Training Camp Battles: Pacific Division

With training camps starting late this week or early next, we at Pro Hockey Talk couldn’t help but wonder: what are the biggest position battles going in? To give you the most specific answers possible, we asked team bloggers to give their take. After all, these men and women follow their teams almost as much as general managers, so they would know better than us.

(Actually, some of them might watch their teams more closely than GMs, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Previous entry: Northeast Division

Current Entry: Pacific Division

luboducks.jpgAnaheim Ducks

Contributor: Earl Sleek from Battle of California.

For the Anaheim Ducks, the biggest questions that will be resolved during training camp will revolve around the defense. Which six players will man the blueline on opening night, and how well can they realistically perform? Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, and Andy Sutton appear safely penciled in the top six, but beyond that it’s a mixed bag of possibility. Sheldon Brookbank played a consistent game for Anaheim last year, Luca Sbisa seems ready for full-time NHL action, Brett Festerling and Brendan Mikkelson have gotten a fair taste of NHL action, Danny Syvret was brought in for depth, Mark Mitera is another year older, Cam Fowler keeps impressing observers, Jake Newton and Mat Clark had solid outings in the recent rookie tournament, and there’s even rumors that the Ducks will sign Paul Mara. (Editor’s note: it seems like it might happen, but isn’t official yet as far as I know.) There’s a load of individual gambles being taken, it seems, but that’s probably a good thing — so long as a couple of them pan out, it could mean the Ducks are in good shape.

I could venture some guesses as to who takes these available jobs in training camp, but it’s not going to be based on very much personal observation, because most of these defensemen played most of last season outside Anaheim. Brookbank played 66 games for the Ducks last season, Festerling played 42, Mikkelson played 28, Visnovsky played 16, Sbisa played 8, and that’s it — there will be a lot of new faces this coming season for sure. Hopefully Anaheim’s training camp and preseason will give the coaching staff ample opportunity to figure out what the best mix will be. I know I’m anxious to see the outcome.

Thumbnail image for jamesneal18.jpgDallas Stars

Contributor: Brandon Bibb from Defending Big D. (Note: this post follows the format of the e-mail, so it’s a little bit different)

Which position battles on the Stars’ depth chart:

* Are most crucial to the team’s success.

Without question, left wing. James Neal, who presently remains unsigned with the opening of training camp nigh upon us, scored 24 goals before the Olympic break in February. After the Olympic break, he only scored three goals. And he’s got Jamie Benn pushing him for a spot on the top line right behind him.

And lest we forget Jonathan Cheechoo, who’s gone from being a key piece going back the other way in the Dany Heatley trade to a non-roster training camp invitee in the span of 12 months. Fairly certain he’ll have something to prove. He’s got a really chance to give the Stars the kind of player they thought they were getting when they signed Fabio. I mean, Fabian Brunnstrom (also affectionately known over at DBD as “Bunny”).

* Are under the greatest amount of competition.

Even with the departure of Mike Modano, there’s still plenty of competition down the middle for the Stars. That will remain so after Joe Nieuwendyk told Mike Ribeiro that he won’t be moved any time soon.

Obviously, Brad Richards is going to be the top center. And you have to figure Ribeiro will be a solid #2. But down the line, you’ve got Steve Ott, Toby Petersen, and Tom Wandell fighting for ice time. Whoever loses out on that 4th center position is still versatile enough to plug into a wing position, obviously.

But Wandell surprised some people with his play last year and was one of the key cogs in the penalty kill before he went down in Vancouver with a season ending knee injury. If he can get back to that level for training camp, it’ll be interesting to see how he competes with Petersen.

* Qualify as the Stars’ biggest weaknesses (or strengths, if your team has an excessive amount of offensive defensemen/defensive forwards/etc.)

No question, it’s on the blue line as Stephane Robidas is probably considered the number one defenseman on this team. Not disrespect to Robidas as he’s the kind of player whose work ethic could be a benefit to any of the other dressing rooms in the NHL. Not to mention, he’s got the most resilient face in the league. But when he’s your # 1 guy on defense, you’ve got serious depth issues. And for the cash-strapped Stars, that issue won’t be resolved until the team gets sold and a new owner uses the extra salary and gobs of cap space to trade for a true # 1 defenseman.

* Any other interesting battles that come to mind.

In season’s past, James Neal and Jamie Benn made such big impacts in training camp that the Stars had no choice but to move them up to the big club. I think the odds of that happening this year aren’t as good.

Still, keep an eye on Danish defenseman Phillip Larsen. During the Traverse City Tournament this week, he was clearly one of the best defensemen, if not the best defenseman, that the Stars had going for them up in Michigan. Mark Stepneski of ESPN Dallas made the trip up north and had this to say about Larsen after the Stars beat the Blues 4-1:

“He looked in command while running the Stars power play from the point. I thought he got targeted with some physical play in both games and never backed down. I think he caught the eyes of a lot of people on Sunday. He was that good.”

Larsen’s only has one season of SEL experience under his belt. But as Patrick Iversen pointed out the other day, he’s the kind of guy who could really push Matt Niskanen and give him a run for his money for his roster spot.

Besides the blue line, also keep on eye on the backup goaltender position. While I think this position is relatively secure in the hands of veteran Andrew Raycroft, whom the Stars signed in the offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if Richard Bachman or Tyler Beskorowany push him a little bit for the job.

After the jump, The Royal Half shares the LA Kings battles, Five for Howling discusses the Coyotes and Fear the Fin snags the Shark bait.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jonathanberniergoalie.jpgLos Angeles Kings

Contributor: “Chris Kontos” from The Royal Half.

After a successful 101 point season and making it into the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, the Los Angeles Kings head into training camp with only one major position battle… who the heck is going to score besides Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth?

You can talk about which rookie is going to make which bottom 2 lines  … or the fact that Goalie WunderkidTM Jon Bernier is going to steal the #1 goalie spot from American GoofballTM, Jon Quick … but the real battle heading into training camp for the Kings is secondary scoring. When healthy last year, the 1st line of Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams was among the league’s best. But beyond that … yikes. After Kopitar’s 81 points, Sophomore Phenom, Drew Doughty, was second in scoring with 59 points. So unless Coach Murray plans to double shift Doughty at the #1 defense pair as well as 2nd line center … the Kings secondary scoring is in rough shape.

The real problem is that the Kings have a decent 1st line, and 2 really-really good 3rd lines. Many teams would love to have Jarret Stoll or Michal Handzus center their 3rd lines… but the Kings problem is that they have both. Neither one is a true 2nd line center and the only other choice is Brad Richardson, a guy who had a career year last season … with 27 points. Sure there is a chance that rookies Brayden Schenn or Andrei Loktionov may sneak into that 2nd line center spot… but even then their wingers are going to be Dustin Brown and Scott Parse. Not exactly a 2nd line on par with the league’s best.

Apparently the Kings attempted to make a move for a high scoring left wing during the summer that could have helped with secondary scoring, but instead got Alexei Ponikarovsky … a guy who made Sydney Crosby yearn for the days of Petr Sykora at his side. Maybe with the defense corps that GM Dean Lombardi has built, the Los Angeles Kings won’t need much scoring and can win a bunch of 2-1 games. But until the Kings can make some sort of upgrade via trade (since no player of any substance seems to want to sign as a free agent in Los Angeles) the coaches and management will have to look their fans in the eyes with a straight face and say “yes, we do think Scott Parse is a legitimate 2nd line winger.”

bryzgalovandtheyotes.jpgPhoenix Coyotes

Contributor: Travis Hair from Five for Howling.

For the Coyotes, the biggest position battle will be on defense. The team currently only has 5 NHL defensemen ready to play with Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Keith Yandle, Sami Lepisto and Derek Morris ready to go. Kurt Sauer is still out indefinitely with some neurological/balance issue that can’t seem to get fixed so there’s a spot open and a backup slot as well. There are a lot of talented kids looking to break in with first round picks Oliver Ekman-Larsson Brandon Gormly and Chris Summers along with Maxim Goncharov all looking good in rookie camp. The team also invited Shane Hnidy just in case the kids can’t fill the gap. This could be the weak spot if no one steps up big to fill the skates and minutes of Zbynek Michalek who left for a payday in Pittsburgh over the summer.

At the forward positions, there isn’t as much competition. The Coyotes filled a weakness in center depth by signing Eric Belanger which will increase competition for a prospect like Kyle Turris to break into the lineup. Wingers Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov will also need to have a great camp as the majority of the forward positions are locked up with 10 not moving and the other 2 tentatively taken. Basically, they need to show that they can put in the work and make plays at the NHL level because bringing them up to sit in the press box more nights than not won’t help anyone.

In goal there is no competition. Ilya Bryzgalov with Jason LaBarbara giving him a breather once in a while.

youngsharksferrandfrazen.jpgSan Jose Sharks

Contributor: Mr. Plank from Fear the Fin.

The Sharks come into camp with seven NHL defenseman under contract, making a battle for a spot much more difficult for players such as Derek Joslin, Matt Irwin, and Mike Moore (the three likely candidates looking to make the team straight out camp). In the event one of them impresses the coaching staff, it’s a possibility they start the year in San Jose, but with the number of bodies already available at that position, I’d put it down as an unlikely occurrence. A call-up during the middle of the year seems like the most likely route, and will definitely occur if any one of the Sharks current blueliners go down for a substantial amount of time with an injury.

At forward, it’s an entirely different story. San Jose boasts a top-six cast that won’t be challenged by any of the prospects looking to make the team, but the lower two lines definitely have a large amount of openings that are up for grabs. Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, and Scott Nichol are all but locks to make the opening night lineup, meaning there are two forward slots who could be filled by any one of the numerous prospects in the system.

Benn Ferriero, who was a standout player in the AHL, likely has a leg up considering he started the year in San Jose last season. His ability to add scoring pop would be a welcome addition to the third line of McGinn and Couture, especially when one considers they played on the same line together with the Worcester Sharks– the chemistry is already there. Frazer McLaren, who also saw 23 games in San Jose during 09-10, would serve the enforcer role admirably, something that the Sharks lack considering Jody Shelley’s and Brad Staubitz’s departures. After that you run into players general manager Doug Wilson has touted as individuals to look out for– Cam MacIntyre, Tommy Wingels, and others have all been mentioned throughout the offseason. It will definitely be the most competitive position on the ice, and there’s a distinct chance a dark horse rolls out of nowhere and surprises a lot of people (Benn Ferriero last season interestingly enough).

All in all, keep a keen eye on the forward group during training camp. It’s the one with the most spots available and, as is usually the case in matters such as these, should provide for some excellent competition.

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    Capitals have big plans for Dmitry Orlov, but there is just one problem . . .

    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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    Dmitry Orlov is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

    A restricted free agent, the 25-year-old defenseman had eight goals and 29 points last season, while making $2.25 million in salary for the season, as per General Fanager. His previous two-year contract had an annual cap hit of $2 million. But with training camps approaching, he remains unsigned for right now.

    As noted before, there is a cap crunch for the Capitals heading into the new season. Orlov is the only RFA left for the Capitals to re-sign.

    From the Washington Post:

    According to generalfanager.com, Washington has $3.4 million in salary cap space left, but to allow for in-season roster flexibility or a 14th forward, the Capitals have around $2.6 million to devote to re-signing Orlov.

    Still, despite that fact, the Capitals coaching staff has big plans for Orlov for the upcoming season.

    “I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

    “It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”

    Maurice: ‘Zero repercussions’ for Jets prospect Laine following offseason knee surgery

    MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 21: Patrik Laine #29 of Finland looks on against Russia at Ice Palace on May 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Finland defeated Russia 3-1.(Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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    With NHL training camps approaching and the beginning of the World Cup of Hockey next month, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice had some good news to report.

    It appears that forward Patrik Laine, the second overall selection in this year’s draft behind Auston Matthews, is progressing well from the minor knee surgery he underwent following the NHL scouting combine. That same operation kept him off the ice when the Jets held their development camp early in July.

    “He was held out of (Jets) development camp for precautionary reasons, but he’s back to full training and has been for quite some time,” Maurice told NHL.com.

    “There will be zero repercussions moving forward.”

    Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP from earlier this spring, was named to Finland’s World Cup team. The tournament begins Sept. 17. Finland begins the competition the next day against Team North America.

    After an unbelievable 2015-16 season — he was named the Finnish league’s playoff MVP and won gold for Finland at the 2016 world juniors with seven goals and 13 points in seven games — Laine now looks to make the leap to the NHL.

    With his shot and skill — not to mention an entry-level deal with that carries an AAV of $3.575 million, including $2.65 million annually in performance bonuses, as per General Fanager — he’ll be given plenty of opportunities.

    “Patrik is going to be able to do all those things he’s always been able to do,” Maurice continued.

    “How long it takes him to do it, I don’t know, but he’s going to get a chance to play. He fits in to what we’re trying to do as a hockey team, so you’ll live with some mistakes that are youth-generated, but he’s a very special talent and I would not be surprised if he comes in and is able to finish and put up numbers.”

    Capitals coaching staff remains intact, after close calls for Reirden and Lambert

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — After the best regular season in franchise history, the Washington Capitals almost lost two assistant coaches to other NHL teams.

    Todd Reirden was a finalist for the Calgary Flames’ head coaching job and Lane Lambert for the Colorado Avalanche’s. The Flames hired Glen Gulutzan in June, and then after the abrupt resignation of Patrick Roy the Avalanche hired Jared Bednar last week. That left Jack Adams Award-winning coach Barry Trotz’s staff intact for another run at the Stanley Cup.

    Trotz was selfishly glad to still have Reirden and Lambert on the bench, especially considering the Capitals have most of their players back and are again a Cup favorite.

    “You never like to lose high-quality people and coaches, but at the same time these are guys that if they’re not replacing me, they’re replacing someone else in the league,” Trotz said Tuesday. “Both of them were right there in the end. It says a lot about them. It says a lot about our program here in Washington.”

    Reirden and Lambert contributed to and benefited from the Capitals’ success last season, which ended with a second-round loss to the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Reirden comes back for 2016-17 as an associate coach after being given that promotion Monday when the team announced he’ll run training camp while Trotz is on Canada’s staff at the World Cup of Hockey.

    Going through the experience of interviewing is something Reirden believes will help him and Lambert moving forward.

    “We went through those situations, both of us, with different teams, but not for one second was I disappointed about coming back and being a part of this team,” Reirden said. “We’ve invested a lot in the last two years and our growth of our team in two years I think has been outstanding.”

    The success so far has made Reirden and Lambert two of the more sought-after assistants in the NHL. Reirden learned just how competitive the process of earning a head job is and was able to help Lambert through his situation two months later.

    Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a more difficult decision to make on Lambert, too, given that Joe Sakic of the Avalanche asked permission to talk to Lambert a month before the start of camp. Trotz had to come up with four or five potential replacements but agreed that Lambert should get the chance to interview.

    “It might’ve been a different decision if it was the Rangers or someone else calling that you play a lot more,” Trotz said. “But for the most part I think we’ve developed a relationship with our staff that if you get an opportunity to move up, we want to give you that opportunity.”

    Next year one if not both will be in the mix for vacancies and likely gone. Players understand that’s part of the business

    “Todd is certainly on the horizon, I think,” Niskanen said. “He’s probably going to get a chance. Selfishly I was hoping that it waits another season, at least, and I think that’s good for our team, too.”

    The future looks bright in Toronto, but no sense rushing prospect Mitch Marner

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock (R) of the Toronto Maple Leafs talks with Mitchell Marner (L) after being selected fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

    What remains for Mitch Marner to accomplish in junior hockey? What’s the point of another year in the Ontario Hockey League?

    Selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons with the London Knights in the OHL.

    Actually, that’s understating his production. In his draft year, he scored 44 goals and 126 points in 63 regular season games. The following season, he played in six fewer games, with 39 goals and 116 points. He won a Memorial Cup in London this year and was the OHL’s playoff MVP.

    That’s quite a list of accomplishments. However, it’s possible that following Maple Leafs training camp, the highly touted forward prospect could be sent back to junior. After turning 19 years old in May, he’s not yet eligible to play a season in the American Hockey League. So the options for him next season include making the NHL, getting sent back to junior or potentially playing in Europe. According to the Toronto Star, Marner doesn’t seem into the latter option.

    Skill isn’t an issue.

    The more pressing concerns facing Marner are size and strength. He’s listed at five-foot-eleven-inches tall and, as per the Leafs, 160 pounds. There were reports this summer Marner tipped the scales at 163 pounds.

    The Maple Leafs continue through their rebuild.

    Retaining the No. 1 overall pick that turned into Auston Matthews (he’s Under Pressure) is a boon for the task the Maple Leafs are currently undertaking. They also have forward William Nylander, who had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the big club last season.

    Head coach Mike Babcock told TSN that Marner has a “good chance” of making the Maple Leafs roster this upcoming season. The big focus, the coach continued, isn’t so much about putting on weight, but getting stronger.

    “I want to make sure I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard, and make sure I can go out there and do the things that I like to do,” Marner said earlier this summer.

    The speed of today’s game has allowed for smaller players — Johnny Gaudreau, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi to name a few — to excel. This is something Marner himself has pointed out.

    “The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays,” Marner told Sportsnet.

    “It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”

    It’s understandable for Maple Leafs fans to want to see Marner in the NHL as soon as possible.

    With the talent the Maple Leafs have been adding to their system, the future looks bright. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense to rush a player of Marner’s talent into the NHL if his body isn’t physically ready for the demands.

    Canada’s world junior team, which looks to reclaim gold on home ice, would certainly welcome the news.