James O'Brien

Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau

Hudler insists he’s no babysitter to young Flames

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At 31, it probably feels weird for Jiri Hudler to be considered a mentor, but that’s been part of his role with the Calgary Flames lately.

Last season, he was the veteran presence on a fantastic line with fresh-faced forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. So far, Hudler’s been skating with another young gun in Sam Bennett.

It sounds like he’s not crazy about being the “old guy,” as he discussed with the Calgary Sun.

“I don’t feel like their babysitter,” Hudler said. “I’m their friend. I’m trying to play my best game. And for them, I want the best they can do.”

The winger also has himself to focus upon.

His $4 million cap hit expires after the 2015-16 season, and with the likes of Monahan and Gaudreau headed for RFA status, he might not necessarily be in it to see the “kids” grow up.

Then again, being a guy who can take young stars under his wing could also be another bullet for his resume.

Babcock’s Leafs projects: Kadri and Bozak

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning

With Phil Kessel out of Toronto, both Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri move up the list of go-to scapegoats for Maple Leafs fans.

New head coach Mike Babcock isn’t piling on, however. Instead, he sounds awfully positive about what Bozak and Kadri are capable of, and that they’re putting in the work to improve.

On Kadri: Babs doesn’t think that a contract year will be an issue for Kadri. Actually, he believes that the 24-year-old will be “a Leaf for a long time.”

On Bozak: Despite the center’s critics, Babcock doesn’t believe that Bozak is carrying “baggage.”

In both cases, Babcock wants more pace and better two-way play (he wants them to be “200-footers,” which evokes Subway party sandwiches).

Check out Babcock’s full comments in the video below:

As you can see from this video, Kadri also speaks about improving his footspeed, along with becoming a “role model” off the ice.

His 2014 off-season focus provided more entertaining video:

Finally, here’s video of Bozak, who’s moving on to life without his old roommate Kessel.

Khokhlachev to Bruins: Give me a chance

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

Training camps can be crossroads, especially for veteran players mulling retirement and prospects who are getting antsy about “making the leap.”

Alex Khokhlachev is in that latter group with the Boston Bruins. You get the impression that he’s going to make noise if it doesn’t work out soon – maybe even next season – based on these quotes from CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty.

“I’ve been waiting two years so [the Bruins] should make a decision: give me a chance [in the NHL] or…I don’t know. We’ll see what they do. I’m not a young guy anymore. I’m 22 already,” Khokhlachev said. “If they don’t give me a chance to play while I’m here…I won’t play in Providence all of my life. I’m still waiting for [my chance].”

(That groan you heard came from readers old enough to cringe at the line “I’m 22 already.”)

It’s been a strange ride for the prospect sometimes conveniently called “Koko.” Back around the 2013 trade deadline, it seemed like Khokhlachev was going to be involved in the Bruins’ eventually aborted Jarome Iginla swap.

The 22-year-old appeared in three games with the Bruins last season (and one in 2013-14), but he didn’t really believe that he received a fair look in that regard.

Khokhlachev also seemed a bit envious of other young players who’ve received the call, noting that they “stepped up.”

Haggerty wonders if he might already be angling for a change:

From the sounds of it, Khokhachev is pining for a fresh start in a different organization and a chance where there are NHL spots readily available. But he won’t have any leverage at all as a player until he finishes out his entry-level contract with Boston, short of picking up and heading back to the KHL and Mother Russia.

Captain clean eating? Dustin Brown’s feeling great

Los Angeles Kings v Calgary Flames

Some summer storylines never seem to go away. Chris Stewart‘s getting it together this season. Jonathan Drouin wants a bigger role with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Perhaps this is a personal thing, but isn’t it odd when news surfaces that a veteran player is finally deciding to “eat right?”

OK, so Mario Lemieux was able to get away with his hamburger and french fry regimen, but he was one of the most gifted hockey humans ever and the fitness requirements weren’t the same when he broke into the NHL. Most can’t get away with things like that, at least not in the long run.

(Even Andrew Hammond would receive criticism for a McNugget-heavy nutrition plan.)

This isn’t to say that Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown hasn’t been taking care of himself over the years, but it’s interesting that he’s emphasized his diet a bit more lately, as Puck Daddy’s Joshua Cooper noted on Friday.

Brown is 30 and has more than 800 regular season games on his resume. You’d think the micromanaging nature of sports would dictate that this change might have happened earlier … then again, the whole “winning two Stanley Cups” thing often eases off scrutiny.

Earlier this month, Brown told LA Kings Insider about hiring a nutritionist to get beyond the “basic” instruction he normally receives.

“I mean we were told what to eat and that sort of thing on a basic level, but when you hire somebody and they know what they’re doing, that’s probably the biggest difference,” Brown said. “I think most guys in here work really hard in the offseason, whether they’re doing their own program, or Matt Price’s program, or whatever program they’re on, they’re working hard at it. I just looked at what I had been doing the last little while – the strength stuff is all very similar – but the one thing I … was uneducated about the nutrition part, so I hired somebody who knows what they’re doing.”

Perhaps the Kings should add “nutritionist” to their list of off-ice focuses, even if that item wouldn’t be a priority.

(Aside: it’s a little disappointing that Brown wasn’t listed in this 2014 Zagat’s article in which Kings players revealed their favorite restaurants.)

Bylsma battles instinct to ‘want to kill’ Kaleta

Carolina Hurricanes v Buffalo Sabres

At least on the ice, Patrick Kaleta is a tough guy to like. That’s basically the point.

Working for the same cause can raise sympathies – getting to know someone often proves that they’re not the “monster” they seem – but it’s understandable when that takes time.

New Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma admits he’s still fighting that feeling with the super-pest, as the Buffalo News’ John Vogl notes.

“I have a hard time not wanting to kill him,” Bylsma said. “I’ve told him that.”

Imagine, for a second, the meetings Bylsma had in which he evaluated players with Ray Shero during those great “24/7” episodes … only this time he’s saying to Tim Murray “well, I want to destroy Kaleta less than usual today.”

All joking aside, it’s refreshing that Byslma acknowledges the disdainful elephant in the room.

One would guess that Raffi Torres took time to gain the respect of his teammates in San Jose, among other situations.

The real question, honestly, is if Kaleta can help Bylsma win. Success has a way of easing certain tensions, after all.