PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – With injuries mounting on the defensive end, the Pens may have to turn to 21-year-old prospect PO Joseph to make his NHL debut against the Rangers on Friday.
“We believe we have NHL caliber players here,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We believe in the depth that we have and the onus is going to be on everyone to make sure that they look at this as an opportunity to help the Pens to win. Whoever goes in the lineup, the expectation is they are going to play the game the right way.
“These guys prepare for this every single day, that’s the way we look at it. It’s never an easy thing when you get hit with multiple injuries at the same position. We believe we have capable people.”
Joseph practiced with the regular team Thursday after being on the taxi squad. Trying to stay fresh there doing mostly cardio and skill work. The lefty shot worked on a line with 30-year-old Kevin Czuczman, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2014, bouncing around the minors.
One of the two will get in the lineup with the other replaced by Chad Ruhwedel as he was excused from practice due to the birth of their first child.
Defenseman Marcus Pettersson is “week-to-week” with an upper body injury while Juuso Riikola is “longer term” with his upper body injury.
“PO is a good player,” Sullivan said. “He’s improved in so many areas in the last year, plus. He’s stronger. He’s faster. He’s a good two-way defenseman. He has good offensive instincts. He has the ability to join the rush. He can make an outlet pass. He sees the ice well and because of his mobility and his reach I think he has the ability to be a good defender.”
“PO deserved a lot of credit for how hard he’s worked to improve in so many aspects of his game.”
The Quebec native was a first round pick of the Coyotes in 2017 and came over in the Phil Kessel trade. He played in 52 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scoring three goals with 14 assists.
“If I’m in the lineup,” Joseph said. “I’m going to have a lot of people around me to help me. I’m sure a lot of guys are going to be supportive.”
“Just see a play, make it,” said defenseman Brian Dumoulin of his advice for Joseph. “Keep it simple on the breakout. Try to use your legs as much as you can, sometimes especially at the beginning of seasons or coming into the lineup. You can be stationary and not moving your feet as much. I think it’s always important to keep your feet moving. “
“I think he is going to do well. Obviously, it will have a whole lot of excitement for his first NHL game. We just want to communicate as a defense core and help him as much as we can.”
“We know he’s a big part of the group of defensemen that we have that potentially will play for us this year,” Sullivan said. “As I say to the guys all the time, in order to win Stanley Cups, you need more than just 12 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies. It takes a lot of depth and PO is one of those guys. We know he can play at this level. He deserves a lot of credit for how far his game has come.”
“It’s been a long time,” Joseph said. “I want to be here. I worked a lot the last couple of years to be where I’m at right now. It’s going to be really exciting whenever the time is going to be. I’m just trying to not thing about it too much and just play the sport I grew up playing.”