And just like that, summer is over.
NHL training camps are opening up around the league, which means the new season is upon us. Games will start next week and the season opens less than a month from now, on Oct. 3.
Every team comes into this part of the calendar with optimism and hope that everything will work out. Roster battles are plentiful around the league as rookies look to make their mark, while injured players try to get back in time for puck drop next month. All of these storylines will have an impact on the 2018-19 season.
Here’s a look at a question facing each team heading into training camp:
Boston: Can one of three young rookies earn third-line centre spot?
When the Bruins head to China to play a couple pre-season games against the Calgary Flames this week and next, their top two centres won’t be with them. So as Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci rest up at home, a trio of youngsters will be given prime minutes and an opportunity to make the case to stick with the NHL team when the real games start in October.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka all became pros last season, the latter two of whom graduated after their NCAA and OHL seasons, respectively. Forsbacka-Karlsson scored 32 points in 58 AHL games and may have the inside track as the most offensively gifted of the bunch, but Frederic brings the tenacity some teams love in their bottom-six, while Studnicka comes with a playmaking ability that saw him lead the Oshawa Generals with 50 assists in 2017-18. The departure of Riley Nash has opened the door for someone to take advantage.
Buffalo: Can Casey Mittelstadt break in as a productive second-line centre?
The Sabres are expected to be one of the most improved teams in 2018-19, but as natural as the Jack Eichel-Jeff skinner connection appears to be, they’ll need to get a good amount of support scoring from the secondary unit to actually take that step.
Mittelstadt will be a massive factor in this regard. The eighth-overall pick in 2017 was a leading scorer for the University of Minnesota last season, tied for the scoring lead at the world juniors and ended the year with one goal and five points in six NHL games with the Sabres. Zemgus Girgensons is a bottom-six player at this point and Patrik Berglund, acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, hasn’t topped 40 points since 2010-11.
Detroit: Can Evgeny Svechnikov crack the roster out of camp?
His brother will break into the NHL with great fanfare as the second-overall pick, but can the older Svechnikov earn an opening-night spot one year after a bit of bad luck set him back? While Andrei is one of the early Calder Trophy favourites with Carolina, Evgeny is coming off a disappointing season that started with an injury in the pre-season.
Heading back to the AHL, he followed up his 20-goal rookie season with just seven goals and 23 points in 57 games. First-rounders Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina may already have the inside track on cracking the roster, so the longer Svechnikov goes without making it, the harder it will become. This is an important camp for the soon-to-be 22-year-old.
Toronto: Who will be the No. 6 defenceman?
Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are the expected five locks to man Toronto’s back end this season, barring injury. But that No. 6 spot appears wide open heading into training camp.
Justin Holl and his two goals in two NHL games will be a factor, along with Connor Carrick who signed a one-year, $1.3-million extension to be a depth player for the club. After that, Russian rookie Igor Ozhiganov and the two Swedes brought in last season, Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman, will be looking to make some noise. First-rounder Timothy Liljegren may be more of a long shot given the Leafs won’t want to rush him, but he could end up in the call-up discussion at some point this season.
Montreal: What do the top-six forwards look like?
Max Domi and Tomas Tatar are the two newest faces and both figure to slot into the top-six somewhere, but just what those two lines look like is still to be determined. If the playmaker Domi catches pre-season chemistry with Brendan Gallagher and his 30-goal upside, it could make for a potent top unit. Phillip Danault is a candidate to have a breakout season, but does he end up on Line 2 with Tatar? Different combinations will surely be tried in the pre-season games, so it will be interesting to see what coach Claude Julien experiments with.
Florida: Will Owen Tippett make the cut this time?
The 10th-overall pick from 2017 cracked the NHL roster out of camp a year ago and played seven games with the team, scoring once. In his NHL debut, Tippett logged 11:39 of ice and recorded seven shots on goal, after which Panthers coach Bob Boughner said Tippett was his best player. Tippett didn’t stick, however, and went back to junior where he scored 36 times in 51 games. Tippett didn’t make last year’s Canadian world juniors team and missed this year’s summer camp due to injury, but should be given another chance to earn his way into the Panthers’ lineup. Still just 19, if he doesn’t earn a full-time job this time, he’ll go back to junior again.
Tampa Bay: Will Andrei Vasilevskiy be able to overcome Tampa Bay’s defensive issues?
Although Vasilevskiy was a Vezina Trophy finalist, he faded badly down the stretch. From Jan. 1 onward, his .905 save percentage ranked 38th in the league, tied with the likes of Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon. During that time he also faced the third-most shots against so those numbers were negatively affected by the massive workload, but it is noteworthy how drastically he fell off from a .934 save percentage in his first 31 games. Tampa Bay had a bottom-10 defence when measured by shot suppression last season and figure to give up a lot again in 2018-19.
Ottawa: Will Brady Tkachuk make the team out of camp?
It could be a long season in Ottawa. In the bizarre Eugene Melnyk “interview” this week, the team owner alluded to the pending rebuild and that this year’s team would run out a number of young players and that number would rise a season from now. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene are pending UFAs and now, with Karlsson gone, top trade candidates.
So what does that mean for a player like Tkachuk? On the one hand, you certainly don’t want to rush a player to the NHL, only to thrust him into a difficult and losing situation. On the other, you don’t want to hold him back if he’s ready. The early reviews are positive and Tkachuk is eyeing a spot on the NHL roster, but would it be better for him in the long run to play this season in OHL London?