Senators GM Bryan Murray recently warned that Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips hasn’t completely recovered from his back surgery and that there “are some other issues that are going on.” Phillips has gone into detail about the other issue Murray was likely referring to.
Phillips has a small crack in a disc in his back that he sustained during his rehab process. As a result, he won’t be ready for the start of training camp.
“It’s a significant setback and it’s very frustrating,” Phillips told the Ottawa Sun. “The surgery went well and everything on that side was great. I don’t know if it was a complication of the rehab and I’m not 100% sure how it happened.”
This hasn’t changed the fact that the 37-year-old still wants to return to the NHL, although he will have to make sure it wouldn’t impact his quality of life. As it is, his back problems have affected his daily routine.
He is the Senators’ franchise leader in games played with 1,179 and is about to start the second half of his two-year, $5 million deal.
For training camp at least, Dylan Strome might be the most interesting prospect in the league.
Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will inevitably get a lot of attention as the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres respectively are hoping that those potential superstars are able to make a smooth transition to the NHL and lead them out of a rough patch in their history. But the real story for them begins with the regular season as their past accomplishments have all-but guaranteed them roster spots.
Strome is a different case. Taken with the third overall pick in 2015 after McDavid and Eichel, Strome has a ton of upside too and could develop into an elite center, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will spend the season with the Coyotes. He might instead return to the Erie Otters, where he would be the team’s offensive leader as his former teammate, McDavid, obviously isn’t expected to play for them again.
That’s not the path Strome has set for himself though.
“There’s no question that I feel I can be there,” Strome said of the NHL, per NHL.com. “It’s obviously going to be a tough task to get there and it doesn’t happen for too many 18-years-olds, and there’s going to be one [McDavid] who does it this year. I’m hoping I can be that second guy who makes a mark and helps Arizona get back to its winning ways.”
If he does prove in training camp that he’s ready to make the leap, then he would certainly be filling a need for Arizona. While the Coyotes have quite a few promising young forward outside of Strome, they’re also coming off of a campaign where they were the second worst team offensively.
In Toronto, the focus is on the future after a summer of major changes, including trading Phil Kessel, marked the start of a new era that will require a building process. Leafs fans might not get as many glimpses of that future this season as the team is projected to still feature a prominently veteran cast, but one exception to that might be Kasperi Kapanen.
The 19-year-old forward was the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ package to pry Kessel away from Toronto, so it would certainly be a nice storyline if he establishes himself with the Maple Leafs this season.
“I was so close last year, and now I feel a lot better,” Kapanen told the Toronto Star. “I know what training camp is all about now.
He added, “I’m going to do everything I can to try to earn a spot. I know I’ll have a lot of good years with this team. I’m excited for the future.”
Kapanen had 11 goals and 21 points in 41 games with KalPa of the Finnish league last season. He does have some North American experience as he wrapped up the 2014-15 campaign with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring three goals and five points in seven playoff contests. Even still, he might benefit from spending more time adjusting to North American hockey and honing his skills in the minors.
Toronto has 14 forwards inked to one-way contracts, although that includes Nathan Horton, who will probably spend the season on the long-term injured reserve list. In addition to those forwards though, the Maple Leafs have quite a few prospects that will be fighting for roster spots including Kapanen, Casey Bailey, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
That volume of competition should turn this into an interesting preseason for Toronto.