Along the far wall of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins locker room inside the Toyota Sportsplex, it’s pretty crowded.
Considering most of the Penguins’ top six blueliners this season are over 6-2, it doesn’t leave a lot of room when players are trying to hang up gear.
While the abundance of big defensemen on this season’s roster may be a hindrance in the locker room, it’s bound to be a benefit on the ice as opposing forwards quickly realize there just isn’t much space in the offensive zone.
“They’re enormous,” said assistant coach J.D. Forrest of this year’s defense corps. “It will be a little different look than last year. We’re going to take up a lot of room out there.”
The top six defensemen on last year’s opening roster averaged 6-0 and 191 pounds. This year’s group has an average height of 6-2 and bulks out at 203 pounds — and that doesn’t include the 6-6, 225-pound Jarred Tinordi who is out with an injury.
So what are the expectations that one of the largest defensive groups in recent Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history will carry on the ice?
Aside from taking up space and sweeping pucks away with long sticks, they’re also a physical force.
“Hopefully it wears on teams throughout the year,” Forrest said. “We’re not asking the guys to be crazy out there, but if we play within the limitations of the rules and still be physical, it’s not going to be a pleasant area for any opposing team to go to.”
Topping the list of towering blueliners is Andrey Pedan, who is 6-5 and weighs 218 pounds.
Being big on the blueline, he said, is an advantage.
“You take away that time and space. When you’re bigger you’re harder to go around,” Pedan said. “You just take up a lot of room.”
Zach Trotman (6-3, 219), who signed as a free agent in the summer, is entering his sixth pro season and said this year’s Penguins’ defensive unit is the biggest he’s ever been a part of, and that includes stints with the Boston Bruins and the 6-9, 250 pound Zdeno Chara.
With such an abundance of size, Trotman said the Penguins defensemen can actually turn the tables on opposing forecheckers and punish them instead.
“Teams will know they’re in for a long night,” Trotman said. “It’s going to make them second guess just how much they really want to battle in the corners all night.”
But there’s more than just size when it comes to this season’s Penguins blueline.
The veteran of the group, Chris Summers (6-2, 210), said not only is the current group the biggest he’s ever been a part of in terms of size, but the most mobile as well.
Summers, 29, is entering his eighth pro season and said the puck handling and skating skills of the group simply makes the size element a bonus.
But that doesn’t mean the blueliners are going to be quick to abandon their post and join the rush.
“We want to make sure our net-front is taken care of and give it to these speedy forwards,” Summers said. “Those guys get paid the money to score goals, and we get paid the money to sit back and give it to them.”
That’s what Forrest expects from his blueline group in addition to being a physical presence. And when they do opt to join the rush, he’s fine with that as well.
“Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they’re lumbering and slow. We have big guys that can move,” Forrest said. “With the style that we play, if you can move you’re going to be effective.”
Kevin Czuczman (6-3, 210) calls the combination of size and mobility a double threat. Not only will they frustrate opposing forwards by making the ice smaller, but they might even surprise teams with an offensive element.
“It’s going to be pretty intimidating for other teams to look down and see a group like this,” Czuczman said. “With us being mobile, you’ll have that second wave coming into the offensive zone. We can catch teams sleeping.”