The Pittsburgh Penguins' defense looks much different than before the weekend began. Three new NHL regulars have joined the Penguins roster, while Mike Matheson and John Marino have gone the other way.
The Penguins still have nine NHL-caliber defensemen on the books, but how will it all fit together? While we will have to wait until training camp begins to know for sure, newcomer Ty Smith may have handed us a clue during his introductory press conference with Penguins media on Sunday.
"I played there (right side) my whole junior career from when I was 16 until I was 19," Smith stated, "but so far the first two years of pro have been on the left side for the most part."
The Alberta native's ability to switch wings will be a significant bonus for the Penguins coaching staff.
A former first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, Smith has shown tremendous offensive upside early in his NHL career, with 43 points (7-36) in 114 games. However, he would benefit from playing with a more defensively responsible partner.
Chad Ruhwedel seems like the perfect partner for Smith to start his Penguins tenure. Coming off his first season as a Penguins regular, Ruhwedel proved he is a consistent defensive force for the bottom of the Penguin's defensive rotation.
However, the Penguin's top defensive prospect P.O. Joseph will have an opportunity to crack the Penguins lineup out of training camp. With Smith's ability to play both sides, a lineup spot can easily open up if Joseph proves to be an undeniable NHLer by switching Smith to his off-wing.
Smith spent the early portion of last season playing in the top four for the Devils, but inconsistent results had the 22-year-old defenseman finishing the season with P.K. Subban on the bottom pairing.
His previous experience as a top-four defenseman allows the Penguins to comfortably look into trading one of Brian Dumoulin or Marcus Pettersson. With roughly $1.9 million in salary cap space and Kasperi Kapanen reportedly filing for arbitration, the Penguins may look to add more space by moving on from another defenseman.
The Penguins deployed the same defensive lineup for large portions of last season. This year will prove much different as the coaching staff plays with the lineup to find the best spot for all three new additions on the blue line.
While the Penguins probably won't utilize Smith in their top four at the outset, his versatility may open the door for flexibility on the team's blue line.
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