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The Sports Daily > The Pensblog
Whose Third Line Is It Anyway?

Let’s play a game! It’s called who is going to center the Penguins bottom two lines on Opening Night of the 2017-2018 season. With the departure of Bonino and Cullen the Penguins bottom-6 is about to like quite different. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except they don’t really know who is going to be the centers for those bottom lines… Though to be quite frank the likelihood the guy who is 3C on Opening Night of the regular season will be the 3C the day after the trade deadline is slim. Still, someone has to play the position, so here are the options currently on the team’s roster. This does not include any signings, potential additions or trades. These are simply guys who are currently Penguins who might slot into that spot or who the media think will slip into that spot for some reason.

Carter Rowney
Rowney is almost assuredly playing one of the bottom-6 center positions. He took the fifth-most faceoffs for the NHL Penguins last year, which considering he only played 27 games with them, is pretty impressive. He also is the only player who finished the season with the Penguins who was not part of the “core four” centers (Crosby, Malkin, Bonino, Cullen) who took more than 100 faceoffs. And how did he fare in those? He put up a respectable 48% winning percentage.
He is also currently on the NHL roster, cheap, and when Bonino went down during the Stanley Cup Final helped to fill the center position in his stead. It’s hard to imagine he won’t get a look at either if not both center positions.
His point totals were only 3-4-7 in 27 GP in the regular season and 0-3-3 in the playoffs but he plays special teams and the staff knows they can trust him.

Teddy Blueger
If you’re reading this saying “who” I will point you to the Rookie Tournament going on right now that the Penguins are playing in. Blueger has been, quite possibly, the most complete player at the tournament for the flightless birds. He plays every shift with conviction, has NHL speed in his stride and trusts himself.
Teddy (Teodors) Blueger is a Latvian player who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 Entry Draft in Pittsburgh by the Penguins. He played four years at the University of Minnesota-Mankato, setting personal records in his senior season with an 11-24-36 stat line in 41 games played. Last year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Blueger had 7-24-31. His shooting percentage was only 8.3% though, so don’t get too nervous about the goal number just yet.
Making the leap to the NHL may be a tall task but if the way he’s handled himself at the tournament so far is any indicator he might just be ready.

Dominik Simon
Simon got the dreaded note from “The Hockey News” this year, “a slight drop-off in his production has raised questions.” Now that you’ve seen that, I’ve come to tell you that it is complete malarkey. Having seen Simon play multiple times last season he does the battling necessary to make a lost faceoff into at least a draw. Oh and he’s still pretty nasty at the whole scoring thing.
He finished tied for third in scoring on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season with 15-31-46. The “drop off” was 2 points overall (from 48 to 46) and a loss of goals but increase in assists. He’s going to be fine and he might just be the kind of hard working player the big club could use taking some reps at the 3/4C spot.

Jake Guentzel
Okay, okay you’re probably over there looking at me like I’m insane to suggest moving Guentzel from Crosby’s line and yea overall I agree with you. However, Guentzel is definitely a better center option than Greg McKegg (sorry, but really). His breakout season last year saw him finish seventh on the Penguins in points despite only playing in 40 games with a 16-17-33 stat line. Then he had the Stanley Cup Playoffs run we all remember where he became the first true rookie to lead the NHL in playoff goals. So what did he do next? Played more hockey in the 3-on-3 Da Beauty League this summer where, again, he put on an absolute show.
The kid is for real and while I like having him with Crosby there’s very little doubt in my mind (he had a 60+% CF as a C in the AHL!) that he could handle the 3C if needed and play on the wing with 87 occasionally when the team needs a boost. I’m not sure I love this idea, Guentzel is clearly a top-6 talent, but it’s a possibility.

Zach Aston-Reese
“ZAR” has had the subtitle of ‘likely to play in the NHL next season’ since he signed with the Penguins out of Northeastern. And he might be just what they need in the bottom-6 centers. At 6’0″ he is about average height but he carries himself like a tough customer. In Saturday’s game at the Rookie Tournament, he got into a fight with Steven Santini of the Devils. He’s the kind of guy who could carve out a career like a Cullen or Hornqvist. Not big on scoring goals but scoring big goals and not being afraid to lay it down for his teammates and be a menace.
He’s probably just a little underdeveloped at this point to take on the center role but if anything happens to injure the Penguins other centers, the ZAR is your guy.

Jay McClement
No.

Okay, okay I’ll give it more thought than that. McClement, to the General Manager’s credit, wasn’t signed by Rutherford to a deal. He signed a PTO which, if the Tom Sestito model is an indicator, means they’ll more than likely use him in the AHL if they keep him.
Simply put, I’m just not sure what he brings. If you look at his statistics from Carolina he took more than 500 faceoffs last season so, probably that. He had a respectable 48% but is respectable what the Penguins want or need in someone who is as old as McClement is? Sure Rowney had a 48% too but he was also an NHL rookie who was seeing most of the guys he was facing for the very first time. They can get respectable from a guy like Rowney and trade for someone who can give them much more than respectable down the road. Sure, he might be a good short-term fit, but I just don’t see him being able to play playoff games at the pace of a Mike Sullivan hockey team.

Greg McKegg
The Hockey News and NHL Network both have him written in as the Penguins 4C. That simply doesn’t seem possible.
There are many options, as seen above, that are a better fit. Apparently, he played in the NHL last year, which was news to me. In 46 games he put up 3-4-7. His hero chart actually ranks his shot generation at a 0, it’s the first 0 I’ve seen. And Cap-friendly has him listed as a Minor contract so I’m really not seeing why so many people are convinced he’s going to be the Penguins 4C. He took 97 faceoffs last season, which is less than Carter Rowney and Jay McClement and at least McClement can muster something above a 0 in all the categories of his hero chart.

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