Training Camp Battles: Southeast 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 entries: Northeast Division, Pacific Division, Central Division.

Current entry: Southeast Division

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for studlydudley.jpgAtlanta Thrashers

Contributor: Laura Astorian from Thrashing the Blues.

The battle for who’s going to be the best third liner on the team’s a big one. No, I kid. I kid. The Thrashers are a bit stacked with grinders, and defense… but regardless of who makes the cut there we’re ok. It’ll be goal again – if Pavelec can play consistently like he did at the start of last season, we’ll be solid. Instead I think that we might be relying on Mason to be SuperBeard yet again.

Defense’s under some competition that no one expected. There’s a log jam there now since Buff’s been moved to D, so now the question is about who’ll be our 7th defenseman – Valabik or Kulda? Kulda could play in the NHL this year, and Boris was looking much better last year before his leg exploded.

Our biggest weakness is a lack of a big scorer, though I broke it down the other day on SB Nation Atlanta and realized that scoring in general isn’t an issue – just having that one go-to guy. Honestly, after watching everyone predict the Thrashers’ offense when we had Kovy, maybe not having a big guy isn’t a bad idea.

Not sure about having a player come out of nowhere, but Patrice Cormier’ll come out of camp ready to make an impact. He won’t score a bunch, but he’ll be a solid checker who will intimidate and lead the youth by example – he took charge at prospect camp. Alex Burmistrov could stand a little bit of a chance – the kid is fast and has wonderful aim – but I wonder if he’ll be up to snuff as far as Dudley’s size standards go. He was about 180 at camp, so he needs to add a little bit more.

Thumbnail image for truutu.jpgCarolina Hurricanes

Contributor: Carolyn Christians from Canes Country.

Unlike last preseason, the Carolina Hurricanes depth chart is completely wide open among forwards, with only two of twelve positions etched in stone. Beyond Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter who are locked in as the top two centermen, we have no idea how the lines will be sorted out by the opener in Helsinki. The pressure’s on Coaches Paul Maurice and Ron Francis to find the right mix of wings to complete the top six and optimize the talents of Staal and Sutter. And then finish the job by assembling the bottom six from scratch. GM Jim Rutherford has made it clear that the Canes are in “transition” and going younger. Two familiar 31-year- old veterans, Erik Cole and Sergei Samsonov, are facing contract years. These two wingers, each with up-and-down careers, will be in a battle for top ice time, competing with a hungry pack of youngsters (e.g. Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, shall I go on?) pushing hard to grab their spots. With six pre-season games before heading to Russia, we can expect some entertaining hockey over the next couple weeks.

The most intriguing position battle at camp this year? Easy: Third-line center. The contest seems to be between two rookies, Ohio State’s Zac Dalpe and Cornell’s Riley Nash. Though the consensus is that sniper Jeff Skinner, the Canes 2010 draft 7th overall pick, will be moved to wing “If and When” he joins the fray at the NHL level, I can’t eliminate the possibility he might also stay at center, and compete for the job. Among the veterans, Jussi Jokinen, Patrick
Dwyer or even Tuomo Ruutu’s names have been mentioned. Could AHL All-Star Jon Matsumoto challenge the field at camp, after three full seasons with the Flyers’s affiliate Adirondack Phantoms without a single NHL call-up?

The Canes have a ridiculous number of quality right shooting offensive defensemen (Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, Jamie McBain, and Bobby Sanguinetti), but I’m concerned they’re missing enough back-end muscle to preserve Cam Ward’s view of the action. The only reliable stay- at-home type is Tim Gleason, who, at 27, emerged last season as the team’s heart and-soul (and on occasion, blood-and-guts) strong man. Will the league’s top minute-muncher Joni Pitkanen, known for his stellar, albeit risky, breakout passes, take up some of the slack and be a consistent power in the D-zone? Perhaps big man, and Nic Wallin look-alike, Jay Harrison, hampered by injuries last season, then re-signed to a barebones one-year deal in April, will finally become a NHL force to be reckoned with. My money is on young Brett Carson, who I expect will continue to quietly develop, and will earn a place as a regular in the top-four, with the right size and attitude to get the job the done.

While Rutherford’s preseason stump speech repeatedly suggests there is a roster spot waiting for first round pick Jeff Skinner if he shows he wants it, I expect Skinner will have his 9-game tryout, but beyond that, I’d give him a 60% chance of sticking it out the whole season. What’s the point of rushing?

After the jump, The Litter Box covers the Florida Panthers, Raw Charge forecasts the Lightning and Storming the Crease underlines the Capitals’ biggest battles.

Thumbnail image for vokounstays.jpgFlorida Panthers

Contributor: Donny Rivette from The Litter Box.

Florida is in a rather unique position in that no real “battles” are being waged for an opening day roster spot. Given the large number of new and existing contracts involved, a prospect will really have to knock socks off of GM Dale Tallon and coach Peter DeBoer to earn placement so quickly. Fortunately, the majority of those deals are of the single-year variety: no less than seven veterans – from captain Bryan McCabe to Cory Stillman to Chris Higgins and so on – are staring at unrestricted free agency in 2011, and logic suggests most will be dealt at or before the trade deadline.

The most serious competition probably rests in goal, surprisingly enough. Veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun – still one of the league’s best, and a pending UFA – is secure in his job, at least until the deadline. Florida has a wealth of talent at the position, first and foremost of which is Sweden’s Jacob Markstrom, widely accepted as the best goaltender outside the NHL. Though he’ll start in AHL Rochester, he’s now a trade away from what’s certain to be a long career in the bigs, and few prospects have shown the hunger he has for the starters’ role. Scott Clemmensen has two years remaining on his deal, so barring a bizarro offer thrown Florida’s way, he’s with the organization for that length. And that’s not a bad situation…he’s an older backup with tremendous success as a Devil. Took some time to adjust to the Panthers’ odd All For One and One For Me motto of last year, but when he became comfortable it was lights-out on the competition. Same with his time at the World Championship. Another A-List blue-chipper, Marc Cheverie has a drive similar to Markstrom, which will make life for current Amerks’ goalie Tyler Plante more than interesting. Brian Foster is a bit down the ladder, but owns an impressive resume himself. Long story shortened: All are under contract, and one will be left in the dirt. Florida already loaned out Rochester’s Alex Salak to the SEL, so something has to give.

A glaring weakness is the Panthers players’ lack of familiarity with their own organization. Been a lot of turnover, as Tallon weeded the minors of deadwood and accumulated 13 picks in seven rounds during this summer’s Entry Draft. Such a coup must eventually be balanced for, and the younglings among the ranks have little to no experience working alongside each other, along with a clash of cultures as the “Dale” boys are weaved among the “Keenan/Martin/Sexton” clan. This can be remedied over time, and employing a club liason in the form of ex-Cat captain Brian Skrudland can only improve the working relationships of all involved. Also: we’re talking about 19-year olds; a little slack, please.

Fans are unquestionably hoping to see 2010 3rd overall pick Erik Gudbranson make the club out of camp. Having seen him personally several times in the past week, I’ll stand by the stereotype: dude’s an exceptional specimen of size, strength, and maturity. And a wicked – but effective – mean streak. Does he pull a Kulikov and play himself into the lineup? Perhaps, but Tallon wisely built on defensive depth through the summer just in case the Kingston behemoth isn’t quite ready for prime time, effectively placing promotion in the hands of the 18-year old himself. Not to worry…this kid will be the face of the Panthers for a decade.

Thumbnail image for simongagne6.jpgTampa Bay Lightning

Contributor: John Fontana from Raw Charge.

Key position battle: Lower line wings

With the grand revamping of the Lightning this offseason – additions of Simon Gagne, Dan Ellis, and Pavel Kubina among others – there are still things yet to be settled on the Lightning roster. While the high-profile battle may be on goaltending, or the absolute makeup of the Lightning defense (which will have eight players carried on the roster), the clear battle is in the makeup of the bottom six forwards – specifically on the wings.

While the Bolts should be set with their third and fourth line centers (Dominic Moore and Nate Thompson), the question needs to be asked just who plays next to them? A total of eight forwards (Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergenheim, Chris Durno, Adam Hall, Eric Perrin, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, along with European imports Johan Harju and Niklas Persson) are in a battle for what will likely be four rosters spots. This doesn’t include on-the-cusp prospects (Ashton Carter, Dana Tyrell) or longtime organizational depth (Paul Szczechura, Blair Jones) who will also be in camp.

Who, of these names, fits best alongside Moore and Thompson is anyone’s guess. Settling these lower line slots is the first challenge of Guy Boucher’s coaching career in Tampa.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for georgemcpheecapsgm.jpgWashington Capitals

Contributor: Rob Yunich from Storming the Crease.

The Washington Capitals, after a first-round exit that followed a President’s Trophy-winning regular season, hardly made any changes. The biggest question mark is the center position on the second and third line. Otherwise, Mathieu Perrault and Tomas Fleischmann seem to be the favorites to fill those roles, with uber-rookie Marcus Johansson making a strong push to be occupy a spot on the opening night roster.

On defense, the other big question mark, the top five spots seem to belong to Tom Poti, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. John Erskine and Tyler Sloan have contracts for this season, but they hardly will scare anybody.

GM George McPhee is notoriously tight-lipped, but with many low-priced free agents still out there for the taking, a defenseman might be added with the approximately $5 million of available room under the salary cap (according to Otherwise, the Caps will depend on the roster of the two-time defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears to fill any vacancies.

Note: Rebecca from Japer’s Rink also submitted a Capitals piece, which can be found here.

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    The Buzzer: Fleury worries; Blackhawks eliminated

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    Injury scares

    Let’s hope that Tuesday presents dodged bullets instead of long-lasting injuries.

    • You can read more about Patrik Laine not returning to the Jets’ eventual overtime win against the Kings here. The early word is that it “isn’t sinister,” whatever that means.

    Here is video of the unfortunate moment:

    • The Vegas Golden Knights must hold their breath again with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” took a shot off of his mask and did not return to Vegas’ eventual win against Vancouver. Considering his struggles with concussion issues, this is a big concern.

    For what it’s worth, the team provided no official update, yet similarly to the Jets with Laine, the Golden Knights appear optimistic about Fleury avoided something serious. Either way, it puts a damper on this milestone.

    Elimination updates

    For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Chicago Blackhawks won’t participate in the playoffs.

    Chicago joins the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres as teams with the dreaded “e-” next to their names. The Red Wings postponed that fate by beating Philly. Edmonton delayed their own, too; they match the Blackhawks’ 69 standings points but hold a game in hand.

    So, expect more names to get officially crossed off the list very soon. The Canadiens and Senators also see their days numbered.

    Players of the Night

    • Artemi Panarin is a key figure in the Blue Jackets’ nine-game winning streak (read about how they’ve congested the Metro races in this post). Tuesday served as one of his best nights yet with Columbus, as “The Bread Man” collected a hat trick and also generated an assist. With 68 points on the season, it looks like he’ll hit 70+ points for his third season in a row, meaning he’s done so every year in the NHL. Perhaps he doesn’t need Patrick Kane to produce points, after all?

    • Leon Draisaitl collected a goal and three assists in the Oilers’ surprisingly bombastic 7-3 win against the Hurricanes, which didn’t really require Connor McDavid to dominate (he finished with one assist). Draisaitl’s quietly been showing that, while his contract is expensive, he’s probably the last of the Oilers’ worries.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


    Matt Benning was basically enjoying batting practice during that Oilers win:

    Tremendous pass from Thomas Vanek, who now has eight points in 11 games with Columbus.


    Learn why Alex Ovechkin‘s 602nd goal is his latest milestone here.

    Nathan MacKinnon continues to tear up the NHL, as he’s second in league scoring with 91 points in just 65 games after collecting two assists on Tuesday. It really feels like he’s adding to his Hart Trophy argument every single game.


    Islanders 4, Penguins 1
    Blue Jackets 5, Rangers 3
    Capitals 4, Stars 3
    Oilers 7, Hurricanes 3
    Panthers 7, Senators 2
    Red Wings 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
    Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 3
    Jets 2, Kings 1 (OT)
    Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 1
    Golden Knights 4, Canucks 1
    Sharks 6, Devils 2

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Races heat up between Penguins, Flyers, Blue Jackets


    The Philadelphia Flyers could have sulked after a poor performance from Petr Mrazek – again – halfway through Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

    Instead, they just wouldn’t roll over, putting forth the sort of gutsy effort you’d expect from a team playing in front of Alex Lyon. (Yes, there were bad puns.)

    The Flyers rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 4-3 to grab a standings point in this one, with a memorable 4-4 tally coming when Travis Konecny notched his 20th of 2017-18 in an odd way. The Flyers ended up falling in the shootout as the Red Wings’ 5-4 SO win ended a lengthy skid, but that single point ended up being huge on a busy night in the Metropolitan Division.

    Consider some of the other developments around a division that’s felt up for grabs for a while:

    • In slipping by the Dallas Stars 4-3 in regulation, the Capitals might make the division title a little bit less than “up for grabs.” They now lead the Metro by four points with 91 in 73 games played. Alex Ovechkin scored his 44th goal of the season in this one, moving all alone to 19th all-time in goals, as that was the 602nd of his career.
    • The Pittsburgh Penguins squandered an opportunity to stay within striking distance of the Capitals for first place, and also a chance to create separation between themselves and the hard-charging Blue Jackets and tenacious Flyers. The Islanders handed the Penguins a 4-1 loss.
    • Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets must be considered a serious threat to the Penguins’ second seed, and at least a dark horse candidate to win the Metro.

    In defeating the Rangers 5-3, the Blue Jackets are now on a ridiculous nine-game winning streak. Artemi Panarin‘s quietly impressive 2017-18 season was a little tougher to ignore tonight, as he combined a hat trick with an assist.

    This win and the Penguins’ loss locks the two teams at 87 points. Pittsburgh has a game in hand (73 GP) on Columbus (74) and some other edges, but that race is now very close.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    • Columbus pushed Philadelphia down into the first wild-card spot thanks to Tuesday’s proceedings, but again, getting a point was still huge for Philly. They now have 86 points in 74 games played. That could be crucial in holding off the Devils and Panthers to at least secure a playoff spot. They’re also conceivably a hot streak away from pushing back into the Metro top three, and possibly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage if things go really well.

    Need a visual look at the races? Here’s a rundown:

    METRO 1: Capitals, 91 points, 73 GP, 39 ROW
    METRO 2: Penguins, 87 points, 73 GP, 39 ROW
    METRO 3: CBJ, 87 points, 74 GP, 35 ROW

    WILD1: Flyers, 86 points, 74 GP, 35 ROW
    WILD2: Devils, 82 points, 72 GP, 32 ROW

    Ninth place: Panthers, 7-2 win against the Senators tonight, 81 points, 71 GP, 34 ROW


    As you can see, the races for the second and third Metro spots, along with jostling for the two wild-card seeds, makes for a congested group. The Panthers hold three games in hand on the Flyers and the Devils have two on Philly, so the current buffer could plummet.

    Sure, winning the game would have been better for the Flyers, especially if they could have done it in regulation or during overtime. Considering how glum things looked heading into the second intermission, grabbing a point against Detroit was still important.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Patrik Laine suffers injury blocking shot


    Tuesday wasn’t kind to Patrik Laine. The Winnipeg Jets have to hope that it was bad merely from a short-term perspective.

    One factor that’s probably important to Laine but not as much to the Jets: Alex Ovechkin pulled ahead in the Maurice Richard race, scoring his 44th goal of 2017-18. Laine remains stuck at 43, in part because the stupendous scorer couldn’t play much against the Los Angeles Kings.

    Laine struggled to get off the ice after blocking a shot, as you can see from the video above this post’s headline. The 19-year-old won’t return. To little surprise, there’s no real update beyond that, as the Jets are merely leaving it as a “lower-body injury.”

    The Jets’ next game is against the Ducks on Friday. That gives Winnipeg some time to assess Laine’s injury. The Finnish finisher probably wants to play in as many of the Jets’ remaining nine regular-season games (after tonight) as he can, but the team has to value an elusive playoff run more than anything else.

    This means that Laine’s 15-game point streak comes to an end. That would be noteworthy even out of context, but it’s especially relevant since it concludes the longest run for a teenager.

    Here’s hoping that Laine can return swiftly and keep a great Richard going against Ovechkin and others.

    Update: Some early optimism after the Jets managed a 2-1 overtime win against the Kings:

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Unhappy reunion: Red Wings chase Flyers’ Mrazek


    For a while, it looked like Petr Mrazek would enjoy a strong showing in his return to Detroit against his former teammates in the Red Wings.

    Things went sideways pretty fast, which sadly has been a growing trend for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers goalie. Mrazek was given the hook halfway through Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings after allowing three goals in about four minutes.

    It’s the second time in three games that Mrazek’s been pulled in favor of Alex Lyon. The Flyers now face a 3-1 deficit in the third period; you can see if they manage to rally on NBCSN or via this live stream.

    As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Evgeny Svechnikov’s first NHL goal made it 3-1, and that was the last straw. Mrazek actually made a nice stop earlier in the sequence, yet even then, he looked a bit scrambly before Svechnikov ended up scoring.

    Luke Glendening‘s shorthanded goal had to sting quite a bit, too:

    Dylan Larkin scored the other Detroit goal during that burst, breaking a lengthy scoring slump.

    Coming into Tuesday’s game, Mrazek was already struggling, sporting an unsightly .867 save percentage in March. Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a logical move in acquiring Mrazek from the Red Wings, but it just doesn’t seem to be working out in Philly, at least at the moment.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.