NHL training camps continued on Friday, with the rest of the teams opening officially and others taking to the ice for the first time.
Here’s a running recap of news and notes from the second day back from summer.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers start camp with a few battles for roster spots, namely up front where they’ll figure out who the top two centres are between Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and potentially J.T. Miller, who could move to the middle from the wing.
But as the team gets a little younger, there’s another battle brewing on the blue line. Anthony DeAngelo, 21, who came from Arizona in the Derek Stepan-Antti Raanta trade will make a push and including him, there are eight players who spent time in the NHL last season in the organization. Marc Staal, 30, is a minimal point-producer and no friend of analytics, leading to some question where he fits in. At one time he and Dan Girardi were leaders of the defence — Girardi is now gone and Staal is fighting for role and ice time.
Staal has four years left on his contract that pays $5.7 million against the cap.
Penguins fans can breath a sigh of relief with the news that Kris Letang, officially, has been declared healthy and ready to go.
It’s amazing the Penguins were able to win their second Cup in a row as Letang sat out with a neck injury. When he’s healthy, Letang has the potential to be a top-five blueliner in the league and he’s just been dropped back into a championship lineup.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Patrick Marleau had skated with some of his new Maple Leafs teammates before Friday at informal pre-camp events, but on Friday things got real. The now-38-year-old birthday boy was in Niagara with all the Leafs for the team’s first on-ice session and he was getting rave reviews.
Jake Gardiner is known for his strong skating, and even he commented on how quick the old fella was.
We also got a first look at Marleau on a line combination, although we expect this will change before the season opener.
Much has been made about the Washington Capitals’ terrible summer, in which they lost Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson and maybe even their Stanley Cup window. Well, maybe that last point is a little premature. The Caps may have some cap constraints and real concern about their depth, but Alex Ovechkin got right to the point and still believes in his team.
Then again, Ovechkin comes into 2017-18 with questions surrounding his own play. Less than half (16) of his 33 goals came at 5-on-5 and that’s not a good thing for a 31-year-old goal scorer. Ovechkin is still too young and earns too much ($9.538 million cap hit) to be only a power play specialist. His commitment to defence has always been a criticism, but a comment made today about winning the Stanley Cup maybe inspires some optimism that he’ll dedicate himself to some improvement there.
But of course, when you’re paying him what the Capitals are you probably want him to reclaim some of that even strength punch and get up to 50 goals again.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The NHL’s newest team is still putting some final touches on the outfit.
On Friday, the Golden Knights had their first on-ice session and if you were skeptical about how this desert market would buy into hockey…well this still may not convince you. But it’s worth pointing out how packed the arena was for a first look at practice.
Vegas Golden Knights on Twitter
Practicing for game situations…so of course Flower is in goal https://t.co/npmJrrZlSw
On Thursday, we learned that the disgruntled Matt Duchene did indeed report to the Avalanche training camp. He spoke very briefly to the media about being there to honour his contract and out of respect for the fans and his teammates, but didn’t take any questions. He didn’t seem too happy about the whole thing.
On Friday, Duchene and his teammates took to the ice for the first time.
After that was over everyone was hoping to hear a little more from Duchene, or be able to ask him about the ongoing situation and trade speculation. But when he left the ice he reportedly got changed in a different room and didn’t make himself available.
There was some good news from Colorado’s camp though, as the team finally came to terms with RFA defenceman Nikita Zadorov. It was strange a team lacking credible NHL depth on the blue line battled so long with a 22-year-old they got in the disastrous Ryan O’Reilly trade. There was a chance he would head to the KHL and be able to play in the Olympics, but Joe Sakic was able to avoid that messy ending.
Breaking news: Carey Price has new pads!
The Habs took the ice for the first time Friday and although we may not have seen much in the way of lines or pairings that will stick into the regular season, Claude Julien did put 19-year-old Victor Mete in the plum spot with Shea Weber. Mete, a fourth-rounder in 2016, won’t make the team out of camp, but it was a nice little introduction for him and, potentially, a preview for a couple years down the road.
The Anaheim Ducks figure to be a playoff team once again, but if they do miss out we will probably look back on the start of the season as the reason why. It’s a tough uphill battle for any team missing half of its top four on defence and it’s No. 2 centre, the exact situation the Ducks find themselves in.
On Friday we got injury updates on Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler. All will miss the start of the season. The good news is that it seems at least Vatanen could return earlier than expected, the bad news is that there is no timetable for Kesler’s comeback.
“As of right now, there is no timeline whatsoever,” GM Bob Murray said of Kesler’s injury. “He couldn’t skate [during the second half of the season]. No push-off on his right leg. He has to rebuild his glutes and quads. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. I’m hopeful to have him back before Christmas, but that’s all I’m going to say right now. You know how Kes is. He’s pushing it pretty good.”
In his place, 24-year-old Rickard Rakell will move to centre. He broke out with 33 goals and 51 points in 71 games last season and could take another big step as the No. 2 behind Ryan Getzlaf.
After getting swept in the first round last season, the Hawks are trying to get back up into that elite category and perhaps trade another Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So, as GM Stan Bowman is known to do, he overturned parts of the roster in the summer and this time he brought back some players who previously found success with the team. Brandon Saad will take on the biggest roles of those players, and will head right back to Jonathan Toews’ wing.
That’s a situation anybody would be happy to walk into.
Patrick Sharp also returns and figures to fit in more as a depth player as he tries to bounce back from an 18-point season. The 35-year-old is a veteran leader on the team — and perhaps the only guy who can keep Toews and Patrick Kane in check in the room.