening night:
A former sixth-round pick of the Penguins all the way back in 2011, Josh Archibald only ended up playing 14 total NHL games for the organization over the span of three seasons. He’s since moved on to the Arizona Coyotes and more recently the Edmonton Oilers, where he’s shown he can be a contributor on a team’s checking line.
Archibald has a little Zach Aston-Reese in him as he loves to hit anything that moves. Last season was a grind for the bang-and-crash winger, as he contracted a heart condition stemmed from COVID-19 and only ended up playing in eight NHL games. Back in 2020-21, he appeared in 52 games with the Oilers, scoring seven times and collecting an impressive 192 hits. There’s no denying he’s a tenacious forechecker and he’ll need to have a ‘loud’ training camp and prove to management he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make the team.
At 5-foot-10, Archibald plays the game a lot bigger as he doesn’t back down from anyone. He’s also an underrated penalty killer as during the 2020-21 season, he played over two minutes a night shorthanded. If the soon-to-be 30-year-old makes the Penguins, it’s very likely to be in a fourth-line capacity and some spot duty on the penalty kill.
Acquired in one of the major trades the Penguins pulled off this offseason, Ryan Poehling joins the Penguins and will need to be at the top of his game to make the opening night roster. He’s a much different player than Archibald as Poehling’s more offensive and has seen some ice-time on the power play in years past.
In 2021-22, Poehling scored nine goals and collected 17 points in 57 games. He also dressed in seven games with the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket, where he registered six points. In order to make the Penguins, the 23-year-old former first-round pick of the Canadiens will need to be solid in his own end, limit the turnovers, and ensure he is as physical as possible since he’s likely going to crack the lineup on the fourth line.
With injuries, Poehling’s the type of talent that can move up the lineup and fill in for more offensive minded players. Head coach Mike Sullivan is likely going to love the young talent when he’s at the top of his game. However, it’s the consistent production that will be needed for him to hold down a regular spot in Pittsburgh. He will have problems making the opening night roster and is going to need to produce on both sides of the puck during the preseason to do so.
Last season Friedman appeared in 26 regular season games and six more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where he was essentially used only on the bottom pair. He played an average of 13:16 a night and saw some time on the team’s second penalty kill unit.
Even though Friedman signed a two-year contract this offseason, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in the plans for the Penguins. With the depth the team now has on the blue line, it’s going to take an injury or another trade to free up more ice time for the 26-year-old defenseman.
The Penguins’ blue line is likely going to include Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Jeff Petry, Marcus Pettersson, Rutta and Smith to open the season. Throw in Chad Ruhwedel and Friedman has some serious competition to worry about this season.
Taking everything into account here, the likes of Archibald, Poehling and Friedman will all need a strong training camp from start to finish to make a serious impression on the coaching staff. The Penguins are a Stanley Cup contender and this season’s internal competition will be fun to watch.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween