Tag: training camp battles

Dougie Hamilton

Bruins’ Hamilton among prospects expected to attend training camps


Along with trade talks and hasty free agent signings, one of the big training camp storylines will revolve around the many players hoping to make NHL rosters.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that several “junior-age” hockey players will get a chance to impress their teams in a short window of time. (It begs to mention many of them probably already made that decision.)

Since some have better chances than others and a few still need to be determined, here are three ways to categorize the possible invites:

Likely making the NHL: Dougie Hamilton*

He’s the one player McKenzie singled out as having an especially strong chance to start the season in the NHL. Interestingly, McKenzie also mentions that it’s unclear how games Hamilton can play for the Boston Bruins before it counts as a year against his entry-level contract.

The same question applies to these possible invites, if they make their teams:

Getting an invitation: Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Murphy, Morgan Rielly and Mikhail Grigorenko.

One can only speculate how much of a chance each bright young player has to make it.

Undecided: David Broll, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill, Brett Ritchie, Frank Corrado and Matt Dumba. (Dumba via the Minnesota Tribune’s Michael Russo.)

Teams that already decided not to invite prospects: New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames.

Please note that other prospects could be invited and that any number of factors make this list subject to change. Still, it’s an interesting morsel from McKenzie; which players could make their teams better right away?

* – Yup, he represents a pick involved in the Phil Kessel trade.

Flyers sign first round pick Sean Couturier to entry-level deal


Even with Brayden Schenn coming back to them in the Mike Richards deal, it seemed like the Philadelphia Flyers got rid of a good problem in their abundance of centers with their big moves this summer. It seemed that way, at least, until former odds-on top pick Sean Couturier slid to them at eighth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

The Flyers and Couturier could be an ideal fit, especially since the center expressed a wise willingness to move to the wing if it means getting some immediate NHL playing time. Couturier certainly sports an NHL-ready body (he’s listed at six-foot-four and 200 pounds) and as of today, he now has an NHL contract. The team announced that their first round pick signed an entry-level deal on Wednesday, although the exact financial terms haven’t been revealed just yet.

It’s still up to Couturier and the Flyers’ brass to determine if he’s ready to make the jump. Assessing prospects such as Couturier and Schenn should make an already-interesting preseason that much more intriguing for Philly. If nothing else, Couturier gave himself every opportunity to leapfrog the usual development process by signing an entry-level contract nice and early.

Travis Zajac’s injury could give Jacob Josefson a shot at second line duty

Jacob Josefson

The New Jersey Devils’ offense is about as top-heavy as they come, so when word surfaced that top center Travis Zajac could miss anywhere between three and six months, the uneasy search for answers began.

Early indications point to Patrik Elias being the temporary first line center (a role he has some experience with), but second line center remains a question mark. If the Devils decide to side with familiarity, they might make Dainius Zubrus their second center. There’s a chance that the team might go with upside and a littler mystery, however, in the form of 2009 first round pick Jacob Josefson.

There are some who believe that the Swedish pivot’s development would be better served playing against weaker competition in a third line role, but Josefson lined up with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson during training camp on Sunday. Line combinations change enough during the regular season – let alone the earliest practices of the year – so it’s not safe to assume that Josefson will be a fixture on the second line. That being said, the fight to claim that spot ranks as one of the team’s most interesting training camp storylines.

Kovalchuk played most of last season with Zajac as his center. Josefson, who had three goals and seven assists in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2010-11, knows there is an opportunity there for him.

“Both Kovy and Clarkson are really good players,” he said. “Everybody knows that. I just have to read off of them, so we can we can make some good plays. It’s always fun to play with those kind of players.”

Zajac’s absence has created a sizeable hole for the Devils because he did so many things: top-line center, power play, penalty kill, took pretty much every key faceoff. So, if Josefson, who was drafted 20th overall by the Devils in 2009, is able to take the next step in his development and play significant minutes as a top-six forward and on the power play, that will help the Devils considerably.

“Obviously, he’s one of our key players,” Josefson said of Zajac. “He’s gone now, so that just means that other guys have to step up and play until he’s back. We’re a good team, so everybody has to chip in and play for the team.”

Just one year ago, Josefson was merely fighting for a spot on the team in training camp. Now he’s staring down an opportunity to earn time alongside a $100 million player in Kovalchuk. The Devils traded up in 2009 to make him the 20th pick of that draft, so he’s obviously held in high regard in the franchise. It would be an impressive leap forward if Josefson manages to nail down that second line spot, though.

Can Ales Kotalik force his way into Buffalo’s starting lineup?

Ales Kotalik

The Buffalo Sabres started off training camp in a peculiar and rather odd situation for them. The Sabres were usually good for a few different battles for starting jobs in camp with the exception always being in goal where Ryan Miller is the man. At forward and on defense things would always be a bit more intense. Things at forward this time around are virtually already taken care of.

With camp kicking off in earnest yesterday, the Sabres started things off with 11 of the 12 starting forward spots already spoken for, newly acquired one-time Sabres forward Ales Kotalik is part of a group of four fighting it out for the final spot. While Kotalik was once a useful Sabres forward excelling at adding offense on the power play and being good for 20-25 goals a year, he’s got a lot of competition this time around.

John Vogl of The Buffalo News breaks down the Sabres battle for the 12th man spot in the lineup with Kotalik.

Kotalik, acquired in a trade with Calgary following a season spent mostly injured or in the minors, figures to spend training camp in a four-way competition for a roster spot. With 11 forward spots all but locked up — centers Derek Roy, Ville Leino, Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht; right wings Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes; and left wings Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Vanek — the last remaining starting job could come down to Kotalik, Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis or Luke Adam, with the second-place finisher sticking in a reserve role.

“I’ve got to believe in myself. I hope that I will be on this team and I feel I will do good things for this team,” said Kotalik, who will continue to carry his loss but will also carry on. “You just want to enjoy spending time, having fun, because you never know what can happen.”

One starting spot and one reserve spot should mean that Kotalik has a great shot to at least wind up on the opening night roster. In an ideal non-salary cap world that’s likely that would happen. Unfortunately for Kotalik, his $3 million cap hit this season and the Sabres being over the cap, according to CapGeek.com, by over $3.5 million could be forcing Kotalik to have to be other-worldly in camp to win a spot.

Kotalik is used to this struggle after going through it last season in Calgary. The Flames were hard up against the cap and Kotalik became a cap casualty being sent down to the AHL to get his salary off the books. Injuries helped Kotalik get back to the NHL, but it’s a situation he’d rather not deal with. Unfortunately with this being a cap world, the number crunch could end up working against him again. If it comes down to it, moving Kotalik and his cap hit to the AHL would make the Sabres’ financial decisions easier to make.

Of course, Kotalik can have a say in all this by tapping into how he used to play in Buffalo early on in his career and getting coach Lindy Ruff to believe in him all over again. Buffalo doesn’t have a shortage of offensive weapons in their starting lineup, but if Kotalik and his big shot on the power play can help make them stronger contenders, they’ll find a way to make it work. That amount of work might be too much for Kotalik to do at this point in his career.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showed promise during Young Stars game on Sunday

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

Rookie camps and prospect tournaments provide young players with solid first opportunities to further their causes going into regular training camp, the preseason and maybe even the regular season. When the Edmonton Oilers made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many remarked that the undersized center might need at least one more season at the junior level before he’s ready for the big time.

While RNH is already taking steps to add some weight to his frame (one of the concerns scouts expressed about his NHL-readiness), the best way for him to prove that he’s ready for an immediate jump is to impress the Oilers as much as possible. That’s especially true regarding how he fares against direct competition.

Sunday’s Young Stars game against Vancouver Canucks prospects represented Nugent-Hopkins’ first chance to show his stuff. The Oilers crushed the Canucks 7-2, with the playmaker earning a second assist. Swedish prospect Anton Lander stole the show with two power-play goals, but various onlookers seemed to come away pretty impressed with Nugent-Hopkins.



Going forward, Peter Tessier wrote that Nugent-Hopkins “looks as advertised” while Ryan Classic believes that the rookie showed “incredible passing poise.” Thomas Drance also marveled at his playmaking instincts and said he was “just fun to watch.”

Obviously, one game against mostly non-NHL competition isn’t a proper gauge for Nugent-Hopkins chances of making the team, but it never hurts to show some signs of promise. While Ian Walker’s piece begins with discussion about the fact that Nugent-Hopkins might not look the part, it seems like the Oilers like what they’ve seen so far.

If anything, Nugent-Hopkins is student of the game. His combination of vision, creativity, skating and playmaking ability put him arguably at the top of the class when it comes to the 150 or so other prospects gathered here.

It’s no wonder his potential future Oilers teammates have him penciled in on the second line to start the regular season. “From what I hear from the guys on the team he’s been skating with for the past few weeks, he’s definitely ready to make the jump from junior skill-wise,” said Oilers’ former first overall pick Taylor Hall, who just so happened to use last year’s Young Stars tournament as a springboard to future success. “I haven’t seen him yet, but I guess it’s just amazing with what he can do with the puck. As long as he can handle the expectations, pressure and media, which I have no doubts that he can, he’s going to be fine.”


“I’ll tell you what I told Ryan, this is not a race,” said Tambellini. “We want training camp to be a learning experience and for him to just be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nothing more, nothing less. If he plays this year great. If he goes back to Red Deer, that’s also great.”

My instinct is usually to lean toward allowing players as much time to mature as possible, especially since dirt-cheap entry-level years can really benefit teams in the salary cap era. Why waste one of those precious bargain years if that player isn’t ready yet? (That being said, it’s pretty tough to argue with the results that Jeff Skinner produced right out of the gate in his Calder Trophy 2010-11 season.)

It should be interesting to watch Nugent-Hopkins’ ups and downs as he tries to make the Oilers roster out of training camp. The adept passer will get his next chance to “Wow” the Oilers’ brass on Tuesday, when Edmonton’s prospects takes on Winnipeg Jets youngsters. We’ll keep you updated about his progress, especially during key moments in training camp and the preseason.