Training Camp Battles: Atlantic Division

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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, Southeast Division.

Current entry: Atlantic Division

Thumbnail image for patrickelias1.jpgNew Jersey Devils

Contributor: Chris Wassel from The Program

Which position battles are most crucial to New Jersey’s success?

Oddly enough there could be battles at Left Wing, Center, and Right Wing. The Devils have a bit of excess in riches going into this season on offense. Also coach, John MacLean has made it clear he is willing to experiment with players out of position a bit. Already Patrik Elias has been tested at Left Wing and even Right Wing. This means that the bottom six positions are wide open for a bevy of players. Depending on who is left after trades, a guy like Adam Henrique could find himself on the squad as a 4th line center with some scoring touch. His battle with 2009 1st round pick Jacob Josefson has the potential to be the highlight of camp. Also, the third line battle for RW between Dainius Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby (2008 1st round pick) could be very intriguing. These two positions are ones most crucial to the team’s success and also happen to be the greatest source of competition as well.

What Are New Jersey’s Biggest Strengths And Weaknesses?

Well to be honest, they have a quite a few forwards who can put up some points. That is the team’s biggest strength. There is some balance on this squad with the addition of Jason Arnott and the resigning of Ilya Kovalchuk. If guys like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner can lift their games a hair, the Devils could be very proficient offensively. The potential big weakness could be the lack of a true, speedy puck moving defenseman. Andy Greene is steady and can score some but he is far from the most swift. Another potential weakness of this team could be age as the Devils rank once again in the Top 5 in terms of age. That could have an affect later in the season on the team and may explain the early playoff exits somewhat.

Who could come out of nowhere to surprise and maybe make camp more interesting?

Look for the tryouts to spice things up a bit. Adam Mair and Marcus Nilsson could make a potential 4th liner’s job very uncomfortable. If Vladamir Zharkov can find his scoring touch, then it could be another surprise battle for that 4th line Right Wing spot. However, if a few trades are made, then some of these battles are quite honestly moot. The surprise of camp could be Adam Henrique, who has the potential to be a perfect two way player for the New Jersey Devils with a little more scoring touch than Jacob Josefson. Needless to say, the Devils will not have to look outside the organization for any positional players for a change unless some defensemen are moved but that is another story.

(Note: John Fischer of In Lou We Trust also wrote a post on this subject.)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mattmoulsonscores.jpgNew York Islanders

Contributor: Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey.

Most congested battle: On defense, the Isles have eight NHLers on one-way contracts, with a couple of promising prospects pushing from the rear. If the physical Travis Hamonic or the cagey puck-moving Calvin de Haan are somehow lights-out at camp, then a veteran like Bruno Gervais or Milan Jurcina might get squeezed. Andrew MacDonald is still waiver exempt though, so despite his promising rookie year he could always be a roster-management casualty.

Most interesting and wide-open battle: At left wing, Matt Moulson is a lock to try to prove 30 goals was no Rob Brown Incident. If the Islanders stand pat at center with John Tavares-Frans Nielsen-Rob Schremp-Zenon Konopka, then Doug Weight remains a winger and Josh Bailey (who was drafted as a center) gets more time there before returning to his natural position. That leaves a wide-open battle among veteran Jon Sim (re-signed to a two-way deal), enforcer Trevor Gillies, big-bodied AHL prospects Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu, and last summer’s 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter. Of the Islanders’ three previous top-ten picks, two made the team during their draft year and one was pulled from college early, so it would not be a shock to see Nino stick with the team past nine games.

Most Father Time vs. Human Will-like battle: In goal is incumbent starter Dwayne Roloson, who turns 41 in October, and incumbent IR resident Rick DiPietro, who is said to be fully healthy after yet another knee setback late last season. (Sound familiar?) If Nature decides the body of either man shall hold up no more, the Isles have prospects Nathan Lawson and Mikko Koskinen ready to step in from AHL Bridgeport.

After the jump, we have Scotty Hockey’s take on the Rangers, Flyers Goal Scored By throwing logic batteries at Philly and an entry from the Pensblog that is no joke.


Thumbnail image for seanaveryagitates.jpgNew York Rangers

Contributor: Scotty Hockey.

It is a difficult topic to discuss – the position battles on the Rangers depth chart. Glen Sather’s actions have rendered John Tortorella’s words seemingly baseless. He spoke of making room for the Future Blue but Glen went out and added Alex Frolov, Todd White, Tim Kennedy and Steve Eminger. And you can’t forget the camp invites he extended to Ruslan Fedotenko, Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.

All of that leaves two big battles that I will be watching.

1 – Sean Avery vs. the world. Avery needs to play with the edge he had before Tortorella’s castration during the DC series in 2009. He regained a bit of it near the end of last season but he was injured right when they needed him most. And now Sather has brought in Torts’ Tampa crutch Fedotenko so the pressure really is on Avery. Everyone outside of NY may hate him – Tortorella may very well hate him too – but when Avery is Avery, the Rangers are winners. As an well-acknowledged fanboy, I’m pulling for him.

2 – Defense. The top four spots are filled with Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Michal Rozsival, and Marc Staal. That leaves three openings, as it appears the team is willing to look at carrying a seventh defenseman. So who gets them? Eminger, Exelby and Semenov will be going against Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh and Wade Redden … yes, Wade Redden. Everyone sees his banishment a foregone conclusion but I wouldn’t put it past the Blueshirts to keep him around if he shows even the smallest signs of skill. That being said, I see Gilroy and Eminger getting the five and six spots initially with Exelby getting seven and McDonagh being the first call-up the second Gilroy falters for the first time.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jeff carter.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers

Contributor: Flyers Goal Scored By.

Position battles that are most crucial to your team’s success.

This is at first going to come off as conceited, but then as conceited. We have 5 centers already blooded in on our roster. Baring injury they’ll all be in the lineup. One of them has no choice but to play center (Blair Betts) and the other 4 could be All Stars. No joke. I’m not saying that they’re all going to be, we’re not the Yankees. But if Danny Briere starts off this upcoming season the way he played off (wink emoticon wink!) – All Star. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards obviously could be All Stars. If Claude Giroux plays like all Philly fans and all edumacated hockey analysts think he can he could very well break out this year – in the good way, not the Proactiv way.

The competition to stay in the middle is going to have a huge impact on who starts the season in a position he’s comfortable in versus who starts off on the wing. And who knows how the impact of that decision affects us in the standings when all is said and over.

Positions under the greatest amount of competition.

The Flyers are in a peculiar position, one that most teams would envy. Coming so close to winning the Cup, their depth is virtually intact from last year’s run. The Flyers boast arguably the best defense in the entire league. Pronger and company are basically set at the blueline, but expect a battle for the #6 defensive spot. Up to four guys are fighting for the 5 minutes of ice time left, and some, like the newly acquired Matt Walker, could be a very expensive suit in the press box. I do think at the end of camp it will be Walker who gets inked into the 6th spot, although John LeClair’s stunt double Sean O’Donnell and “Latvian Nightmare” Oskars Bartulis will be pushing everyone to perform at their best.

As far as forwards go, recent developments have raised a lot of questions regarding who will be on the Flyers opening night roster. Ex-Penguin Bill Guerin has been skating at the Flyers Skate Zone for the past month, finally earning a tryout offer… AND a locker next to Jeff Carter(!). Guerin is going to be 40 soon, but those hands are as soft as James von Riemsdyk’s babyface. If Guerin earns a contract look for Bartulis to be sent down and Jody Shelly to be scratched more than poison ivy. For the Flyers, the placement of their talented forwards is where the camp’s competition will play out. This camp will be more about tinkering with the lines and deciding which wingers will play with which of the team’s All Star (yeah, said it again) centers.

Positions that qualify as your team’s biggest weaknesses (or strengths, if your team has an excessive amount of offensive defensemen/defensive forwards/etc.)

People please, this is the Flyers we’re talking about. If there is anywhere you need to look for a weakness it’s between those pipes. Simply go past the Pronger Forest and over the Timonen Mountains. Hang a right at Coburn Point and you’ll see the shantytown known as Flyers Starting Goalie. This year it’s journeyman and recent playoff stud Michael Leighton in net, backed up by perennial backup Brian ‘Backup’ Boucher. Michael Leighton is no Henrik Lundqvist, but what he is is a determined, hard working, meat and potatoes type of goalie. Paul Holmgren has put this club in a position where they’ll live and die by team defense. Playing behind this Flyers back line corps, Leighton will simply need to be good and use the blueliners in front of him to help block shots, clear the zone and keep the crease area full of rumbling bumbling tumble weeds. Still, it’s a dangerous pastime being a Flyers starting goalie..one that claimed Marty Biron, Antero Niittymaki and Ray Emery in the same calendar year. We believe in Leighton, but for how long?

Any other interesting battles that come to mind. Could a player come out of nowhere to make an impact?
Will a savvy veteran need to worry about getting cut for a prospect? Will that first round pick make the big club?

No. Not a chance. We could lose 2 forwards and 2 d-men to a summer bobsledding accident and a young prospect would still not be in uniform to open the Consol Energy Center for Arron Asham and his Penguins fans. Maybe up in the press box if we needed bodies, but there is no prospect that is ready for the NHL, much less to beat out Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski, or David Laliberte on a team that needs to come out of the gates strong.

There’s some talk around Philly of newcomer Mike Testwuide pushing for a spot but the kid only had 31 points in 36 games last year against college kids. And he got a B- in Social Studies, which tells me he’s just not ready. Maybe in January or February if he’s tearing up the A and we need to spice it up a bit, but no chance this Fall.

tylerkennedycamp.jpgPittsburgh Penguins

Contributor: Adam from The Pensblog.

Last season was a great ride, with the Pens bowing out to the Canadiens in seven games. But you can’t win the Stanley Cup every year. It was an exciting year. People want to immediately point to the Penguins’ lack of “wingers for Sid and Malkin” as the glaring weakness for the Pens’ shortcomings last season. The Pens went to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa, two big-name wingers. The Penguins lost in those Finals and then lost both Hossa and Malone in the ensuing offseason. The next year, the Pens won the Cup, essentially replacing Hossa and Malone with Guerin and Kunitz, while Petr Sykora also ended up disappearing. Pens can win without top-flight wingers. They won the Cup in ’09 because their team defense came together and Malkin exploded in the playoffs.

And now, with Pens GM Ray Shero going to town this past offseason in order to solidify the blue line, the battle for spots in the Pens’ top 12 forwards is under the magnifying glass just because nothing else is going on. Shero brought in Arron Asham and Mike Comrie late in the offseason, filling in some holes in the four lines.

Kunitz-Crosby-Comrie
Dupuis-Staal-Malkin
Cooke-Talbot-Kennedy*
Asham-Adams-Rupp

There are the lines for the Pens opening night. The Pens have an army of young and capable forwards waiting…in the wings…in their minor-league system. The arrival of The Big Dog, Eric Tangradi, in Pittsburgh is highly anticipated. If there is one player to watch early on this season, it will be Tyler Kennedy. If he isn’t putting some pucks in, things will get interesting.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).

Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

“For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.

Auston Matthews puts on a show in preseason tilt vs. Habs

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Auston Matthews and William Nylander are showing no signs of any sophomore slump so far through the pre-season.

Matthews had a hat trick and an assist and Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in an NHL preseason game on Monday night.

Matthews scored his first goal of the game 47 seconds into the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya.

Matthews made it 2-0 at 4:56. Nylander’s initial shot went high, and Matthews batted down the rebound and into an open side of the net.

He scored his third goal in the third period. While on a breakaway, Matthews shot the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46.

Matthews has four goals and two assists in three preseason games.

Jeff Petry scored for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.

Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.

Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.

 

Video: Trouba receives match penalty for hit on Flames’ Hrivik

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Tempers flared during the third period of Monday’s preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba received a match penalty for a hit at the blue line on Flames forward Marek Hrivik, leading to a melee along the boards.

Garnet Hathaway took exception to the hit, immediately jumping in and dropping the gloves with Trouba. Hathaway was also assessed an instigator penalty.

The hit occurred just after Hrivik dumped the puck into the Jets zone. Trouba stepped up at the line and delivered the hit, sending Hrivik hard to the ice.

Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice commented on the hit after the game:

The league’s Department of Player Safety has been busy over the past few days, handing out preseason suspensions to Capitals forward Tom Wilson and, on Monday, Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins.