WILKES-BARRE TWP. – In a preseason short on surprises, Maxime Talbot’s fall from the NHL is nothing less than shocking.
From Day One of training camp, Talbot’s grip on the fourth-line center job in Pittsburgh seemed unshakeable.
And yet here was Talbot on Tuesday, back in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he starred for the Baby Pens during last year’s Calder Cup playoffs.
“I’m happy to be here,” Talbot said when asked about starting the season in the AHL. “For sure, the goal is to be up there and play in the NHL. But this is a great city to play for, a great team to play for and great teammates. Sure the goal is to go back up there as soon as possible. So I’ll do anything I can to go back up there.”
It’s not entirely clear why Talbot was sent to the AHL.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Richards said he hadn’t talked to Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien about Talbot’s demotion.
According to Talbot, when Therrien informed him that he was being sent to the AHL he was told he needed to get better on faceoffs if he expected to be an NHL center.
Mostly, it looks like Talbot was a victim of the Penguins’ decision to sign No. 2 pick Jordan Staal. Word out of Pittsburgh is that Staal will center the Penguins’ fourth-line, playing between Andre Roy and Michel Ouellet.
“For myself, as a player, you’re always asking yourself, ‘Why?’” Talbot said. “I played all right. I mean, for sure, I could’ve played better, scored some goals. But my role is not that up there. So everybody’s thinking, ‘OK, he’s got the fourth spot, fourth line.’
“But I think Staal played good. They want to try him. He deserved it. He’s a great kid. He’s going to be an awesome NHL player. They wanted to give him a shot. Good for him.”
Staal isn’t likely to stay with the Penguins long. Pittsburgh can send him back to his junior team in Peterborough, Ontario, at any time during the year. But, if they send him back after nine games, 2006-07 will count as a full year against his Pittsburgh contract.
That means Talbot’s return to the NHL should come sooner rather than later.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Talbot said of securing an NHL job. “I knew it. I’m not the kind of guy that takes anything for granted.
“Even if I go back up there in a week, I know I’m going to have to work every day to keep my spot up there. Even if I don’t go back up there (soon), I know I’m going to have to battle all year long to go back up there.”
Penguins’ defenseman Alain Nasreddine will be in the lineup tonight when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hosts Manitoba in the AHL opener for both teams.
He won’t be wearing the captain’s “C” though.
Penguins head coach Todd Richards has decided against naming a captain for the opener.
Richards will use the same system he did during the preseason, when he went with three alternate captains.
“I want the players to vote for their captains,” Richards said. “Right now, I think it’s unfair to give out letters because we have some new guys that are in.”
Nasreddine has worn the captain’s “C” the past two seasons.
He’s the only two-time captain in franchise history.
With Dany Sabourin’s status unclear – Sabourin was waiting to clear waivers Tuesday night to return to the AHL – there’s no obvious choice for starting goalie in tonight’s game against Manitoba.
Both Andrew Penner and Jeff Deslauriers performed well enough in preseason to earn the job.
Penner, who signed as a free agent with Pittsburgh in the offseason, went 1-0, stopping 31 of 33 shots.
Deslauriers, an Edmonton draft pick, was 1-1 and also stopped 31 of 33 shots.
“That hopefully will come later on today,” Richards said Tuesday of the decision.
The Penguins were in talks with the agents for Tim Wallace and Jordan Morrison on Tuesday.
Richards said that both players had played well enough to earn contracts.
“We’re trying to get deals done with them,” Richards said. “Myself and (assistant coach) Dan (Bylsma) and (assistant GM) Chuck Fletcher feel that they’ve done a great job in camp and that they warrant contracts.”
The Edmonton Oilers sent center Marc-Antoine Pouliot to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday.
Pouliot was the last player cut from Edmonton’s training camp.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound, Quebec City, Quebec native, scored 15 goals and 45 points for Hamilton last season.
Historically, the Penguins have struggled on opening night, going 2-5 in the franchise’s first seven seasons.
Oct. 1, 1999: Philadelphia 2, Penguins 0
Oct. 5, 2000: Philadelphia 2, Penguins 1
Oct. 4, 2001: St. John’s 6, Penguins 4
Oct. 10, 2002: Penguins 5, St. John’s 3
Oct. 8, 2003: Norfolk 6, Penguins 3
Oct. 13, 2004: Manitoba 6, Penguins 3
Oct. 5, 2005: Penguins 8, Bridgeport 1