As we near the midway point of NHL return-to-play training camps, we’re starting to see teams take different approaches to readying their rosters to compete for the Stanley Cup this summer. From team-wide scrimmages to new ways of splitting squads and some pretty creative drills, there’s a lot to take in as we prepare for hockey’s return on Aug. 1.
Here’s what’s happening on the ice around the league on Friday:
Still recovering, Stamkos takes promising step forward
Steven Stamkos, who’s been limited in camp as he recovers from a lower-body injury suffered during Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan, has been skating on his own all week. He took a promising step in his rehab on Friday when he stuck around after his solo skate to join his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates for some power-play drills:
He’s not fully back just yet, but this is a good start.
Fellow forward Cedric Paquette might also be a name to watch in the next few days, as The Athletic‘s Joe Smith reported he wasn’t on the ice for Tampa on Friday.
Robertson practising with reserves
One of the most highly-anticipated camp participants in Toronto has been forward Nick Robertson. The 18-year-old prospect is coming off an absolutely electric season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, and has now set his sights on the pros with his first big-club training camp experience.
After starting camp with Maple Leafs regulars, Robertson was shifted over to the reserve group on Friday as the team split players into new skating groups more reflective of what the return-to-play roster might look like.
Leafs management has made it clear the goal of this shortened summer camp is to get the conditioning and competition levels as high as possible to ready the team as it’s thrown right into the fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s no doubt Robertson has been upping the ante by pushing his teammates and reminding them he’s not far behind.
"…and to me it's kind of a warning to their guys that says if you're not ready, this kid is going to be ready and he's going to take your job."@FriedgeHNIC on Nick Robertson being included in #Leafs training camp @SportsnetBen @JDBunkis.
— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) July 17, 2020
Pastrnak absent for second straight day
After making his camp debut on Wednesday, Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak was ruled unfit to play for Thursday’s sessions along with forward Ondřej Kaše. Both Pastrnak and Kase were still sidelined Friday morning under the same designation.
Capitals’ Samsonov still out
The Washington Capitals were back on the ice Friday morning after taking Thursday off, but once again were without Ilya Samsonov. The rookie goaltender hasn’t skated at camp all week, and the league’s strict rules on reporting injuries and ailments means Capitals brass is unable to provide any specifics about why he has yet to hit the ice.
The Capitals’ crease still belongs to veteran Braden Holtby — despite struggling with inconsistencies this year, Holtby started 47 games compared to Samsonov’s 22 — but Samsonov has given Washington an insurance policy they be really confident in. He’s also giving management something to think about when it comes to what their net will look like next season, with Holtby heading towards unrestricted free agency.
Holtby focused on here and now
While Samsonov’s status is certainly something to keep an eye on right now, Holtby is preparing to start every game come August.
“I think that is hopefully the plan,” Holtby told reporters on Friday (quotes via Samantha Pell of The Washington Post). “I think we’ve had enough time to rest and recover and put in some good work here to be in the right shape physically and mentally to go all out there and put everything into every game.”
As far as his looming free agency goes, Holtby is proceeding as he has all year by focusing on his game, and not his next contract.
“I haven’t put much thought into the free agency, all that kind of thing,” Holtby said. “My focus right now is to win a championship and moving forward, is to find the next best place to win a championship with. Hopefully it is here, hopefully everything works out but you never know. Right now you live in the moment, and we have an exciting opportunity to have some fun.”
Tortorella wants to give Foudy ‘every opportunity’ to crack RTP lineup
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella knows that if his club is going to beat the Maple Leafs in a best-of-five series, they’re going to need to keep up with them — and he feels youngster Liam Foudy can help.
Tortorella was asked about the 19-year-old forward after Friday’s practice, and was clear about what he wants to see from the speedy youngster.
“I wanna see him beat people. I wanna see him carry the puck more,” Tortorella told reporters. “I want his feet moving all the time … the biggest thing for me, for him, to give him the best opportunity to crack the lineup, is to show us that speed all the time.”
The bench boss said he’s not worried about what mistakes Foudy, who captained the OHL’s London Knights this past season, might make.
“I don’t care about mistakes. I don’t care what mistakes he makes,” Tortorella said. “That’s why you play as a team, that’s why you’re in support position in case of mistakes. I want him to allow himself to play.”
“I want to give him every opportunity to make this team, to get in the starting lineup, because of his speed,” Tortorella continued. “We’re playing a very fast hockey club — we need to get as much speed in our lineup as we possibly can.”
Blue Jackets appear to be taking careful approach with Dubois
Another Blue Jacket generating a bit of buzz at camp is Pierre-Luc Dubois — particularly when it comes to his on-again, off-again ice time at camp. The team appears to be taking a careful approach with the dynamic centreman’s training as they prepare to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in August.
Per reporters onsite in Columbus, Dubois has been absent from some practices this week, with limited participation in others.
During a media availability following on-ice action on Friday, he gave reporters a sense of the Blue Jackets’ mindset as we all look ahead to game action:
“You say playoffs, I say Stanley Cup. If you’re not really striving to win the Cup, then you’re kind of wasting a year,” he said. “If your eyes aren’t set on the Stanley Cup, you’re already behind.”
Dante Fabbro channeling that Smashville energy
There won’t be fans in the stands, but the Nashville Predators are bringing that Tennessean trash talk to the rink with these face masks:
Confirmed: Canada does, in fact, have snack food
Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer with this gem of a quote about heading to the Canadian hub city:
Oilers’ Jones says he previously tested positive for COVID-19
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Caleb Jones told reporters on Friday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.
He has since been cleared, and hit the ice for solo sessions throughout the week before joining the main group for the first time Friday.
Blackhawks still without Crawford
Here’s a scary thought: The Chicago Blackhawks are still without their starting goaltender as they stare down a best-of-five series against the Edmonton Oilers. Ruled unfit to play on Monday, veteran Corey Crawford has yet to skate this training camp. He also was not part of the team’s voluntary Phase 2 small-group workouts.
With the No. 1 spot possibly up for grabs, the club is looking to Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins as far as the goalie competition goes, with the first three the most likely to grab hold of the job should Crawford remain unfit.
Regarding Crawford, head coach Jeremy Colliton told reporters Friday that the Blackhawks “certainly haven’t ruled him out going forward.”
Colliton addressed the goalie situation earlier in the week, too, saying he’s been impressed with his goalies’ work ethic and preparation.
“We have a situation now where we’ve talked about it being open competition for a spot, whether that’s the starting position or the backup when we start,” he said Wednesday.
Of the four goalies currently at camp, Subban has the most NHL experience (60 starts over parts of five seasons with the Bruins and Golden Knights). The 26-year-old has yet to start a game for the Blackhawks, instead taking on the backup role behind Crawford upon being dealt to Chicago in the deadline trade that sent netminder Robin Lehner to Vegas. Delia, also 26, has been with the Blackhawks organization for the past few seasons, mostly at the AHL level, and hasn’t started a game with the NHL club this season.
Flyers get a visit from Lindblom
The Philadelphia Flyers had a visit from a pretty remarkable Flyer on Friday when Oskar Lindblom arrived at the rink.
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) July 17, 2020
Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in December. The 23-year-old completed radiation treatments earlier this month.
While he has not resumed skating regularly and has long been ruled out of participating in any camp or return-to-play activities, Sports Illustrated writer Alex Prewitt reported that a trip to join the team in Toronto could perhaps still be a possibility. Regardless of where he winds up watching the games from, it’s pretty clear that this tough Philly squad will be playing for the toughest Flyer of them all when they get back to competition.