Quick practice report: Lots of structure to today’s two-plus hour informal practice at the Lemieux Sports Complex up in Cranberry. This wasn’t just guys skating, and playing mock scrimmages. There were many drills - shooting, skating, drills, etc. – stick work, line rushes.
Penguins in attendance: Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett, Tyler Biggs, Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, Marc-Andre Fleury, Steve Olesky, Kevin Porter, Sergei Plotnikov and Rob Scuderi.
Of note: Caught up with Oskar Sundqvist who said he expects to be 100 percent health-wise when training camp opens next month.
Sundqvist was kept out of July’s rookie camp because of a hamstring injury: “It feels good. I started to practice 100 percent a couple of weeks ago. I’m getting better and better every day. I’m not worried about the physical [part]. My whole body will feel 100 percent. It’s going to be fun when it starts.”
Quotable: Chris Kunitz on the Phil Kessel acquisition: “When you lose so many close games in the playoffs, adding a guy like Kessel can change that dynamic.”
The Penguins are bringing some size into training camp: 6-foot-5 journeyman Tom Sestito.
While he will by no means be the biggest star at camp, he undoubtedly be the biggest man topping Eric Fehr (6-4), Ty Loney (6-4), Evgeni Malkin (6-3) and Oskar Sundqvist (6-3).
Sestito, 27 and 228 pounds, has played parts of seven seasons with Columbus, Philadelphia and Vancouver, scoring 10 goals, 8 assists in 137 career NHL games. He has logged a notable 432 penalty minutes in those 137 games and in 77 games with Vancouver in 2013-14, he racked up an NHL-leading 213 penalty minutes and 121 hits.
He has 256 career AHL games with four different teams, scoring 48 goals, 65 assists while logging 887 penalty minutes.
Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis were two of several Penguins who skated at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex this morning for the first of several informal workouts at their new training facility leading up to preseason.
Crosby told the team’s website it was nice to finally be in the new facility: “It’s nice. Nice place. Last time we were here was for the tour. It was kind of bare bones then so it’s a nice facility. We’ll be spending a lot of time here. So it’s exciting to be here. …It’ll be nice to spend some time here.”
He said it isn’t too hard to get teammates out skating this time of year as many return in order for their kids to begin school. He was joined by Adam Clendening, Ian Cole, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Rob Scuderi, Jeff Zatkoff and Steve Olesky, per the club.
Dupuis told the team website he got lost several times trying to find his way around the new joint: “I got lost about five times this morning just trying to get a workout in and get my gear. It’s brand new. We’ll need to get used to it, the maze of walking around. But it’s definitely a really nice place to be able to go to every day and to call home as well.
Dupuis, who is embarking on a comeback, said it was great to be on the ice “with teammates…being allowed more than myself and the trainer here in Pittsburgh. It’s a first basically in 10 months. It felt great to be out there.”
Pascal Dupuis penned a piece this morning in the Players Tribune called “Why I’m coming back.” It’s a well-written and straightforward look at one man’s drive to return to the rink after a blood clot in his lung sidelined him last year, threatening his life and career.
Here is a link to the complete piece: Why I’m Coming Back
There are a few key excerpts in the piece, including this one:
“Last season, I knowingly played with a blood clot in my lung for five games. I don’t say that to sound like a tough guy. In fact, the reason why I hid it from my teammates and family was out of fear. I was scared that I would never play hockey again. From the very moment that I stopped lying to myself and slid into the tube for the CT scan, I have been focused on only one thing: How do I get healthy and back on the ice?”
Part of the regimen to return to the ice included taking blood thinner that forced him to literally count the lettuce leaves he would eat daily.
“It turns out that blood is a tricky thing. When you have a knee injury, your rehab is basically all about your ability to handle physical pain. With a blood clot, the pain is mental. What’s tested is your patience. When the clot was found, I was immediately put on the blood-thinner Coumadin. The weird thing with the medicine is that Vitamin K reverses its effects. So basically everything that you’re told is good for you — such as kale, broccoli, spinach or really anything green — you can eat it, but you have to eat the exact same portion every time. So I’m literally going through the salad bag like, one leaf, two leaf, three leaf, four leaf.“
Dupuis wrote a lot about his family in the piece, how much he wants to be healthy for them, but also shared this:
“Of course, if I’m being completely honest, that’s not the only reason. People have told me I wasn’t good enough my entire life. Not good enough for Juniors. Not good enough for the NHL. Not good enough to play on Sidney Crosby’s wing. Even now, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who have left me for dead. They clearly do not know me. My goal is not to just come back and lace them up for one more season and be a good locker room guy. I want to be an impact player on the ice. I want to be counted on.”
This will undoubtedly be an interesting September for Dupuis, whose comeback has all the makings to be one of the best stories of training camp. At 36, and coming off a major health scare, there will undoubtedly be questions about his ability to return to his previous form. From his thoughts in this piece, it sounds like Dupuis is ready to share the answers.
The Penguins inked 17-year NHL veteran Matt Cullen to a one-year, $800,000 deal today which shores up their fourth line.
Cullen likely marks the final major move of the offseason as well. GM Jim Rutherford said he is not pursuing any other players via free agency, nor is he pursuing any trades at this time. Of course he would be open to a trade if the right deal emerged.
In our estimation there’s two key things this deal does:
1. Gives the club a competent fourth-line center to bridge the gap until Eric Fehr’s return from elbow surgery, which could linger into December. Then he can shift to the wing.
2. And, good or bad - depending on your perspective - it takes the pressure off of prospect Oskar Sundqvist to step out of training camp and into a starting role at fourth line center.
Cullen is known commodity, albeit an aging commodity, but has been strong on face-offs and on the penalty kill in his career. He is also someone Rutherford raved about regarding off-ice intangibles and seems elated at having one more run at a Cup.
He’s also won a Stanley Cup. That knowing how to seal the deal, is invaluable.
We spoke with Cullen this evening, who said he was very honest with himself about his ability to keep pace.
“My skating is probably my biggest asset. If my skating goes, my game goes,” said Cullen. “I’m aware of that. I train really hard. And to be real honest, if my skating had dipped I probably wouldn’t have played again. That was a big part of why I kept my name in the free agency pool. I feel like I still have a lot to offer.”