James O'Brien

Vitaly Vishnevski skates with the puck
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Ducks invite Brookbank, Vishnevski(!) to camp

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Sometimes a training camp long-shot can be a great story, especially when an inclusion comes from left field.

In the case of Vitaly Vishnevski (pictured) taking part in Anaheim Ducks’ training camp – in 2015 – it’s more like an invitation that came from outside the ballpark.

He’s one of two veteran defensemen of note who will try to turn heads this pre-season alongside Sheldon Brookbank (who one would assume has a much better chance to make an impact). You can check out the Ducks’ full camp roster here.

It’s really one of those double-take moments that can be refreshing as hockey season is still a few weeks away.

Dreger: Kane likely to be at Blackhawks camp

Patrick Kane
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Patrick Kane‘s longer term future is still unclear, but it sounds like he will attend Chicago Blackhawks training camp.

Darren Dreger said as much during the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading on Monday, noting that Kane hasn’t been charged with a crime and that there’s no “logistical” reason for him to be withheld from training camp.

That said, Dreger also stated that we should know for sure in the next 24-48 hours.

It’s unclear when there will be a resolution regarding Kane’s alleged rape investigation, although a postponed grand jury process is expected to resume “soon.”

Naturally, nothing is official at this point:

‘Build the Thunder’ – Bolts’ $6M youth hockey plan

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two
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Apparently you need to hand out a ton of hockey sticks to “Build the Thunder.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced their plan to “grow the game of hockey and teach life skills lessons to Tampa Bay’s young people” on Monday. The franchise is investing more than $6 million during a five-year span in conjunction with the NHL and NHLPA.

Some of the numbers being thrown around are pretty impressive, as the Lightning shared in their release:

• Equip the Thunder – distributing 100,000 street hockey sticks and balls to third through fifth graders through an extensive school outreach program
• Train the Thunder – offering 10,000 hours of progressive training opportunities for players and coaches
• Develop the Thunder – increasing the number of youth players (7-13 year olds) registered with USA Hockey in the Tampa Bay area by 1,000
• Guide the Thunder – utilizing Lightning players, coaches and alumni as life skills mentors to identify and work with 100 at-risk youth from diverse backgrounds
• Create the Thunder – establishing 10 junior varsity hockey programs for aspiring high school hockey players

Pretty cool stuff. There are already some efforts involving Lightning players sharing the game with children:

Both Florida NHL franchises are trying to grow their audiences (and general awareness of the sport) in ambitious and interesting ways, as the Panthers took hockey overseas to the Dominican Republic last week.

Report: Franzen cleared to play for Detroit

Johan Franzen
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“The Mule” might not be put out to pasture just yet.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press that Johan Franzen has been cleared to play after significant struggles with head injuries.

Getting the 35-year-old forward back would be quite the bonus for Detroit, at least if he looks anything like the once-dominant force he was before injuries really derailed his career.

That’s what Franzen is aiming for, even if his comments seemed a touch on the grim side.

“I really want to play some good hockey,” Franzen said. “I haven’t been able to get in a good season in a few years. I feel like I want to end it on my own terms.”

If there’s been one unexpected benefit for hockey fans as Franzen was sidelined with concussion issues that got downright scary, it’s the sense of humor he displayed on his Instagram account.

One of the highlights of his offerings makes you wonder: maybe he’ll be revitalized by Detroit’s big change behind the bench?

Request to Jeff Blashill: banning Franzen from social media would cost you some clout with fans. Just saying.

Skjei sets sights on roster spot with Rangers

2015 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional
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The deck is stacked against Brady Skjei cracking the New York Rangers’ lineup for more than a few games in 2015-16, except for one overriding factor: they want to win now.

With that in mind, he might just have a shot. Maybe.

Seriously though, it will be an uphill battle

On paper, it seems a bit foolish to picture the 21-year-old making it, even as a seventh defenseman.

The Rangers already boast seven blueliners under contract, and that’s assuming that Brett Bellemore cannot convert his PTO into a full contract.

Most teams would require nothing short of brilliance for Skjei to make it, but again, the Rangers are in a position where they might just let the best men win.

Boiling it down

Ultimately, that could mean cutting their losses with someone like Dan Boyle.

Injuries were a problem for the 39-year-old last season, but you know things went poorly when Blueshirt Banter seemed generous in giving him a “C” grade for 2014-15.

It’s tough to bury Boyle and his $4.5 million cap hit on the bench, yet it’s not outside the realm of reason … especially considering the comparison he inspired from Mike Reilly (who’s trying to make a leap of his own with Minnesota):

“Brady has really grown a lot the past three years at [Minnesota],” Reilly told NHL.com. “He’s a great skater, one of the best I’ve ever seen in college. He’s strong, put on some good weight, and he’s very agile. His stick skills are getting better and I think that’s an underrated part of his game. One player I’d compare him to is Ryan McDonagh in the way he plays and leads. Brady is going to have a great career.”

Skjei boasts the right size and speed to fit right into what Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is looking for, maybe making him a better option than the likes of Bellmore, Boyle or Raphael Diaz.

It would be foolish to pronounce him as a favorite to do so (or to try to pronounce his last name in general), yet he’s a player to watch during training camp.