We spent all week creeping around the barbells, massage tables, and Zambonis at BioSteel Camp — Toronto’s annual precursor to the NHL’s official training camps — in order to bring you some hockey tidbits in the dog days of August.
For four days, several intriguing NHL prospects and bona fide superstars (Connor McDavid, Tyler Seguin, Wayne Simmonds) set up shop at St. Michael’s College School Arena to tune their skills and share some laughs.
Here are 25 things we learned this week from talking to them.
1. Toronto is going to love Patrick Marleau.
Jason Demers’ first six NHL seasons were spent in San Jose, where he got to know and admire Patrick Marleau. Both Demers and current Shark Joel Ward expressed how surprised they were when Marleau chose blue over teal on July 1.
“That was crazy,” said Demers, lighting up. “I know him well personally and I know that was probably the biggest decision of his career. I don’t think anybody understands on the outside how big of a decision that was for him.
“In my head, after talking to him a little bit, I thought he was going to stay, but I think him and his family discussed it, and I think it’s going to be a great thing for him.”
Demers and Ward raved about the 37-year-old’s speed but, more importantly, his work ethic, positive attitude and mentorship. Demers, a seventh-round pick by San Jose, said Marleau took him under his wing as a rookie.
“We just had a great group of veterans who’d take me aside when things were going bad,” the Panthers defenceman explained. “The coaches never had to say anything because guys like Marleau was the first one to give me praise or to tell me to pick it up and get moving. When a guy who is a future Hall of Famer is telling you that, it holds a little more weight than if a coach is saying it to you.
“Playing alongside those guys in Toronto, they’re going to be real fast,” Demers continued. “It’s going to be fun seeing him more than twice a year [now that he’s in the Eastern Conference], but it’s going to suck because now I’ve got to try to defend him more than twice a year.”
2. Don’t call him “Ginger Snipes.”
I was fed some bad intel and looked foolish.
Minutes before interviewing Florida’s top-10 draft pick Owen Tippett, someone told me his nickname was “Ginger Snipes,” which is clever and possibly derogatory.
So I asked the kid about it.
“No. It’s not. It’s not really a nickname,” Tippett shut down. “I heard it once after the draft.”
Tippett’s own team, the Mississauga Steelheads, have tweeted out highlights of his goals with the #GingerSnipes hashtag. The 18-year-old has gotten plenty of chirps for the colour of his locks over the years.
“There’s been stuff in the past. I’ve heard all about it,” he said. “I don’t let it bother me. Red hair is something I’ve had since I was a little kid, and I’m not going to let it bother me now.”
— Mississauga (@OHLSteelheads) July 19, 2017
3. The Jagr paradox helps Tippett but bums him out a bit.
That Florida opted to move on from UFA right wing Jaromir Jagr actually increases right wing Tippett’s chances of making the cut this October, but it would’ve been sweet to lace ’em up next to a legend.
“Ever since you’re a little kid you’ve watched the success he’s had,” Tippett said, “so it would’ve been nice to play alongside him.”
4. When Jordan Subban met Drake, he was on a date because of course he was.
“You could start singing any Drake song. Go back to his Comeback Season [in 2007], any song, I know it,” Subban said.
“I met him at a restaurant with my buddy Alex. The restaurant was closed, but I knew the owner. Drake was on a date with some girl. The four of us had lunch—not together—and I met him.”
5. Seguin found meaning in the meaningless.
Tyler Seguin is spending another off-season recovering from injury — right shoulder surgery this time. We asked him if he regretted playing hurt at the end of the season, seeing as how his Stars were already bound for the lottery, and not having the surgery sooner.
“In the past few years, I haven’t played a full year. I know they were kinda meaningless games, the last 10, 12 games for us, but they still meant something to our organization, to myself, to our team,” Seguin said.
“It wasn’t the season we wanted to have, but we didn’t want games that didn’t matter. So even though it was painful, I wanted to play the full 82 and was happy I did.”
6. Seguin is pumped the 2018 draft is heading to Texas.
“Awesome,” he beamed. “I’ll be the first guy down there. My agency [The Will Sports Group], we have six or seven [prospects] supposed to go in the first two rounds, so I’m sure I’ll have some dinners at my house in Dallas. A lot of hockey fans down there, so the city’s going to enjoy it.”
7. If you’re an awesome forward prospect, there’s a 72% chance your rights belong to the Lightning.
First it was the triplet wave of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Then along came Jonathan Drouin. The spring of 2017 brought the emergence of Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point.
Next up on Tampa Bay’s list of Deadly Forward Prospects to Watch is 20-year-old centre Mitchell Stephens outta Peterborough, Ont.
The 2015 second-rounder has made strides in each of his four OHL seasons and is ready to be a full-time pro. The kid’s offensive flair shone at camp this week. His natural hat trick overshadowed the likes of Connor McDavid in the BioSteel Cup scrimmage final, and Seguin named him MVP.
A name to keep your eye on.
8. Seguin was robbed of his Olympic dream, again.
The centreman’s most productive NHL season was 2013-14. He hung 37 goals and 84 points the winter he was not selected to Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning Sochi squad and would be a smart bet to wear red and white had the NHL wanted to participate in 2018.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Seguin said. “Growing up as a kid, for myself and a lot of guys in the league, it was dreaming of playing in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup and also representing my country. That’s the pinnacle of sports and the pinnacle for hockey players. It’s definitely not something I support. I wish we could [go].”
9. Joel Ward nearly missed a playoff game…
…because he was sleeping. A fun anecdote via Yahoo! Jet lag ain’t no joke, kids.
10. Upshall is not ready to throw in the towel.
Depth forward Scottie Upshall is quietly coming off his best campaign in three years. The 33-year-old chipped in 10 goals and 18 points for the St. Louis Blues but was not retained.
The free agent has had more talks with interested NHL teams lately than he had earlier in the summer. Upshall is coming off a one-year, $900,000 deal, and we could see a team picking him up for his experience, hunger and price point. There are options overseas, which could lead to Olympic consideration, but Plan A is to stick in the NHL. That route might entail a PTO.
“Every time I’m out on the ice, it’s an audition,” Upshall told John Matisz of the Toronto Sun. “You never know. There’s a lot of guys here who have a lot of say on their respective clubs.”
11. Best Answer of the Week goes to Josh Ho-Sang.
The Islanders rookie was asked for his thoughts on the franchise’s arena uncertainty.
“Give me a sheet of ice and a jersey and I’m happy,” he said. “Hockey is my first love.”
12. Ho-Sang doesn’t know where he put the puck from his first NHL goal…
…but it’s somewhere, probably.
“I kinda blacked out, to be honest,” he said, thinking back to the screened point shot he whipped at the Oilers’ net. “I didn’t see the puck go in. I just heard people cheer, so I figured I scored.”
13. Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather are both clowns.
“I just want a good fight to be honest,” said Ho-Sang, who met Mr. 49-0 backstage at his Toronto press circus. “I’d be so pissed if it’s, like, three rounds. I’ll be upset, but other than that, I don’t really care.
“I think they’re both clowns,” Ho-Sang laughed. “But I like watching them. It’s good entertainment. They’re funny.”
2,087 Likes, 47 Comments – josh ho-sang (@66jhosang) on Instagram: “So this is what 500 million dollars feels like …. #letsgoconnor”
14. Eberle’s spot on the Isles’ top line may give Ho-Sang friendlier defensive match-ups.
Ho-Sang doesn’t know Jordan Eberle well, but he sees plenty of positives in the trade.
“He’s a right wing sniper. It’s always good to be around one of those. The shots he takes are like my shots. He comes down and sees the goalie from the right angle, so I can pick his brain more than I would be able to with a lefty,” Ho-Sang explained.
“It’s exciting to get another star player. I know they’re planning on putting him with John [Tavares]. I hope that goes really well and everyone covers them.” Then he laughed.
15. Seguin “absolutely” believes he’s a natural centreman.
“The past few years, I’ve kind of flipped back and forth. I don’t get angry when I’m playing the wing, but I definitely get a little more excited when I’m playing centre. Through all the ups and downs like every season has, I hope I stay a centreman and I look forward to working with our new coach and getting better at the position,” said Seguin.
Seguin believes skating up the middle plays to his speed and creativity, both of which were on full display this week in Toronto. He and Connor McDavid are captivating up close — even in drills or a scrimmage situation.
New Stars coach Ken Hitchcock comes in with a taskmaster’s reputation, so it’ll be interesting to see how he balances letting Seguin’s skill loose while still enforcing a defence-first system.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, and I’m sure he’s going to be hard on me,” Seguin said, “but I’m excited and ready to go.”
16. Martin Hanzal and Ben Bishop were necessary, but the Radulov addition got Seguin “giddy.”
“I’ll be honest, I’ve looked at some YouTube clips and stuff, and I can see how good a player he is. He’s so good on the puck, he’s a good play-maker, and he’s a guy who always has good puck-possession numbers,” Seguin said of the former Montreal Canadien. “You can see he controls the play, so I’m looking forward to that.”
17. McDavid sees your flattering list but respectfully disagrees.
The NHL Network stirred a bit of buzz this week when it ranked the sport’s top 20 centremen.
Hart Trophy winner McDavid earned the list’s No. 1 spot over runner-up Sidney Crosby, also good at hockey.
McDavid reminded the world that everyone knows who the best player is, “and it’s not me.”
The reigning MVP pointed to the variety in which Crosby — the Rocket Richard and Conn Smythe champ — scores: in tight, tips, quick shots. McDavid, who finished with 30 goals said he struggles with finding different ways to score. It’s something he’s working on.
McDavid substituting a backhand flip for a forehand toe flip on this drill. pic.twitter.com/fq9Kx8ZB0E
— Pavel Barber (@HeyBarber) August 23, 2017
18. The personal life is a non-starter.
McDavid is happy to talk about the Oilers’ 2018 aspirations (lofty) or Leon Draisaitl’s eight-year contract (thumbs up), but the superstar is reluctant to divulge details on his off-ice life. He likes pasta and hates running.
In a one-on-one interview, Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie asked McDavid about the best non-hockey thing he did this summer.
“I’ll keep that private,” McDavid said. “What guys do in the summer is up to them.”
I wonder if McDavid, like Crosby, will forever be this otherworldly athlete everyone knows except no one knows.
19. Edmonton spent its $21 million wisely.
McDavid called some of management’s moves — trading Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, perhaps? — “ballsy.” Re-signing its top two centres for eight years apiece, however, is just good business.
“It’s exciting to get to play with Leon for the next eight years. He’s a fun guy to play with,” said McDavid. “To have the two of us locked up like that for a long time and have the pieces that we do as well in Edmonton, it is exciting.”
Darnell Nurse couldn’t agree more.
“One of the main things management wanted to do was get that core locked up for a long time,” said Nurse, who’se entering a contract year of his own. “For us as a team, it’s definitely exciting knowing two of the top players in the league are going to be there for a long time. It motivates everyone to continue to work and try to be a part of it for a long time too.
“It’s fun to have the higher expectations.”
20. Draisaitl is expanding Nurse’s palate.
“I’ve had schnitzel a couple of times just because of him,” chuckled Nurse, who frequently dines with the big German.
21. Henrique has more to give.
Devils star Adam Henrique is coming off the first season in which he played all 82 games. Yes, he scored 20 goals in 2016-17, but that’s a 33 per cent drop-off from the 30 he potted in 2015-16. He characterizes it as a disappointing season and knows he can be better this year.
22. Travis Green wants to push the pace.
Brand-new Vancouver Canucks defenceman Michael Del Zotto — whose saucer pass is something to behold up-close, by the way — recently chatted with his rookie head coach.
“He wants the D up in the rush. He wants me to make plays with little time,” said Del Zotto, which suits his style of play just fine. “He seems very intelligent regarding which way the league is trending.”
Del Zotto is heading to Vancouver early next week to meet up with the coaching staff and get acclimated well before camp opens.
23. Nurse likes to lift to Del Zotto’s Lion King remix.
DJ Michael Del Zotto crafted his own blend using a track from The Lion King soundtrack, and it’s a big hit with the boys in the gym.
“It’s very intense, very heavy. Darnell Nurse, if he’s lifting backs or squats, he’ll request that song and I’ll toss it on for him to get him pumped up,” Del Zotto said.
“I’m a huge Spice Girls fan. Don’t tell anyone that. Uh, well, they’re obviously going to know that now. I made this Spice Girls mix, and the boys actually loved it.”
24. Simmonds has mixed feelings about the Flyers’ goalie change.
Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds attended Steve Mason’s wedding this summer, as the pair’s friendship stretches back to their 2008 world junior championship.
This summer’s goalie carousel saw Mason land in Winnipeg and Brian Elliott sign with the Flyers.
“It’s sad to see [Mason] go,” said Simmonds. He has already reached out to Elliott. “I actually know him and his wife a little bit. His wife’s the godmother of one of my best friends’ kids, so we have a connection there.”
25. The most dangerous shooters aren’t always the NHLers.
Nashville’s new third-string goaltender Matt O’Connor, who’s been training with pros all summer in Toronto, explained that the most accurate shooters aren’t always the big names.
“[Undrafted Mark] Cooper is an American League, East Coast player, and I find his shot is one of the best on the ice. Sometimes you find players at different levels with a great shot and maybe they just haven’t had the opportunity,” O’Connor said.
“Honestly, I find Seguin deceptive and accurate with his shot. [Mike] Cammalleri in tight is strong on the puck.”