It’s training camp week, and you’re about to see every one of the NHL’s 32 teams begin reporting for official duty.
New seasons beget new questions and battles for rosters spots, which we’ll attempt to address below. Who is pushing for a spot? Who is aiming to move up the lineup? Who are the X-Factor players to watch around the league in training camp?
We take a look at one question for each team, related to training camp and the pre-season.
Anaheim Ducks: How quickly does Mason McTavish become a 2C?
Trevor Zegras is a vital player coming off a 61-point season, and one of the most creative wizards in the game still working toward becoming one of the game’s elite pivots. He will occupy the first-line centre spot. The Ducks signed Ryan Strome for five years and he could start as the second-line centre, but can slide to the wing whenever Anaheim’s next exciting young pivot is ready to take over. Mason McTavish dominated the OHL and the WJC last season, experienced the Olympics, and got a taste of both the NHL and AHL. The third overall pick from 2021 has tremendous upside, but how eager will the Ducks be to put him into a top-six spot down the middle, knowing Strome is capable? A strong camp from McTavish could force the issue.
Arizona Coyotes: Will Jakob Chychrun break camp with the team?
The on-again, off-again rumours come and go and we’d wager that the defenceman is more likely than not to be in the Coyotes lineup when the season begins. But for teams that hoped to make changes on the back end and just couldn’t find them, the incoming season start is another pressure point for urgency. Chychrun has three seasons left on a contract paying $4.6 million against the cap.
Boston Bruins: What does Jim Montgomery change?
A new coach is bound to bring change to a team’s style and so we wonder what Jim Montgomery will look to do in Boston. While he was head coach in Dallas, he turned the Stars into a stingy defence-first team, which carried on under Rick Bowness, who was an assistant there under Montgomery. The Bruins were already a stingy team, allowing the fewest 5-on-5 shots against in the league last season. Montgomery also has to start without Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, so it will also be a topic as to who replaces those two top players in the meantime.
Buffalo Sabres: How do the top nine forwards shake out?
Optimism abounds once again in Buffalo, but it remains a long climb back to the playoffs without any guarantees. While, yes, we want to see how Owen Power fares in camp and pre-season, and if Rasmus Dahlin keeps building on his breakout season, a lot of training camp questions revolve around the forward group here. We want to see if Casey Mittelstadt is a centre or a winger, who shares a line with Alex Tuch after his explosive arrival last season, and whether or not Jack Quinn can carve out a productive role for himself after scoring 61 points in 45 AHL games, among other things. It’s imperative for the Sabres to get out of the gate strong and build on the good vibes, so we’re eager to find out how the lines come together out of camp.
Calgary Flames: Who will Jonathan Huberdeau play with?
The Flames had one of the best lines in the league last season, but now two-thirds of it is playing elsewhere. At least Calgary was able to replace one top-three scoring left winger with another, as Huberdeau arrives from Florida having scored the same 115 points Johnny Gaudreau did last season. But will he automatically slide next to Elias Lindholm, as Gaudreau did? Or could Huberdeau instead play with Nazem Kadri as his centre? If it’s the latter, as Eric Francis wrote, then the deployment of the entire top-nine will be fascinating to watch in camp.
Carolina Hurricanes: Who breaks camp as the second-line centre?
Plenty of turnover came to this division-winning roster and the Canes remain one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. The departure of Vincent Trocheck following a 51-point season potentially leaves a hole though, and we’re curious to find out who is tasked to fill it first. Paul Stastny was signed and the 36-year-old is still a fine complementary player and respected veteran coming off a 45-point season. Jordan Staal is still there, though likely best fit as the third-line centre. That leaves Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the wild card. He’s beginning Year 1 of an eight-year contract paying $4.482 million against the cap, but still has plenty to prove after an up-and-down 20-point season. Where does he fit into the lineup and can he start moving towards his potential (and really bring value at his AAV) at age 22?
Chicago Blackhawks: What do Kane or Toews say about their futures?
Look, it’s going to be a dreadful year in Chicago. We’re curious to see how 2020 first-rounder Lukas Reichel does in camp and how the team chooses to manage him given what’s ahead. But the drama here begins off the ice, where Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane head into the last year of their contracts. They will set the tone early when they’re inevitably asked again about how they view their situations with a new season on the immediate horizon.
Colorado Avalanche: Who will replace Nazem Kadri at 2C?
Twenty-eight goals and 87 points have vanished from the second line with Kadri departing to Calgary. He was an invaluable piece of Colorado’s breakthrough to the Stanley Cup, so who assumes those duties now? J.T. Compher, Alex Newhook and perhaps even newcomer and value signing Evan Rodrigues will be ones to watch there in the pre-season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Who breaks camp as the top centre?
Lots of positive buzz, and rightly so, out of Columbus this summer, but one sore area remains down the middle. Cole Sillinger, last season’s 16-goal rookie, is one to watch. Boone Jenner, expected to return from a back injury, scored 23 goals in 59 games last season and is the most established option. Jack Roslovic had some positive moments and finished with a career season. Where will rookie Kent Johnson (fifth overall pick, 2021) slide in after his nine-game taste at the end of 2021-22? Columbus’ top centre job could be a plum one if flanked by Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine.
Dallas Stars: When will Jason Robertson’s contract get done?
A hugely impactful offensive player remains unsigned in Dallas, with 41-goal scoring Robertson still negotiating with the team. Shortly after owner Tom Gaglardi spoke about his distaste for paying max dollars to players out of entry-level deals, the Stars inked Jake Oettinger to a three-year bridge contract. Will something similar be in store for Robertson? Will he play hardball in pursuit of a long-term extension, and what would that AAV look like? Players who miss camp tend to have slower starts, which the Stars can’t risk from one of their most important players, under a new coach.
Detroit Red Wings: How will newcomers Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik shape the forward lines?
They may not be ready to run out of the rebuild yet, but GM Steve Yzerman at least set his team up to be harder to claim two points against. We’d expect returning players Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana to be inside the top-six forwards (though Bertuzzi is still a trade candidate this season). So where do the new guys fit? Perron is a valuable leader with an underrated offensive game, Copp is coming off a career season which he ended by going on a tear with the Rangers, and Kubalik scored 30 goals two years ago — can that upside be reopened with better linemates?
Edmonton Oilers: Will Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway make the team?
The Oilers may be deeper and better prepared in goal this season than they were last — and 2022 ended with a Conference Final appearance. The veterans will make this team go, but young, cheap and productive players are also vital to success in the salary-capped NHL, and the Oilers have two of those to watch in camp. On defence, it’s time for Broberg to make his push for big league minutes and there is a wide-open opportunity for him on the left side. Holloway has a bit more competition in his way perhaps, but the Oilers have high hopes for the 14th overall pick in 2020 and would love to see him shine and earn it in the pre-season.
Florida Panthers: Who will partner with Aaron Ekblad on the top pair?
Getting Matthew Tkachuk is an exciting thing, and having to give up Jonathan Huberdeau for him was hard enough. But don’t underestimate the loss of Mackenzie Weegar, who averaged the most even-strength ice time per game among last year’s Panthers. There is no perfect and obvious replacement here. In fact, whenever we figure out who will break camp as Ekblad’s new partner, questions are sure to follow about the team’s defence, and how Sergei Bobrovsky will hold up behind it.
Los Angeles Kings: How does Cal Petersen get started?
The Kings had to go off-script and throw back to Jonathan Quick for most of their starts last season, as Cal Petersen struggled to ever get going. The two make for a good tandem, but eventually the 27-year-old is going to have to take the net back. Petersen is signed at $5 million for another three years, as Quick enters the final year of his own contract. Not known as a slow starter by any measure, we’re looking for Petersen to have a good camp and pre-season to lead into a fresh start.
Minnesota Wild: How does Marco Rossi play?
In the next few cap-strapped seasons, it’ll be vital for the Wild to find production at a value rate, and Rossi is the X-Factor here. A 20-year-old, ninth-overall pick from 2020, Rossi led the AHL team with 53 points last season. Scout Jason Bukala called him a “sleeper” in early Calder Trophy talk, and Rossi has all three ELC years still ahead. He looks to follow 21-year-old Matthew Boldy, who scored 15 goals and 39 points in 47 NHL games as a rookie after the Wild called him up in January. Boldy has one year left on his ELC.
Montreal Canadiens: How does Juraj Slafkovsky look?
We got our first taste of Slafkovsky at the prospects tournament in Buffalo, and our own scout Jason Bukala filed an early report on the No. 1 overall pick. The Habs took something of a gamble by going with the big winger, but Slafkovsky was constantly and consistently improving and rising up draft boards all last season. It will be years until we truly know who “won” the top of that draft, but all eyes will be on Slafkovsky for the early returns, beginning this week. Will he make the team right out of camp and then hang past a nine-game tryout?
Nashville Predators: How will a couple of players on cheap contracts perform?
The Predators are pushing forward and added win-now elements to their team in the off-season. But as much as further success will depend on vets like Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen (both fresh off huge bounce-back campaigns), they’re also going to need to get impact from a couple of important, and cheap, players. For this we look to Tanner Jeannot ($863K AAV) and wonder what the encore will be to his 24-goal season, Philip Tomasino ($863K AAV) to keep progressing from his 32-point rookie season, Dante Fabbro ($2.4 million AAV) looking for a bounce back of his own, or Eeli Tolvanen ($1.45 million AAV) to finally start delivering on his potential.
New Jersey Devils: Who grabs the net?
With a stated desire to improve the goaltending over the summer months, the fact the Devils reach camp with returnee MacKenzie Blackwood and newbie Vitek Vanecek isn’t the most inspiring position. Blackwood’s struggles and injury woes have been following him for a few years, while Vanecek was able to earn split duties in Washington with first-rounder Ilya Samsonov — but the Caps team decided to keep neither as they aimed to improve at the position as well. Whether or not the goaltending is good enough still will be a narrative for the 2022-23 Devils. Who will get the nod first out of camp?
New York Islanders: Where does the improvement come from?
It was a quiet summer for the Islanders, who are set to start camp mostly in the same way they ended last season. So what’s the path back to the playoffs? Last season certainly brought challenges, starting with a six-week road trip in October and November, but a lot needs to be better. Can they unlock Mathew Barzal on a consistent line? Will Noah Dobson take another big step? Or is that much-hoped-for move still on the way?
New York Rangers: Which line will Alexis Lafreniere break camp on (and Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil for that matter)?
It’s been a slow build for the first overall pick of the 2020 draft, but at least he has been trending up over two NHL seasons. Complicating matters is that Lafreniere is a natural left winger, but the Rangers are loaded there on the depth chart, where Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider demand top-six minutes. So will Lafreniere be used on the right side in camp to work his way into a top-six spot, or do the Rangers have other plans in mind? Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick from 2019, has been slower coming along and is also one to watch on the depth chart through camp.
Ottawa Senators: What impact can Jake Sanderson have out of the gate?
Lots of fireworks in Ottawa off the ice this summer, with the many eye-popping additions leading to optimism, and some wonder if the Sens can hang around the playoff race. The one area that wasn’t really addressed, though, was on the blue line. Rumours of Jakob Chychrun never came to fruition and it’s hard to trade from a position of weakness that everyone knows you want to address. So, instead, we are eager to see how the one actual blue line addition does fare. Jake Sanderson comes off injury to hit his first pro camp and if he stays and can have an impact right away (perhaps Calder contention?) the top four may be fine as is.
Philadelphia Flyers: Is the bigger story going to be from on or off the ice?
The need to re-tool something seems obvious from the outside, but GM Chuck Fletcher added Tony DeAngelo and Nic Deslauriers, didn’t trade any of the notable names he could have explored, and now entering his fifth season at the helm, it’s a good bet that he’s feeling pressure to move up the standings again. Head coach John Tortorella already challenged the dressing room culture before camp even opened and so we wonder how fiery things could get in the early days there.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Who forms the bottom-six forwards, and can they be productive enough?
For better or worse the running-it-back Penguins should be a playoff team once more (barring injuries). Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will run the top two lines, and it’s obvious how important their production and presence are. But what about the bottom six? It was a surprise when 37-year-old Jeff Carter was the first to re-sign in the middle of last season — he scored 19 goals in 76 games and will centre the third line. Can he keep that up? Who will make up the wingers around him, and can any of them be the go-to offensive weapon in the bottom six to round out Pittsburgh’s scoring? It’s been a while since the Penguins won a playoff series, and depth wins in the post-season.
San Jose Sharks: Can rookie William Eklund help breathe new life into the team?
It’s been a few years since the Sharks made the playoffs, but much of their core remains intact outside of Brent Burns (who was shipped to Carolina this off-season). One rookie isn’t likely going to radically change the team’s immediate outlook, but 19-year-old William Eklund is going to attract a lot of eyeballs at training camp. The seventh overall pick from 2021 saw nine games of NHL action last season before returning to Sweden for the year, but returns as a Calder Trophy hopeful if he breaks camp with the NHL team. If he shows well in camp, Eklund could be a source of early-season optimism.
Seattle Kraken: What becomes of Shane Wright?
Matty Beniers has a likely shot to make the NHL roster — the second overall pick from 2021 played 10 NHL games at the end of last season when he left the University of Michigan, and he scored nine points. But how will the team handle Wright, the projected first overall pick in 2022 who fell all the way to fourth? There’s no doubt Wright arrives with a chip on his shoulder. He scored 94 points in 63 OHL games last season, but will have to return there if the Kraken don’t keep him. Between training camp, pre-season and the possibility of a nine-game regular season taste, the Kraken have a not-so-easy decision to make on Wright.
St. Louis Blues: Can Jake Neighbours crack the opening night roster?
St. Louis is largely running it back, though without Ville Husso as a safety blanket for Jordan Binnington, and without David Perron’s 27 goals. Perron’s departure likely opens up some more minutes for Jordan Kyrou, and an opportunity to be a permanent top-six player now that he has an eight-year extension signed. That could leave a spot open for Neighbours, who played nine games for the Blues early last season before he was returned to WHL Edmonton. Neighbours was the 26th overall pick in 2020.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Could Steven Stamkos swing back to centre?
Last year the questions facing the Lightning centred on the third line, where the entire three-man unit had to be replaced. This year we’re looking at the top-six in camp. Ondrej Palat is gone for good. Anthony Cirelli could be out until December recovering from shoulder surgery, which leaves a hole at the second-line centre spot. Could we see Stamkos used in that spot during the pre-season as a permanent solution? And if not, what other combination could Jon Cooper attempt?
Toronto Maple Leafs: Who will play on the second line?
The expectation is that Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting will reunite at the top, and that John Tavares and William Nylander will come together again on Line 2. But a few questions arise here that we could get some insight on during camp. First: who could join Nylander and Tavares? Will it be Alex Kerfoot again? Could newcomer Calle Jarnkrok be a factor here? What of Nick Robertson? And, second: if Tavares’ two-way impact leaves something to be desired (and a debate opens around his possible future move to the wing), would it make sense to pair him with Marner instead?
Vancouver Canucks: How do the three Russians start off?
Vasily Podkolzin returns for Year 2 with the Canucks, and the 2019 10th overall pick will look to build on his 26-point rookie season. He showed the variety of tools he has last season, and got better as the year went along — but is he a top-six player right now? Newly arrived Ilya Mikheyev is an established NHLer with a two-way presence and elite speed, the latter of which was sorely needed in this lineup. But, like Podkolzin, does he have the offensive pop to hang in the top-six, or will he be a third-line staple? And then where does Andrei Kuzmenko, the KHL’s second-highest scorer last season, fit in? Will he make the team out of camp?
Vegas Golden Knights: Is the goaltending going to be OK?
An area of strength and depth two years ago has turned into a pre-season question mark now that Robin Lehner is out for the season. Vegas walks into the new year with Laurent Brossoit and Adin Hill pushing Logan Thompson, the presumed starter after he posted a .914 save percentage in 19 games last season. Three years ago, the undrafted Thompson was playing for Brock University in Ontario and in 2020-21 he was named the AHL’s goalie of the year. Now he’s challenged to lead Vegas in the crease as the Golden Knights feel the pressure to return to the playoffs after last season’s first miss in team history.
Washington Capitals: Who steps up in place of injured Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom?
The East’s eighth playoff team from last season did upgrade in net with Darcy Kuemper, but are going to start off with two other big holes in the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom is still on an indefinite timeline, while Wilson will miss the first couple months of the season at least. Even without those two, though, there is a full lineup of players on one-way contracts, so it’s not so much a question of who will make the team, but how the coaching staff organizes it all in the absence of these two.
Winnipeg Jets: Can they start generating some positive momentum early?
The Jets disappointingly missed the playoffs last season, and that probably wasn’t the worst thing to happen to them. It certainly wasn’t the only negative thing. Both Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele were wishy-washy about their futures, and in the week before camp Blake Wheeler was removed from the captaincy. They are counting on some younger players to push for roles and are building from within. At the same time, a new coaching staff under Rick Bowness is likely to bring a different approach on and off the ice. Will all this make for a grinding season, or can we get a breath of fresh air here and some positive momentum in the pre-season?