Injuries in the early season games savaged the Pittsburgh Penguins. Four left-side defensemen suffered longer-term injuries, and the Penguins have been mixing and matching defense pairings since the second game of the season.
Thursday morning, head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the remaining four injured Penguins have resumed skating.
Top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin, winger Jared McCann and bottom line forward Evan Rodrigues skated on their own Thursday morning. Defenseman Juuso Riikola skated with the taxi squad.
Riikola skating with the practice squad would seem to be the closest to returning. However, Sullivan did not offer any timetables for their returns.
Players skating on their own, especially Dumoulin and McCann, who suffered lower-body injuries, are encouraging signs. Each would immediately slot into the lineup upon their return.
Dumoulin missed most of last season after undergoing ankle surgery on Dec. 1. He played just 28 games last season and has played in only seven games this season.
Jared McCann was the Penguins third line LW this season but suffered a lower-body injury last week. The speedy forward has five points (3g, 2a) in 11 games. McCann was also fined the league maximum of $10,000 for elbowing Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim in the second game of the season.
Rodrigues had a strong training camp but appeared in only six games before being injured. He has one goal. The Penguins acquired the forward at the trade deadline in Feb. 2020 with Conor Sheary for Dominik Kahun. However, the Penguins also traded the Rodrigues’ RFA rights to Toronto last August when the team acquired Kasperi Kapanen. However, Toronto declined to tender Rodrigues a Qualifying Offer, and he signed with the Penguins when he became an unrestricted free agent.
Riikola has been a depth defenseman waiting to break through for a couple of seasons. He played in two games this year before the Penguins hungry injury bug bit. The Finnish defenseman signed a two-year NHL contract with a $1.15 million AAV, which runs through next season.
Riikola did not have any points, and he is unlikely to draw into the lineup upon his return. Rodrigues and McCann figure to bolster the bottom half of the Penguins lineup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have three healthy left-side defensemen, including rookie P-O Joseph, who has established himself as an NHL regular in the opportunity given. Joseph has five points (1g, 4a) in 10 games.