Barring injury, the Penguins top two lines are basically set. Crosby will play with Kunitz and Dupuis. Malkin will play with Neal and either Jokinen or Bennett (who will more than likely be brought back up from Wheeling before the first game).
It's a good situation for the Penguins to be in. In most other years, there has been a question mark or two alongside Crosby or Malkin, but that doesn't seem to be the case these days. That's good. Very good. Those top two lines are solid.
However, there has been some changes on the team's third and fourth lines. The last pieces of the "best third line in hockey" left the team over the offseason when Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy said goodbye. While Brandon Sutter is essentially a lock to play center on the third line, it gets a little more cloudy after that.
The Penguins technically have a 23-man roster set right now, but it probably won't stay that way for long. From Shelly Anderson at the Post-Gazette:
Penguins general manager Ray Shero wasn't available to talk about the team's roster moves, but Sunday he hinted at a temporary move or two when he said that the roster for the opener might look different than the one submitted Monday.
So who will end up suiting up for the Penguins in game one?
Either Bennett or Jokinen (whoever doesn't line up alongside Malkin) will more than likely play on one of Sutter's wings. As for the other wing, there are a number of possible options. Chuck Kobasew could find himself offered a contract shortly. If he receives one, it would make sense to put him on that third line.
That leaves some combination of Craig Adams/Tanner Glass/Matt D'Agostini/Dustin Jeffrey/Joe Vitale on the fourth line. Chris Conner could also find himself on that list, but something bad would have to happen to at least a few guys ahead of him first. He'll probably wind up in WBS soon and remain there for the foreseeable future. D'Agostini has a "lower body injury" but he might be fine for game one.
Adams and Glass are essentially guaranteed spots in the line-up as well. Adams is a veteran who is valuable on the penalty kill and Glass must have some really good blackmail material on someone in the Penguins organization. This means there would be one potential spot available in the line-up and two if Kobasew doesn't receive a contract. From Mike Colligan:
The most likely scenario would see Conner and Ruopp returned to Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday morning. Conner has already cleared waivers and can be assigned at any time, while Ruopp does not need to clear waivers to be demoted.
These moves would be accompanied by an official recall of Beau Bennett from Wheeling.
If the Penguins decide to keep Maatta as a seventh defenseman for the time being, they will not have room to sign camp tryout Chuck Kobasew.
It looks like the Penguins will be keeping seven defensemen, so does that mean Kobasew might not make the team? However, he's still practicing with the Penguins, which likely means that they're trying to work something out with him. It could be a salary cap/roster space issue with him that the Penguins are working on solving.
However, if he's not there, this is what the forwards could look like on opening night:
Kuniz – Crosby – Dupuis
Jokinen – Malkin – Neal
Bennett – Sutter – ??
Glass – ?? – Adams
Adams can play either center or wing, but he does most of his work on the wing these days. If Kobasew doesn't sign and D'Agostini can't go, we guess that Glass could possibly find himself on the third line, but that would make us too sad to think about. We hope that doesn't happen.
Overall, two of Jeffrey, D'Agostini, Vitale and possibly Kobasew make the most sense to fill in those empty spots. We'd guess that Kobasew would take the spot on the third line if he signs, leaving one opening on the fourth.
Having question marks on your third and fourth lines is much better than having them on your top two lines. The Penguins have a lot of options for those lines, so there isn't really a problem here. If anything, it's just interesting that the line-up isn't completely set with only a few days to go before the team's first game. This is due to the salary cap as well as the players involved. Either way, it's nice to see some competition for roster spots.
Who would you want to see on the third and fourth lines?