Tonight the puck drops for the first time for the Red Wings in the 2010-2011 preseason and for the first time in the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. As it's the first game in the new digs, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik will all take to the ice. To get things rolling on tonight's game, I invited Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh to chat with us a bout a few things regarding tonight's game and a few things that are just for s's and g's.
Hooks is actually a guy I know through family members and was one of the guys that encouraged me to write about the Wings. I actually found out about Winging It and SBNation through him so go easy on 'em, okay? Good.
WIM: Who are some of the AHL or draft pick guys that Wings fans should keep an eye on?
Hooks Orpik: The big name is Eric Tangradi, 21 year old power forward prospect. He' huge at 6'4, 225 and played in the minors last year. He's still not totally polished but has seemed to improve his skating over the summer. He's played most of the camp on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie, so the team is definitely giving the 21 year old a long look to see if he can add some skill and grit to the NHL lineup.
Mark Letestu, a 25 year old center, is having a very strong training camp and may just make the NHL roster out of camp given the injury that'll keep Jordan Staal on the bench for most of October. Letestu's smallish, but a good playmaker and a very smart player. The coach trusts him a lot, in fact last year towards the end of the playoffs they were making Alexei "Total Disaster" Ponikarovsky a healthy scratch and playing Letestu (who only has 10 NHL reg. season games) instead, so that shows you how much they think of him.
Defensively the competition for the final roster spot is wide open. The Pens hope long-time farmhand Ben Lovejoy will step up and claim it, but they also have vets like Deryk Engelland, Andrew Hutchinson and Corey Potter in the mix as well as young prospects like Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and 2009 first round pick Simon Despres.
Follow the jump for the rest of the chat with Hooks.What new player(s) are pens fans most excited about?
Probably the two new high-paid defensemen: Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Martin's been in division for a long time with the New Jersey Devils and is a very steady player that skates excellently and does pretty much everything well. Michalek is a bit more of an unknown in the Eastern Conference and some like HNIC's Jeff Marek are predicting Michalek will be a breakout player of the year type player. The Penguins defense let them down last season, so the hope is these two players will really be able to provide some solid play
Which departed player leaves the biggest shoes to fill?
Sergei Gonchar. He played 25+ minutes a night and was very vital to the power play. But at this stage of his career given injuries and age, the team just couldn't guarantee him the third year on another contract like Ottawa did. Gonchar was a true #1 defenseman during his time in Pittsburgh, I think some people sleep on how good of an overall defenseman he was when he's healthy and that leaves a very big hole.
So after a year off is it time for the Wings and Pens to play for a decisive third time?
I'm all for a rubber match. Given the depth and talent on Detroit and Pittsburgh you would think both comfortably make the playoffs and then anything goes. We all know lots of crazy things could happen in a seven game series, but I certainly wouldn't be betting against either Detroit or Pittsburgh come crunch time. They have the skill and recent winning experience that pretty much make them favorites to come out of the conference, at least from my perspective.
But, like I said, crazy things happen, who knows how the luck will go, or if any injuries are suffered or if Jaroslav Halak decides to lose his mind and play unbeatable hockey. (Good luck with him in the Western Conference now).
Better GM: Holland or Shero?
Trying to pick a fight here? Obviously both guys are great at what they do, and both fan-bases are probably confident and happy to have the guy that they have in charge. I give both a ton of credit for locking down their core pieces for a long time, so that no Chicago situation happens with half your team scattering after you win the Cup. I guess you can't really chose against 3 Stanley Cups and the consistency that Holland has built over the past decade plus, so there you go.
At the same time, Shero's only starting his fifth season as a GM, so he's still got time to hopefully build up as impressive a resume as what Holland has been able to accomplish.
More amusing Russian: Datsyuk or Malkin?
This is probably out of bias, but I gotta go with Malkin. He's made an effort to learn English and he's opening up more and more of his personality. Datsyuk is a hoot too, though. As I said this summer, the NHL should have those two co-host the NHL Awards Show next summer. It would be about a million times more entertaining than the formats they always seem have with hack D-level comedians and third rate washed-up musical acts.
Again, thanks to Hooks for taking part in this and I answered a few questions for him over on Pensburgh so return the love and head over there.