The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered the season with a ton of depth on defensive. Free agent signings, trades and returning players all created a glut of blueliners for head coach John Hynes to choose from.
But depth in another area has recently presented Hynes with another choice: Who to play on the fourth line?
With the return of Zach Sill last week, Hynes has six players from which he can assemble a fourth line. That figure would be seven, but rookie winger Tom Kuhnhackl will be out for a while with an upper body injury.
Having such depth gives Hynes the ability to not only put the usual gritty players and tough guys on the fourth line, but he can add an offensive touch as well with players like Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons.
There's even versatility on the type of toughness and grit Hynes wants to see on the fourth line.
If you have guys like (Keven) Veilleux and (Steve) MacIntyre, you have more of a heavyweight element, he said. You take (Zach) Sill, (Bobby) Farnham, (Dominik) Uher and any combination of those other players it still brings a lot of grit and a ton of speed and tenacity.
For the players, such depth breeds a ton of competition as well.
After Sill returned to the lineup last week following a lengthy absence due to injury, he found himself moved from his customary center spot to the wing. Also last weekend, Veilleux and Uher found themselves making a brief trip to Wheeling to get some game action in simply because there wasn't enough room on the fourth line.
Hynes said other fourth line players could make quick trips to Wheeling in the future just to keep them playing.
If they're not going to get an opportunity to play here on a particular weekend, instead of going a week or two without playing they get an opportunity there, Hynes said. (Wheeling head coach) Clark Donatelli does a great job with them, putting them in a position to get a lot of ice time. That's why we really do it – to keep them game ready.
Sill says he has never seen so much depth on the fourth line during his four seasons with the Penguins. From a team perspective, Sill said the depth allows the Penguins to roll all four lines and not have to worry as much about line matchups.
From the player's perspective, the depth means you had better stay on top of your game.
There's going to be a lot of competition for fourth line spots, and ultimately that could mean more ice time and offensive chances, Sill said. The skill level is that deep, and it's going to be a benefit.
- Sill played wing last weekend and for the first two games of the season, and he said he's alright with the move from center. I don't mind it at all. I'm starting to get the hang of it, but there's still a lot of room to grow, he said.
Hynes said the move will be a benefit to Sill's development as it makes him a more versatile player. He's played a lot of center, but now you get him at wing and he's a multi-positional player which makes him more versatile, Hynes said. Along with his penalty killing, now you have a guy that has several different assets a team may need.
- The Penguins will have the day off today before returning to practice on Wednesday. Hynes said the off day is to give his players a mental break before practicing the rest of the week and playing two games this weekend.