One question for each team heading into NHL training camps

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74). (Mark Humphrey/AP)

On Wednesday, NHL training camps will begin opening up around the league and all the off-season chatter will make way for actual substance.

Battles will begin for lineup spots, and prospects who have yet to crack an NHL lineup now have an opportunity to either break camp or at least be front of mind when the first call-ups have to be made.

Training camps aren’t only about the kids, though. We want to see how players who’ve changed addresses do in their new cities, or how older players look out of the gate. We want to see if players who are coming off disappointing seasons are primed for a bounce back, or if breakout players seem like they can build on a surprise season.

So right before everyone hits the ice again, we go over each of the NHL’s 32 teams to talk about one question facing them as it pertains to training camp.

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Anaheim Ducks: Is there a roster spot for Trevor Zegras?

There was very little change made to the roster of one of last season’s bottom-feeders, and it’s clear the Ducks are waiting on some of their young prospects to mature. Some of them are NHLers already and others are on the cusp. Zegras, the expected future No. 1 centre for the franchise, had a 24-game taste last season and scored 13 points. But he was a winger in the NHL, and sent back to AHL San Diego to get those centre reps. Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Derek Grant, Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom were the primary pivots for Anaheim last season and they’re all back, so how or where Zegras fits in this season will be a training camp storyline to watch.

Arizona Coyotes: How bad is this going to be?

By design, the Coyotes have stripped down their roster to acquire draft picks for the rebuild. There are a few remaining impact players, but we wonder if the likes of Phil Kessel or even Jakob Chychrun become trade candidates at some point. There aren’t a lot of youngsters in this lineup at the moment and while some jobs could be earned in camp, is it better to keep developing players away from what should be a tough year?

Boston Bruins: Who grabs the critical second-line centre role and will they perform?

The Perfection Line returns atop the depth chart, but age-related questions are seeping in. Patrice Bergeron is 36 years old now and Brad Marchand 33. David Pastrnak will be in his prime for a while at least, but has just two years left on his contract. We’re not worried about that line this season. Secondary scoring has been a challenge for the Bruins in recent years and that could be made worse by David Krejci’s departure. The highest-scoring non-first-line player from last season, Krejci found chemistry with Taylor Hall — who signed a four-year extension — but now it falls on Hall to carry that line. Charlie Coyle seems to be first up for a crack at the job, but he had just six goals and 16 points in 51 games last season. If Coyle doesn’t fit there, we’re looking at Nick Foligno or Erik Haula as possibilities for the 2C role and none of these choices are as secure as Krejci was.

Buffalo Sabres: Where does the Jack Eichel saga go next?

Well, here we are at a fresh training camp and the biggest off-season storyline is still unresolved. A player like Jack Eichel almost never becomes available in a trade, but his neck injury and the looming possibility of surgery clouds his value. We all know he’s one of the top centres in the game and should demand a significant return in a trade — especially since he’s got another five years remaining on his contract — but it’s not so clean. His contract status leaves the Sabres with some leverage, too. They don’t have to trade him right now if the offers aren’t to their liking. But this relationship appears severed, so what happens if he’s not traded by the start of camp or the regular season? Eichel will report for physicals on Wednesday, after which the Sabres could put him on injured reserve, but this story will hang over the franchise until there’s a conclusion.

Calgary Flames: Will Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm stick as a line?

The only thing Flames fans may have been rooting for as their team played out the final weeks of last season was the impending off-season changes we all expected. Those changes didn’t come. So as the Flames run it back and double down on Darryl Sutter hockey succeeding in a weak Pacific Division, there actually was one positive takeaway from the end of last season to watch in training camp.

After an April 5 loss to Toronto, Sutter put together a line of Elias Lindholm between Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. They stuck together for most of the remaining schedule and Calgary went 10-6-0. Gaudreau posted 22 points, Tkachuk 15 and Lindholm 14. All of the Flames’ top players need bounce-back years for the team to have any shot and you wonder if this is what they shoot out of the gate with.

Carolina Hurricanes: Does Frederik Andersen still have it?

In 2017-18 and 2019-20, the Hurricanes had one of the worst 5-on-5 team save percentages in the league. In 2018-19 they were middle of the road and you wouldn’t have identified the position as a strength. Then last season, thanks to rookie Alex Nedeljkovic, they had the second-best save percentage and were a top team throughout. So, naturally, the Canes are returning with two different goalies, both veterans with recent injuries and coming off down seasons. Former Leaf Frederik Andersen is likely the lead dog here, but after a six-year stretch of strong consistency in Anaheim and Toronto, his last two seasons were subpar. Andersen finished with an .895 save rate in 2021 and lost the Leafs job to career backup Jack Campbell. The Canes lost Dougie Hamilton off the blue line this summer as well, but expectations remain sky high — it’s critical for Andersen and Antti Raanta to approach Nedeljkovic’s performance.

Chicago Blackhawks: How does Jonathan Toews look?

August 18, 2020 was the last time Jonathan Toews played an NHL game. He scored a goal and played 18 minutes as the Blackhawks were eliminated by Vegas in the bubble playoffs. Toews then missed all of last season with chronic immune response syndrome, which made it hard for him to recover from anything. Toews posted a video in June that showed his return to the ice for skates and it appears he’ll be with the team at training camp. Toews is 33 now and said he took more time away from the ice than at any point since he was a kid. Can he return to form, or will Toews transition to perhaps more of a third-line or support role for a Blackhawks team that’s aggressively tried to spin out of a rebuild this off-season?

Colorado Avalanche: Who will replace the goals scored by Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Saad?

The Avs will continue as one of the top Cup contenders this season, but they did experience some roster turnover in the summer, which will be interesting to see come together in camp. Donskoi and Saad were the fifth and sixth in goal scoring on the team last season and neither are back. So who steps up in camp? Valeri Nichushkin will be a favourite to move up the lineup and perhaps fill a role, but we should keep an eye on some younger players as well. Alex Newhook is coming off a strong rookie camp and had eight games of NHL playoff experience last summer. Shane Bowers hasn’t made his NHL debut yet, but can the 2017 first-rounder make the team, or at least become an early call-up candidate?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Who’s playing centre with Patrik Laine?

After trading Pierre-Luc Dubois for Patrik Laine last season, the Blue Jackets were left with a massive hole at centre. Max Domi was a hopeful solution, but that didn’t pan out and he appears a better fit on the wing (and he’s out for the start of the season anyway). What about Alexandre Texier? He showed well in spurts, but wasn’t a full-time solution yet either. He’s just 22, though, and probably gets another look. Jack Roslovic and Boone Jenner will get shots, too. Centre Kent Johnson was chosen fifth overall in the 2021 draft, but he’s headed back to Michigan this season. Who plays with Laine to set him up and unlock his full goal scoring potential that we didn’t see any of last season will be a key training camp storyline. The most likely outcome is that a few different players get their shot to stick next to Laine throughout the season, but let’s see who grabs the job out of camp.

Dallas Stars: How will their goaltending situation play out?

It remains unclear when, or if, Ben Bishop will return to Dallas’ crease and the team has prepared for the worst. Braden Holtby was acquired via free agency for one year and $2 million and he’ll join incumbents Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger in a training-camp battle. And while the 22-year-old Oettinger had the better goalie stats (.936 SV%, 2.36 GAA) of the two last season, he is the only waiver exempt player and that alone could push him down the depth chart to start — unless a strong camp forces a different choice.

Detroit Red Wings: Which kids stand out?

With another year of misery expected, Wings fans can only hope for progress. Moritz Seider, the sixth overall pick in 2019, arrives and seems to have the inside track on a roster spot he still needs to earn. Is he a top-four guy right away? Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren, selected three picks apart from each other in 2018, are competing for a spot, but is there a chance both could make the team? And how sharp does Lucas Raymond look right away, even though we’re not expecting him to crack the NHL roster out of camp?

Edmonton Oilers: How do Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg do?

Perhaps what made Caleb Jones expandable in a trade for Duncan Keith, and why it’s worth taking a shot on the 38-year-old for the short-term, is that the future on the blue line is promising with Bouchard, Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov. But they’re not all ready yet. Bouchard played 14 NHL games last season and is probably first up to earn a spot out of camp. Broberg may not be all that far behind, though, and depending on who shines at camp Edmonton’s defence picture could still change somewhat. There are a ton of veterans in place, though, so not much room on the pro roster yet. Samorukov was injured in rookie camp and so will be unavailable when the main camp opens.

Florida Panthers: Can Anton Lundell make the team or where is he going to slot in the lineup?

The 12th overall pick from 2020 returned to Finland’s top pro league last season, led his team with 16 goals and was an alternate captain. He was just 19 years old. Lundell will turn 20 in October and even though Florida’s collection of forwards runs deep, he should have a crack at making the team with a good camp. Where he would slot in after that isn’t clear though. Florida was one of the top offensive teams last season and added Sam Reinhart (and Joe Thornton for depth), so theoretically there’s less room for rookies. But Lundell is one to get excited about.

Los Angeles Kings: Will Quinton Byfield or Alex Turcotte force their way into a roster spot?

Anze Kopitar remains the Kings’ No. 1 centre, full stop. Phillip Danault will be their shutdown guy, but will it be on the second or third line? Gabe Vilardi filled that role last season, but will he stick as a pivot or eventually slide to the wing? Enter Byfield and Turcotte, two top-five draft picks with a (truncated) AHL season under their belts and pro experience to show for it. There’s no sense in rushing either of these players, but if they show out in training camp and pre-season games the Kings may have to promote either as they aim to contend for the playoffs.


Minnesota Wild: Can Matthew Boldy or Marco Rossi make the team?

Four of Minnesota’s top five scorers last season were forwards under the age of 25 and the team further leaned into the future with their off-season decisions. There aren’t a lot of pro roster spots up for grabs quite yet, but after strong rookie camps two of the most exciting prospects in this system will get an opportunity to earn one. Rossi is a comeback story worth watching in himself as he comes all the way back from a heart condition discovered after a battle with COVID-19 that kept him out all of last season. When he’s ready, Rossi has the potential to inject the same kind of excitement into this lineup that Kirill Kaprizov accomplished a year ago.

Montreal Canadiens: How does Alexander Romanov look?

One of the bigger storylines in Canadiens training camp is how the defence will come together. There are a few veterans who might have a hold on a top-four spot already, but everyone is excited for what 21-year-old Alexander Romanov can become. Now in his second NHL season, Romanov could be a central figure on this blue line for years. With Shea Weber out for this year at least, Montreal has a massive hole on the blue line that no single player will be able to fill. But a strong camp and start to the season for Romanov would at least be a silver lining.

Nashville Predators: Is Juuse Saros the next big thing?

No pressure or anything. From March 1 to the end of last regular season, Saros had a .939 save percentage and was getting some late consideration in Vezina talk (but not, ultimately, a finalist for the award). Of course, before that date he had an .898 save percentage, so it really was a tale of two seasons. Pekka Rinne has retired and Saros was given a four-year extension with a $5 million cap hit. He has been solid and consistent through five years in Nashville, first as Rinne’s backup and then through a gradual transition to the starter’s job. But is what we saw at the end of last season a step up into something special? He almost single-handedly dragged them back into the playoff race in 2021 and turned the front office off of being deadline sellers, but Nashville’s direction now is less sure than ever.

New Jersey Devils: Is this the year Jack Hughes becomes a superstar?

A 21-point rookie season was followed by a 31-point sophomore season, and though those numbers don’t jump at you the way some other recent No. 1 picks launched their careers, Hughes has been heading in the right direction. And now the Devils are making strides to actually get better in the here and now. Hughes helped Yegor Sharangovich to a 16-goal rookie season that few expected, so if he also takes a step, or if the team finds a trigger man to complement Hughes, he could take off suddenly.

New York Islanders: Is Noah Dobson’s role going to expand?

The Islanders have been easing Dobson in the past two seasons and his underlying numbers have been strong. In 2021, Dobson averaged 16:24 of ice time, sixth among Isles blue liners, and had a power-play presence. Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock played ahead of Dobson on the right side last season and both remain with the team, but it’s going to get harder to keep the 21-year-old down, especially with a strong camp.

New York Rangers: How much of the new team “toughness” shows up in pre-season action?

Tom Wilson left a lasting impact on the Rangers last season. In the early-May game when Wilson repeatedly punched a prone Pavel Buchnevich and then tossed Artemi Panarin around with no recourse, it left the Rangers with a bit of an identity crisis. Ya, New York has a lot of talent on paper and a promising way out of the rebuild, but how did ownership view the team getting bullied like that? The answer may have come when, a couple days later, GM Jeff Gorton and president John Davidson — the architects of the rebuild — were shown the door and Chris Drury was promoted as GM. The Rangers added Ryan Reaves and Barclay Goodrow, two hard-nosed players, in the off-season and it’s hard not to draw a line between the Wilson incident and those acquisitions. The Rangers won’t meet the Capitals until opening night — which will be must-see TV — but we wonder if this identity shows itself in some form through the pre-season.

Ottawa Senators: How long will Brady Tkachuk’s negotiation drag on for?

There is a lot to monitor at Sens camp. Matt Murray had a miserable first season in Ottawa playing through a highly offensive North Division, but with three more years on his contract the Sens need their netminder to bounce back if they are to push forward. What about Logan Brown, the 11th overall pick from 2016: will he make the roster? And, of course, for a team looking to emerge out of a rebuild, it’s always important to see positive things out of the younger players who have yet to become full-time NHLers. But the biggest question around the Senators has to do with Brady Tkachuk. The RFA is still without a contract, and after his brother Matthew shared his opinion that those negotiations weren’t all that close to a resolution, some level of panic is setting in. It’s not unusual for RFAs to miss at least the start of training camp, though it’s not an ideal outcome. But if we get more than a week into camp and there’s still no news on Tkachuk this will become a bigger issue. If he misses the start of the regular season, then there’s trouble.

Philadelphia Flyers: Is Carter Hart bouncing back?

We might get an idea pretty early in the pre-season if Hart is on his way back from the worst season of his career, or if possible trouble is on the horizon. The three-time WHL goalie of the year had two strong seasons to start his NHL career and then last season went way off the rails, finishing with an .877 save rate. Given Hart’s track record and the strangeness and challenges of last season, it’s a fairly good bet he will come all the way back. But we have to see it and on the off-chance it’s a bumpy road again, the Flyers have only Martin Jones as the backup, which would make for a difficult season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Who’s going to step up with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out?

The Penguins could start the year without their franchise cornerstones and top two centres, which could force Jeff Carter into one of those roles. He was the perfect deadline pick-up for them last season, scoring 16 points in 20 regular and playoff games. Can he continue any of that, though? Teddy Blueger probably gets a look in pre-season, too. But then how do you make up for the lost offence? The Penguins have a Cup window that appears to be closed, or pretty close to it, and a bad start to the season could be deadly. Someone needs to step up in camp.

San Jose Sharks: Can any prospect show something exciting?

One of the more stable and successful franchises for nearly two decades, the wheels have come off the Sharks in recent times. The problem, too, is that so many of their top players are locked in to big-money deals with term that making significant change isn’t going to be easy, which is why they’re returning with largely the same group. The reason why the Sharks were able to find success for such a prolonged period is that they had a steady stream of high-impact prospects that grew into leaders, but that line has been cut. Timo Meier is the best of the youth, and it’s not clear if he wants to stick around. So, while this figures to be another long season in San Jose barring some surprise, we really want to see which kids shine the most in camp and pre-season. Whether that’s seventh overall pick William Eklund or 31st overall selection Ozzy Wiesblatt or someone a little more obscure like Jasper Weatherby, it’d be great to just see something to believe in the future.

Seattle Kraken: How will this roster come together?

The newest team will be the hardest one to get a handle on. The Vegas Golden Knights re-shaped how we perceive an expansion roster, though it would be unfair to expect the Kraken to duplicate Vegas’ Year 1 success. Line combinations, defence pairs, and goalie usage are all things to watch in camp for the Kraken. And, of course, we need to keep a sharp eye on any player who shoots out strong and has a chance to be a William Karlsson-type who breaks out in a big way with a fresh opportunity.

St. Louis Blues: Will Vladimir Tarasenko be there and how will he be used?

After five straight 30-plus goal seasons, Tarasenko has struggled with a shoulder injury for the past two and it’s fair to wonder if he can ever get close to his old form again. A disagreement over how his shoulder injuries were handled led to Tarasenko asking for a trade that still hasn’t come to fruition. The Kraken didn’t even take him in their expansion draft, indicating how far Tarasenko’s stock has fallen. He turns 30 in December and has two years left on a $7.5 million AAV contract. If he does show up to camp, how good does he look? Where will the Blues use him in the lineup? And, if there is no chance for a makeup, can a trade partner still be found?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Who makes up the new third line?

The Yanni Gourde-Blake Coleman-Barclay Goodrow line that was so instrumental in Tampa’s success — especially in the playoffs — is completely gone and in need of replacing. The good news is that the Lightning have done well in drafting and developing talent through their Cup wins and have some potential successors in-house, which we’ll get some eyes on in the pre-season. Ross Colton, 25, will get a look after his rookie season. Mathieu Joseph has had strong scoring rates for a couple years, but the ice time hasn’t come yet so he could be an option. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was signed in free agency and brings strong defensive play. And then there are various wild cards who could come out of the woodwork. Where does Corey Perry fit in? Jobs and roles are available on the back-to-back champs, and we’re eager to find out who takes them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Who fills in the Zach Hyman spot alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner?

Rather than target one obvious replacement for Hyman, the Leafs acquired a few players who could fit that role. Michael Bunting comes with good underlying numbers and though he scored at a pace last season he’s unlikely to duplicate (13 points in 21 games), he might be the right complement to the two stars. Nick Ritchie got the most money and his physical presence might be what they’re after. Ondrej Kase brings plenty of offensive upside to a potential top-six role, but there are lots of questions about his health. And then what about Alex Kerfoot? Could he slide to the wing if David Kampf becomes the third-line centre?

Vancouver Canucks: Is Vasily Podkolzin a Day 1 top-sixer, or does he need to play his way up in the regular season?

Podkolzin is easily the most interesting player to watch at camp for the Canucks. The 10th overall pick in 2019, Podkolzin has spent the past two seasons playing in the KHL and should be ready to have an impact right away. He’s strong on his skates and tough to play against on the puck and along the boards, which are always welcome skills. But the Canucks have built a roster designed to make the playoffs, so Podkolzin doesn’t need to be rushed into anything too soon. However, there could be a spot available for the right winger in the top six if he has a strong camp. And of course, we’re also watching for any news around Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, two RFAs still without contracts. For a team looking to put last season well behind them and move on, it is vital to have these guys back in the fold before puck drop in October.

Vegas Golden Knights: Can Nolan Patrick have an impact at centre?

We often talk about how critical it is to have quality centres in the NHL (and it’s true), but the Golden Knights have managed to be a yearly contender without a true standalone No. 1 at the position. William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson have filled the top two spots and done well, but we can’t deny that in back-to-back playoffs Vegas’ offence has dried up at critical times and contributed to the Golden Knights being upset. Vegas, always connected to available stars, came up in Jack Eichel trade rumours that haven’t panned out yet. Instead of going big at the position, they made one interesting pick-up, acquiring 2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick from the Flyers. He’s battled injuries and lack of playing time early in his career, but his upside remains. What will we see from him in training camp, and can he start on a road toward reaching that potential as an impact top-six centre?

Washington Capitals: Does Evgeny Kuznetsov return with a chip on his shoulder?

Kuznetsov’s points per game rate has been in decline three years in a row, and after just a 29-point season in 41 games he was seemingly challenged by Caps GM Brian MacLellan, who certainly didn’t close the door on the possibility the centre could be traded. Kuznetsov’s bounce-back will be one key to Washington’s success, as the 29-year-old has four years remaining on his $7.8-million AAV contract. So how will Kuznetsov respond when camp opens and pre-season games pick up. Do we see the old player again, or is this a decline in action?

Winnipeg Jets: Will Pierre-Luc Dubois be an important and effective top-two centre right away?

When the Jets acquired Dubois from Columbus last season, they had designs on him becoming the second-line centre behind Mark Scheifele and ahead of Adam Lowry to make up a deep collection of pivots to frustrate opponents. It wasn’t a smooth transition, though. Dubois was injured shortly after his arrival, didn’t have consistent linemates, and even played on the wing to ease his way in. So how does camp start this season? If the Jets can get Dubois back down the middle and he returns to the form we saw in the 2020 playoff bubble, Winnipeg could be a top team.

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