Young phenoms may steal show at NHL camps once they’re back from World Cup
The 2016 draft produced a bumper crop of young talent, and now it’s time to see if they are ready to make the jump straight into the National Hockey League.
Rookie camps are over and the main training camps for the league’s 30 clubs open on Thursday, although many will start without players and coaches participating in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
The last possible game at the tournament is Oct. 1, so participants from the two finalist teams may miss several workouts and some pre-season games. Assistant coaches will be in charge for the start of many camps.
When all returns to normal, tough choices will be made both on youngsters and on the many as-yet unsigned veterans attending camps on player — deals.
The draft gave up more than a handful of rookies with a chance to make the NHL on their first try.
First overall pick Auston Matthews, who played pro hockey last season in Switzerland and is now on Team North America at the World Cup, is pretty much a lock to stick with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Winnipeg’s second overall pick Patrick Laine, Edmonton’s fourth overall Jesse Puljujarvi and Vancouver’s fifth overall Olli Juolevi are all skating for Finland at the World Cup before joining their first NHL camps.
Calgary’s sixth-overall choice Matthew Tkachuk and Montreal’s ninth-overall Mikhail Sergachev both have a chance to make their teams, although Ottawa’s 11th overall Logan Brown is considered more of a long shot.
All seven Canadian teams missed the playoffs last season, so changes are expected for each club. Here’s a look at the Canadian teams heading into camp:
Vancouver Canucks: Jordan Subban, the younger, smaller brother of Nasville defenceman P.K., will be gunning for an NHL job. Juolevi, who some feel needs to add some weight and muscle, will be hard-pressed to avoid a return to junior hockey. Mostly, the Canucks will be looking at how best to integrate former Florida Panther Erik Gudbranson and former KHL rearguard Philip Larsen on defence. Another question is whether Nikita Tryamkin is ready to be a full-time NHLer. A bonus is that newly acquired winger Loui Eriksson is already getting used to skating with fellow Swedes Henrk and Daniel Sedin at the World Cup on what should be the Canucks’ top line. New winger Anton Rodin, a 2009 second rounder, wants to find a spot, possibly with Brandon Sutter, who returns after losing most of last season to injury. And right winger Jake Virtanan needs to show he deserves to stay with the big team.
Edmonton Oilers: The fun for North America coach Todd McLellan will start when he returns to sort out the pack of young talent that was assembled over the last five years, with Puljujarvi added to a group that includes Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Darnell Nurse. But not Taylor Hall, who was shipped to New Jersey for much-needed defence help in Adam Larson. The hulking Milan Lucic, signed from Los Angeles, should slot in beside probable captain McDavid on the top line. They’ll need to find a defence partner for Larson, which could be Oscar Klefbom, who is back from an ankle injury, or Andrej Sekera. Former Senator Eric Gryba is in camp on a tryout. Added to the excitement is the move to the new Rogers Place arena.
Calgary Flames: After putting up 107 points and winning the Memorial Cup with the OHL’s London Knights, there would not be much to gain in sending Tkachuk back to junior. So the big forward has a good shot at an NHL job on a team short of left-wingers behind Johnny Gaudreau. Six-foot-four centre Mark Jankowski, a 2012 first rounder, will attend his first camp after four seasons in the NCAA. New coach Glen Gulutzen will also take a look at tryout forward Chris Higgins. Sean Monahan is OK after skipping a chance to play for North America due to a back strain during off-season training. A decision awaits on defenceman Jakub Nakladal, now playing for the Czech Republic at the World Cup. The 28-year-old joined the Flames late last season and wants a one-way contract, which may be tough for a team with seven rearguards already signed.
Winnipeg Jets: First order of business may be signing restricted free agent defenceman Jacob Trouba. The Jets already have three rearguards — Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Tyler Myers — making $5 million-plus and may want to give Trouba a bridge deal, which could get sticky. They also have 2013 first rounder Josh Morrissey looking for full-time NHL work at left defence after getting a brief taste last season. Finding a spot for a left-winger of Laine’s size and skill should be easy enough, but is there a spot for speedy Kyle Connor, the 2015 first rounder who led the NCAA in scoring with Michigan? They’ll also look at whether small forward Nic Petan is ready for regular duty. Then there’s goaltending, where Connor Hellebuyck will be pushing for more starts behind Ondrej Pavelec. It’s a first camp for Blake Wheeler since he was named captain.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Long suffering Leafs fans have to be excited at the rush of young talent on hand. Matthews has shown at the World Cup he’s ready to play at the NHL level. Same with Russian defenceman and free agent signing Nikita Zaitsev. Then there’s Mitch Marner, the top player in junior hockey last season. A catch is that the five-foot-11 165-pound Marner cannot be sent to the AHL. It’s either stick with the Leafs or go back to junior. Goaltending was completely remade in the off-season, with Frederik Andersen and Jonas Enroth the new duo. But Andersen suffered an upper body injury in Olympic qualifying for Denmark and may miss all or most of camp. Tough winger Brandon Prust is on a tryout. And Mike Babcock’s squad needs a captain: perhaps veteran Brooks Laich or rising star defenceman Morgan Reilly.
Ottawa Senators: New coach Guy Boucher will no doubt be experimenting in camp. He’s already looking at placing new centre Derick Brassard on a line with Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, who missed almost all of last season with a concussion. Free agent forwards Chris Kelly and Tom Pyatt also need new assignments. Centre Nick Paul, who got a taste of the NHL last season, will be looking to stick, as will Matt Puempel and Ryan Dzingal. Boucher likes his defencemen on the move and, with only six rearguards under contract, that could leave an opening for speedy 19-year-old Thomas Chabot to make the jump. Veteran defenceman and former Canuck Matt Bartkowski is also in camp on a tryout.
Montreal: Goalie Carey Price’s knee looks fine at the World Cup and that was the main concern heading into the season. Next is deciding on a defence partner for Shea Weber, the veteran acquired in the P.K. Subban deal. It could be Nathan Beaulieu, although there are rumours he may be traded. That would put Mark Barberio in the picture. Or the gifted Sergatchev, who impressed at rookie camp although he suffered an upper body injury. There may also be a spot on left wing if 21-year-old Artturi Lehkonen has a good camp, although coach Michel Therrien seems to favour newly acquired Andrew Shaw in that position on the second line. A slimmed down, six-foot-six Michael McCarron looks intent on winning a spot on the third or fourth line, where a crowd of candidates will jostle for jobs.