Courtesy of Point Park University

Friday Insider: Penguins weighed keeping Poulin, Legare ☕


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Samuel Poulin, Ramon Foster, Ray Searage. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- The Penguins returned wingers Samuel Poulin and Nathan Legare, their first- and third-round picks in the June NHL Draft, to their junior teams this week, but only after giving at least cursory consideration to having one or both play a few regular-season games before going back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Prospects can appear in up to nine NHL games before burning a year of their contracts.

"We gave it a little bit of thought, but we wanted to, for these last couple of (exhibition) games, start to get guys (who will be on the major-league roster) together," Jim Rutherford said. "We felt that another year of junior would be good for those players and certainly hope their development moves in the right direction and gives them a real good chance to make (the Penguins' roster) next year, which would still be early, because they'd still have another year of junior left. Poulin and Legare were really good. They did what they do best -- they played their game, and showed us a lot."

Legare's performance was especially impressive, considering how long he'd lasted in the draft.

"We feel very fortunate to get him where we did," said Rutherford, who traded up in Round 3 to make sure that happened.

While Legare still is a work-in-progress -- his skating, in particular -- he already owns an NHL-caliber shot.

"Really, really impressive," said center Sam Lafferty, who had a strong camp himself before being assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "Just thinking back to when I was his age, I probably had no business being at a camp like this and performing at that level. So, super impressive. It's an elite shot, no doubt about it."


• One of the real challenges in constructing forward lines is grouping players whose skills sets jell and who, ideally, bring out the best in the guys they're playing with. Such chemistry can be elusive, however, and there's no set timetable for how quickly judgment should be passed on whether two or three players have it. "It can be quick for some people and it can take longer for others," said Jake Guentzel, whose game has meshed nicely with Sidney Crosby's. Sometimes, players simply do not fit together, which Nick Bjugstad said often is recognized first by coaches, rather than the players themselves. "They have a pretty good eye for that," he said. "If it's not working -- if there's something not going right and that thought is in your mind -- the coaches are usually on top of that."  And when two players don't work well together, Bjugstad said, assigning blame probably isn't prudent. "At this level, you never really want to question the guy next to you," he said. "If you are, you probably should question yourself. That's what I've learned. If I'm making up excuses, it's usually on me." -- Molinari

• The Penguins have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs every spring since 2007, the longest active run in the NHL. That, however, might not be the most impressive streak they have going. That distinction arguably belongs to the 574 consecutive sellout crowds they attracted for regular-season and playoff games at PPG Paints Arena, which also is the longest in the league. Tom McMillan, the team's vice president of communications, said the Penguins have sold the equivalent of about 15,000 season tickets, a limit they imposed years ago so that fans unwilling -- or unable -- to commit to a full-season plan would be able to attend occasionally, and that "we're selling more mini-plans, more partials. It's just the way people consume things these days." He also noted that while the seating capacity for hockey is a bit below 18,400, there were around 21,ooo sales of tickets for some games last season because some traded hands on the secondary market. The Penguins are coming off a lackluster regular season and disappointing playoff performance in 2018-19, but McMillan said that did not lead to a significant drop in season-ticket renewals. "The last three or four years, it's been about the same," he said. "You're always going to lose some ... but it's been pretty consistent." No. 575 in their streak will be the season opener against the Sabres next Thursday. -- Molinari

Mike Sullivan's occasionally accused by the fan base of having Dominik Simon as a favorite. Well, the truth is, Simon is that. Not that he gets preferential treatment, and certainly not that he gets assigned to top-six duty because of being a coach's pet. Rather, it's that Sullivan places a high value -- higher than some fans, apparently -- on plain old puck-possession. So do most, actually, who value advanced metrics. Sullivan's thinking is that his very best players have a better chance of performing to their own elite standard if the Penguins collectively keep the puck. Yes, Sullivan's aware of the criticism Simon hears. (And he can't stand it, by the way, based on a good talk we once had.) Yes, Sullivan's aware that Simon isn't anyone's idea of a standard top-six forward, including his own. He just happens to project a third forward -- on most lines, but especially the top two -- as a complementary piece. And he believes that passionately. -- Dejan Kovacevic


• How serious are the players getting about a potential strike in the NFL next year? The union is now distributing work stoppage procedure booklets in locker rooms around the league. The league and NFLPA have had several meetings already this year, but Steelers union rep Ramon Foster told me things have kind of slowed down since the season started. "As they should," Foster said. "Everyone's focused on football right now." Foster said the pamphlets, which came out last week, are to prep the players, especially young ones, about how to handle the situation if the players decide to strike or the owners lock the players out, as they did in the offseason in 2011. Remember, negotiations that year began in 2010 and the players voted to dissolve the union if an agreement wasn't reached by March 1, 2011. The owners locked the players out March 12 and didn't allow them to return to work until July 25, when a new agreement had been signed. The current collective bargaining agreement runs out after the 2020 season. The latest thing the owners floated according to numerous reports is a 17-game regular season that would completely eliminate preseason games altogether. That might be something the players would get behind. But a lot of coaches would hate it. It also might hurt the Steelers' training camp at Saint Vincent College. One would presume that because the season might start a week early, training camps might start a tad later because of no preseason games. As things now happen, the Steelers have to be out of Saint Vincent College because the students return in mid-August. Starting even a week later might cause the Steelers to re-think going to Saint Vincent College for what would be a much shorter time period. -- Lolley

• The two trades the Steelers have made in the past two weeks should signal to the players the front office isn't giving up on this season. The Steelers made a trade with the Dolphins last week to bring in safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, then with the Seahawks this week to add tight end Nick Vannett. It also shows the commitment this team has to winning each season, regardless of circumstances. "I guess," T.J. Watt told me. "You look at it as we're getting another guy who is going to make us better as a team. We welcome them into the locker room so that they can get acclimated and make plays as quickly as possible." -- Lolley

• With his elbow surgery now in his rearview mirror, expect Ben Roethlisberger to be a constant on the Steelers' sideline for the remainder of this season. In fact, he was there Thursday when the team returned to the field to prepare for their Monday night game against the Bengals, a day after flying back to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles. People ripping the quarterback for not being on the sideline last weekend in San Francisco are being a little unreasonable. Roethlisberger was scheduled to undergo an operation the next morning in Los Angeles. There is prep that is involved with that. This was not a minor scope that he got with local anesthesia. I spoke with several of his teammates, and they were more than OK with Roethlisberger not being at that game. -- Lolley

• Expect Roethlisberger to remain in the team's thought process, as well. One of the most striking reactions I got from players in San Francisco was that they initially tiptoed around talking about losing Ben ... then went about it in full throat. It's hard to know what to make of that, particularly in the context of an 0-3 start, but it's probably something they'll need to address. Maurkice Pouncey, for example, broached the topic of being "without our franchise quarterback," then quickly added "but that's not an excuse." This team's got one QB now, and it isn't Ben. All concerned could use some sort of rallying cry to that effect. -- DK


• It's hard to put into words how put off so many people were -- those who care about the Pirates, including some employed by them -- that Clint Hurdle irresponsibly and possibly incorrectly blurted out to a reporter Wednesday that he'd been assured he'll back in 2020. People who know Bob Nutting, people who've known him had reactions that ranged from astonished to apoplectic, based on the texts and talks I had that night before writing a column on the matter. As a result, strangely, I never felt more convinced that major change is coming. What Hurdle spoke Wednesday was not supposed to happen. And when it did happen, it was not supported by anyone in any way and, in fact, he was then told to shut up. Think about that. -- DK

• I'm going to repeat this just to repeat it: Nutting himself hasn't assured Hurdle, Neal Huntington or Frank Coonelly of anything. Not one thing. He didn't do it yesterday. He didn't do it Wednesday. He hasn't done it recently. He hasn't done it at all, beyond the contracts those gentlemen signed, and those can be torn up in a moment. -- DK

• No, Nutting wasn't at the game Wednesday when all this occurred. Nor was he involved in the postgame handling of Hurdle's press conference. All that was done by Coonelly and Huntington. That's not a criticism. Nutting's been around quite a bit lately and, in reality, he's around his team as much as any owner in town. Rather, I'm pointing out that he didn't have anything to do with addressing all the panic that night. -- DK

• One hugely successful baseball man who'd been employed by Huntington in recent years but left of his own volition reached out this week to tell me he never felt his experience or advice were utilized or appreciated. Each time he'd try to work with or even observe an aspect of the organization, especially in the minors, he was ignored or outright shunned. The reason: Kyle Stark never ceded complete control. Although Nutting nearly fired him -- and Huntington -- in 2011 over the Hoka Hey fiasco, and although Stark was promoted to assistant GM, in part to get him away from minor-league development, he never stopped running that aspect. If anything, he got only stronger. And as Huntington and Stark kept hunkering down, other input and ideas were shut out. -- DK

• Hearing how some in the front office are rolling Ray Searage under the bus is at least twice as stomach-turning as the scapegoating of Altoona manager Michael Ryan earlier this month. Searage has not had a good year, obviously. Searage has missed terribly the additional tutelage and wisdom of Jim Benedict, obviously. He'll lose his job, and it'll happen without complaint from this corner. But he doesn't deserve this kind of treatment after a decade of service. -- DK

• We'll know soon enough. All of it. -- DK

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