Assessing the Performance of Penguins’ Contenders in the Pre-Season Game Against the Red Wings…

Who Stood Out Among Players Needing a Strong Showing?

In Wednesday’s matchup against the Red Wings, the Penguins opted to rest their established veterans, providing an opportunity for nearly every player in the lineup to demonstrate their value and stake a claim for a roster spot. Let’s evaluate their performances.

Scoring Line Players:

Context: There’s one available slot in the top-six lineup, and the Penguins’ first line for the night featured the two leading candidates for that position, with the rest of the lineup offering options for checking lines.

  1. Radim Zohorna: Zohorna’s size and agility allow him to make eye-catching plays, utilizing his frame to disrupt passes and chase down pucks. He frequently stationed himself in front of the net and displayed some skillful puck-handling. While this assessment relies on a subjective ‘feel,’ it seemed like another solid game for Zohorna. His consistent performance in exhibition games raises the question of whether he deserves the job, despite no standout moments.
  2. Alex Nylander: Nylander’s performance appeared less impressive, as he often seemed to lose battles for the puck and was physically challenged. While both Zohorna and Nylander posted 65% Corsi percentages according to Natural Stat Trick, the lack of high-danger chances, a 2-5 disadvantage in general chances, and minimal expected goals for (xGF) generation provide limited insights.
  3. Rem Pitlick: Pitlick’s performance was notably lackluster, displaying low motivation, confidence, and energy. His recent waiver status may have contributed to his uninspired play, knowing that making the team is unlikely at this point.

Decision: Despite sharing a line, Zohorna appeared more suited for the game than Nylander, at least from a visual and recollected perspective.

Whether Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan concurs or disagrees remains to be seen, but the recent practice arrangements suggest Zohorna aligning with Evgeni Malkin, while Nylander has taken a backseat.


Context: Other lines were constructed as potential mid-season NHL fourth lines, assuming the team faces multiple injuries simultaneously.

  1. Austin Wagner: Wagner delivered a strong performance, showcasing his speed, physicality, and ability to create scoring opportunities. Based on his performance that night alone, he would merit a contract. Coach Mike Sullivan also praised Wagner’s impact and team spirit.
  2. Jansen Harkins: Harkins made a positive impact with his speed, drawing a penalty and contributing to a goal. Despite limited practice with the team, he demonstrated his ability to fit in seamlessly.
  3. Sam Poulin: Poulin had mixed moments, actively participating in physical play but also making some errors, including losing a crucial defensive zone faceoff that led to a goal against.
  4. Vinnie Hinostroza: While Hinostroza displayed speed and effective forechecking, his performance was decent but not groundbreaking.

Other players like Colin White and Andreas Johnsson did not distinguish themselves significantly, and most of the other forwards are likely to be removed from the roster soon.

Decision: Wagner had an outstanding night, and Harkins showcased potential, but due to roster constraints, there may only be room for one of them. Hinostroza’s experience and speed could also keep him in contention, but the final decision remains uncertain.


  1. Chad Ruhwedel: Ruhwedel delivered a solid performance, maintaining a 70% expected goals for (xGF) in his 15 5v5 minutes of play. He performed as expected, ensuring his spot in the roster is secure.
  2. Libor Hajek: Hajek had a strong outing, possibly influenced by his partner, Ruhwedel. It might not alter his position in the roster at this late stage of training camp, but it was a positive performance.
  3. Xavier Ouellet: Ouellet’s top-shelf backhand goal was the highlight of his night, and while he may have been called up due to injuries, his performance was commendable.
  4. Mark Friedman: Friedman had a relatively uneventful game, not standing out as he typically does. However, he did get caught out of position on a critical goal against.
  5. Ty Smith: Smith, recently cleared from waivers, had a decent outing, but his performance did not significantly alter his current status. Smith and his partner, Ryan Shea, had a low expected goals for (xGF) percentage, but this may be attributed to the strong lineup Detroit presented.
  6. Ryan Shea: Shea’s performance was less than stellar, with questionable positioning leading to a goal. His night did not leave a positive impression.

Decision: Considering the challenging opponent in Detroit’s strong lineup, it was a tough night for the Penguins’ defense. Hajek-Ruhwedel was a standout pairing, but one game may not be enough to elevate Hajek in the depth chart ahead of Friedman and Shea.

In conclusion, the coaching staff will review the extensive footage and make decisions about the roster moving forward.

Players like Wagner, Harkins, Ruhwedel, and possibly Zohorna appear to have bolstered their cases the most, while Hinostroza’s experience could still play a role in the final decision.

Alex Nedeljkovic also had a solid showing in goal, maintaining a strong presence in a breakaway situation. Some things in hockey, it seems, remain consistent despite the changes.

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