The Pittsburgh Penguins faced a few questions when training camp opened Thursday.
Evgeni Malkin’s status? Unknown. Whether Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang or Bryan Rust had been approached for a contract extension? Undetermined. How did goalie Tristan Jarry use his offseason after a lackluster Stanley Cup Playoffs? Unsure.
The answers came quickly, though. The Malkin news likely being the most substantial.
Malkin to Miss at Least Two Months
After undergoing knee surgery June 4, Malkin will be out at least the first two months of the regular season. He was injured against the Boston Bruins on March 16 before returning for the final four games of the regular season and missing the first two games of a first round series against the New York Islanders.
First-line center Sidney Crosby, who skated on his own prior to camp Thursday, is also absent from the start of camp after having wrist surgery Sept. 8. Crosby’s recovery is expected to take a minimum of six weeks from the date of surgery.
“Sid has been skating pretty much every day,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “He’s not handling the puck. He’s one-hand handling the puck. But everything’s going well. He’s skating hard. He’s right on the timeline. The minimum six weeks is what we expect.”
Without their top two centers to start the season, the Penguins will turn to Jeff Carter to fill that spot. Carter skated between left wing Jake Guentzel and right wing Danton Heinen on Thursday.
Carter impressed after being acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings on April 12, having 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 14 games with Pittsburgh. He followed that with four goals in six postseason games. But Carter said he alone can’t replicate what Crosby and Malkin provide.
“I mean, I’m not going to replace them,” Carter said. “I think it’s going to have to be throughout the lineup. I’ll try to do my part to alleviate some of that pressure, but we’re going to need it from everybody. It’s the two best players on the team. So, it’s going to be a big task for everybody, but I think it will be fun.”
New Contracts for Malkin, Letang, Rust Not Expected Soon
When asked if there had been any progress in signing Malkin, Letang or Rust to an extension, Hextall responded: “No. We’ve been talking, but nothing to report at this time.”
Each is entering the final season of his contract and could be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Malkin and Letang have won the Stanley Cup three times with the Penguins, and Rust has done so twice. The value they provide is obvious, so it might not be a question of if deals get done but when.
Still, during the offseason, Hextall said they could start talking about extending those three in August. Maybe talks did happen, but nothing has come about yet.
With Malkin’s current injury situation, it could depend on how he performs once he gets back. For now, it leaves plenty unanswered.
Letang said he hasn’t thought much about his contract. As for Rust, he’s unconcerned.
“I think, just for right now, I’m going to try to just stick to hockey,” Rust said. “Let my agent kind of worry about that. If there are some things that need to be made known, I’m sure they’re going to talk to me. But for right now, I’m just trying to play hockey and get this team off to a good start.”
Jarry Remains Confident
After losing four of six starts in the playoffs with a 3.18 goals-against average (GAA) and .888 save percentage (SV%), Jarry has acquired a number of critics. On Thursday, he said he understands he must improve from that performance, and used his offseason to do just that.
“I think just a lot of hard work,” Jarry said. “I think that was the biggest thing was just getting down and getting to work. I want to be better this year. I think it’s a summer where I can take a step forward and improve. I think I was able to work on a lot of things for my game, and I think it will help during the season.”
Jarry took part in a scrimmage Thursday, opposite backup goalie Casey DeSmith. He did not allow a goal in 20 minutes before Pittsburgh changed goalies for the second half. DeSmith gave up two goals at the other end.
DeSmith is returning from having core muscle injury repair June 10. He arguably outperformed Jarry last season, going 11-7-0 with a 2.54 GAA and .912 SV%. Jarry was 25-9-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .909 SV%.
Pittsburgh named Andy Chiodo goaltending coach Aug. 4, firing Mike Buckley in the process. Jarry said he expects the change to help him develop further this season.
“I had Andy in (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), so we have a good relationship,” Jarry said. “Started out there. I think it’s a good step. It’s a good step forward. Get some new philosophies, and I think it will help my game.”
Wes Crosby is a freelance reporter, covering the Penguins for THW and serving as NHL.com’s Pittsburgh correspondent since 2013. He has also covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates for the Associated Press since graduating from Duquesne University in May 2013. During his tenure with NHL.com, Wes covered the Penguins’ two most recent Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017.