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Penguins

How Much Longer Will Pens Keep Makeshift Defense Intact?

By Matt Popchock
Matt Niskanen

(File Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Defenseman Matt Niskanen has acquitted himself well through the first two games of the 2013-14 regular season, but will it matter once All-Star blue-liner Kris Letang rejoins the Penguins?

With Letang getting a new contract and the Pens sitting in salary cap purgatory entering the new season, many wondered if the 26-year-old Niskanen would be a casualty of the numbers game. In consecutive wins over visiting New Jersey and Buffalo, he has played quality minutes at both ends while posting three assists and a team-high plus-4 rating.

“As he is entering the final year of a two-year, $4.6 million contract and counts $2.3 million against the salary cap, Niskanen may not be in the Pens’ long-term plans, and moving him for an emergent need seems like a strong possibility,” Bleacher Report featured NHL columnist Steve Rodenbaugh writes. “However, with Letang out with an injury, don’t expect [general manager Ray] Shero to try to move Niskanen just yet since he will be needed to man the point on the power play, so he may be safe in the meantime.”

Click here to read the full column by Rodenbaugh, who believes Niskanen is one of five current Penguins–three of them defensemen–most likely to be traded at some point this season.

He includes fellow defenseman Deryk Engelland in that group, arguing his days could be numbered if rookie Olli Maatta impresses the organization enough through the first couple weeks of the season, and if young Robert Bortuzzo does the same.

“While Shero may choose to hold onto him to offset the loss if Brooks Orpik signs elsewhere this offseason, Engelland’s toughness and playoff experience would make him an attractive trade target for a team looking to solidify their blue line,” Rodenbaugh adds.

The Penguins are at CONSOL Energy Center tonight to host the Carolina Hurricanes (1-0-1), one of their rivals in the NHL’s new Metropolitan Division, shortly after 7:00 on ROOT Sports.

While Letang continues to recover from the undisclosed lower-body injury that landed him on injured reserve Sept. 30, Niskanen was paired with Rob Scuderi, thought to be Letang’s regular partner before the season began, during today’s morning skate.

Niskanen and Scuderi were sandwiched between the top pairing of Orpik and Paul Martin and a rotating third pairing of Engelland, Bortuzzo and Maatta.

RELATED LINKS:

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