3 players who could take a step forward in Penguins preseason opener |

3 players who could take a step forward in Penguins preseason opener

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Daniel Sprong skates with the top line during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

When the Penguins open the preseason with an exhibition game in Buffalo on Tuesday night, they’ll do so with an extraordinarily inexperienced lineup.

Of the 21 players listed on the traveling roster, only five have played in more than 100 NHL games.

Free-agent addition Jimmy Hayes has the most experience wth 334 career games, followed closely by Olli Maatta at 302. After that, it drops down to Derek Grant (152), Jake Guentzel (122) and Chad Ruhwedel (111).

Here’s a list of three young players who could use the exhibition opener as a springboard into a spot of greater prominence on the organizational depth chart.

The game will be broadcast live on 105.9 FM and shown on tape delay on the NHL Network at 1 a.m.

1. Juuso Riikola

The 24-year-old Finn has already opened eyes in training camp, showing off his exceptional poise, strong two-way game and decent size (6-0, 189). His name isn’t well known in North America, but he’s been one of the top scoring defensemen in Finland’s top league in each of the last two seasons.

When camp started, Riikola was penciled into the eighth spot on the defensive depth chart. If he continues to thrive, he could find himself in the top six as soon as injuries or a run of poor play strikes.

2. Daniel Sprong

Sprong’s high-end offensive skills earned him a spot on Sidney Crosby’s right wing in training camp line combinations, but what he could really show in an exhibition environment is how much he’s improved other aspects of his game.

Sprong says his play away from the puck has improved greatly in the past two years. A game against the Sabres will help put that assertion to the test.

3. Teddy Blueger

The 24-year-old Blueger needs to have a strong preseason to avoid getting lost in the shuffle of an organization that suddenly finds itself flush with centers.

A second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Blueger has always played a sound two-way game. Last year in the AHL, he did just what the organization asked of him, adding a 21-goal season to his resume. If he keeps developing that that, he’ll stay on the radar in some form or fashion.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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