The Pittsburgh Penguins’ search for center depth has taken another turn. The team announced late tonight, no more than two hours after the end of their preseason finale loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, that they have released veteran forward Jay McClement from his tryout with the team. Pittsburgh is down to 24 players remaining in camp, including 14 forwards – with exactly four listed as centers.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champs have been looking for a third-line center all summer and some saw McClement as a possible solution, while others saw McClement at least centering the fourth line and pushing Carter Rowney or some other option up to the third line. Instead, McClement is gone and questions remain. McClement, a veteran of over 900 NHL games, not only has a long history of being a solid bottom six option, but also performed well in the preseason with the Penguins. The decision to cut him becomes even more of a surprise in the context of the post-game report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Jonathan Bombulie, who spoke with both McClement and coach Mike Sullivan, the former believing he had put forth his best effort and had no regret and the latter calling that effort “solid” and admiring McClement’s “wealth of experience”. McClement admitted that he would be anxious waiting for the decision over the next few days, but instead GM Jim Rutherford made the call in a matter of hours.
With McClement gone, the winner of the “last-PTO-standing” battle seems to be Greg McKegg. Unless Rutherford has a trick up his sleeve, the 25-year-old AHL veteran appears to be the top option for the Penguins’ third line center spot, at least to start the season. McKegg has performed well in the preseason and is fresh off of his best NHL season, in which he scored a career-best seven points in a career-high 46 games between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Whether or not McKegg lasts on the third line or even lasts the season in Pittsburgh remains to be seen, but as of now there doesn’t appear to be any other in-house option for the Penguins following McClement’s release.