The Pittsburgh Penguins will play a game exactly one week from tomorrow night to open the season. They haven’t made any official announcement yet, but it seems as though Greg McKegg will be the third line center for the Penguins.
After the Penguins reassigned a vast majority of their players to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier today, including candidates Adam Johnson and Teddy Blueger, it is almost assured McKegg has done enough in training camp to entice the coaches to place him on their roster.
The Penguins will entrust a player who has played 65 NHL games to hold down the third-line center for them for the foreseeable future unless the Penguins go out and acquire a piece. As recently as Sunday, general manager Jim Rutherford was quoted as saying “it’s just not there right now” in regards to the price the Penguins want to pay to acquire the piece.
The early part of the season isn’t the most pressing time for the team to acquire a third line center. Although, it does not strike me that McKegg will be adequate enough to hold down these minutes in an efficient enough manner to play 82 games in that position. Carter Rowney, of whom I am a big fan, is not adequate of holding those minutes, either. Both, however will be great fourth line centers should the opportunity present itself. Rowney will be the team’s fourth-line center when the season begins.
On Friday, head coach Mike Sullivan gave McKegg his endorsement.
“I’ve been really impressed with Kegger,” Sullivan said. “I think he’s really made a positive impression on our coaching staff.”
The negative about McKegg, as compared to former Penguins’ third line center Nick Bonino is that he won’t contribute nearly as much on the offensive side of the puck. Bonino didn’t light up the scoreboard either. But he was more involved than McKegg likely will be as McKegg has only had 9 points in his 65 career games.
McKegg’s game won’t be about scoring and that is something the Penguins will have to live with. There is a good chance he could have Carl Hagelin to his left and Patric Hornqvist to his right on opening night and throughout the early part of the season.
He will be tasked with trying to play defense while Hagelin and Hornqvist will be handling the offensive side of things.
The only drawback to no bonafide third-line center is that it will mean more Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Usually, this sounds like a blessing. But after two straight seasons of playing until the middle of June and having a shorter break than the rest of the league, the stars could use the reduction of even a few minutes per game. They struggled with this post-Jordan Staal and pre-Bonino.
Towards the middle and latter stages of this season, based on team’s standings, more and more legitimate third-line centers will become available. Until then, McKegg looks like the guy the Penguins will have to roll with at third-line center.