PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't wasting any time with Phil Kessel.
General manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday the team plans to place the high-powered forward alongside star centre Sidney Crosby when the Penguins open training camp next month.
The Penguins acquired the three-time All-Star from Toronto in July to give the franchise a needed boost after a first-round playoff exit.
"It's so hard to score in this league, there's a lot of tight games, a lot of one-goal games," Rutherford said. "To add somebody like him was important."
Kessel was the marquee addition during a busy but fruitful summer for Pittsburgh, which made the post-season for the ninth straight season, but managed all of eight goals while falling to the New York Rangers in five games.
The Penguins also acquired veteran forward Eric Fehr and Russian prospect Sergei Plotnikov to provide scoring punch after relying too heavily on Crosby and Malkin in recent years.
"We're definitely deeper," Rutherford said. "Our forwards have a lot more depth. It will be real competitive for where our guys fit in there."
Kessel, however, is the crown jewel. The 27-year-old scored 25 goals to go with 36 assists for the perpetually struggling Maple Leafs. Coach Mike Johnston considers Kessel a potentially good fit on Crosby's right side, but stressed he would experiment liberally.
"Things do change in camp," Johnston said. "We've got eight exhibition games. We want to try combinations together so we're ready for the beginning of the season."
Rutherford hopes Kessel's arrival and the return of forward Pascal Dupuis and defenceman Olli Maatta from injuries that took up most of last season will allow Johnston to implement more of the attacking style that led the team to hire him in the first place last summer.
"We'll definitely be able to open it up," Rutherford said. "We'll have a better chance of scoring more. At the same time you have to play the game the right way. You have to shut down teams at a certain time and we're still going to be able to do that."
Rutherford added Fehr is on schedule to return at some point this fall from elbow surgery and that he is pleased with the arrival of the 25-year-old Plotnikov, who left Russia and headed across the globe and play with fellow countryman Malkin.
"I feel really good about what he's done," Rutherford said. "He paid to get out of his contract in Russia and now he and his wife are over here early trying to get acclimated."
The Penguins open camp in mid-September. Their first preseason game is Sept. 21 against Columbus. Pittsburgh begins the regular season on Oct. 8 at Dallas.
The Associated Press