NHL training camps are currently in full swing. That means projected line combinations, battles for spots and injuries are at the forefront of news right now. This week's edition of In the Crease will take a look at some intriguing developments.
Goalie Jonas Hiller
is expected to get clearance to start in net and after missing most of the second half of last season due to vertigo. His performance will be closely watched. On the injury front, Matt Beleskey
has been slowed at camp by shoulder surgery that he underwent in May and he didn't play in either of the team's first two pre-season contests. He may not be available for the start of the regular season. Andrew Cogliano
skated with Teemu Selanne
and Saku Koivu
in his exhibition debut with the Ducks on Tuesday, posting a goal and an assist.
BOSTON BRUINS Tuukka Rask
was solid in his pre-season debut on Wednesday night against Ottawa. He made 34 saves on 36 shots in a 2-1 OT loss. Rask is expected to play more often this season despite the fact that he will enter the year as Tim Thomas
' backup. Tyler Seguin
created some buzz by playing center early in camp, but he also has a shot to line up at right wing on the B's second unit with Patrice Bergeron
and Brad Marchand
The Buffalo defense corps has a number of players vying for two spots in the top six group. Marc-Andre Gragnani
, Andrej Sekera
, Mike Weber
and Shaone Morrison need strong camps to play their way onto the Sabres. Ville Leino
began camp on Buffalo's second line between Tyler Ennis
and Drew Stafford
, which could be an interesting combination if they can click.
Captain Jarome Iginla
has been hampered by back spasms since camp opened, but he doesn't expect to be out much longer. With Daymond Langkow
traded to Phoenix and Brendan Morrison
recovering from knee surgery, Mikael Backlund
has a shot to center Calgary's top line at the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign alongside Iginla and Alex Tanguay
The Hurricanes may feature Eric Staal
between Alexei Ponikarovsky
and Jussi Jokinen
as their top line and Tuomo Ruutu
centering Jeff Skinner
and Anthony Stewart
at the outset of this season. Canes' defensive prospects Ryan Murphy
and Justin Faulk
are still at camp and are in the running for a spot on the blueline.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS Patrick Sharp
had an emergency appendectomy on September 19th and he is hoping to be ready for the regular season opener on October 7th. Ray Emery
and Alexander Salak
haven't gained any ground on each other yet in the battle to be Corey Crawford
COLORADO AVALANCHE Joakim Lindstrom
has reportedly caused a stir at camp by playing well with Paul Stastny
and David Jones
. The trio has impressed with their cycle game, which could bode well for Lindstrom on opening night if he can lock down that position in the lineup. As a result, Gabriel Landeskog
has been pushed down to the third line with center Ryan O'Reilly
and left wing T.J. Galiardi
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Columbus lost Mark Dekanich
, who was projected to be their backup goalie this season, to a high-ankle sprain in the opening period of their first pre-season contest. Curtis Sanford
will probably be called on to be Steve Mason
's number two option in his place. Vaclav Prospal
should be productive this season on the Jackets' top line with Jeff Carter
and Rick Nash
after suffering through an injury-plagued campaign in 2010-11 with the Rangers.
Captain Brenden Morrow
tweaked his knee and hurt a finger on Tuesday in pre-season play, while Stephane Robidas
is being brought along slowly after undergoing major hip surgery in April. The Stars are expected to err on the side of caution with both players for the remainder of the exhibition schedule. Sheldon Souray
could be a solid sleeper this campaign if he can stay healthy and get an opportunity to play on the Stars' top power-play unit.
DETROIT RED WINGS Niklas Kronwall
is being looked at to elevate his game in 2011-12 with Brian Rafalski
's retirement. He should see more power-play minutes and is playing for a long-term contract with the Red Wings. Todd Bertuzzi
opened camp on Detroit's third line with Darren Helm
and Justin Abdelkader
, which is a different role than he is accustomed to but it makes perfect sense at this point in his career.
The Oilers will give first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
a long look during camp to see if he has what it takes to be an NHLer right after being drafted. Tough guy Ben Eager
is suffering from a concussion and whiplash after colliding with rookie defender Kirill Tulupov
at practice on Sunday. He passed his baseline test though and is expected to miss at least one week. Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) and Ryan Whitney
(foot) are also being brought along slowly at camp due to injuries.
The Panthers are getting great performances from their deep prospect pool at camp, with forward Jonathan Huberdeau
, defenseman Erik Gudbranson
and goaltender Jacob Markstrom
taking turns impressing the team's brass. Kris Versteeg
hasn't seen any preseason action yet because he is still recuperating from double sports hernia surgery in May.
LOS ANGELES KINGS Drew Doughty
's sticky contract situation with the Kings has been on ongoing story throughout the summer. However, it has reached new levels of frustration for both sides and his potential fantasy owners, with the regular season quickly approaching. The Kings have made their position clear: they don't want to pay him more than what Anze Kopitar
is making and they don't want to trade him, either.
MINNESOTA WILD Mikko Koivu
is expected to play with newcomers Dany Heatley
and Devin Setoguchi
in Friday's exhibition contest against Columbus. Pierre Marc-Bouchard is penciled in to skate alongside Matt Cullen
and Guillaume Latendresse
on the second line once the regular season gets underway.
MONTREAL CANADIENS Andrei Markov
is hoping to be available for the start of the 2011-12 campaign after suffering a setback in his recovery from his surgically repaired knee. He is skating on his own while trying to work himself back into game shape. The good news from Montreal's perspective is that Max Pacioretty
is recovered from a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra in his neck.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS Mike Fisher
hasn't recovered from off-season shoulder surgery as well as he had hoped. He hasn't be cleared for contact yet and might miss the Predators' regular season opener. Blake Geoffrion
is expected to miss two weeks after sustaining a cut to his wrist from an errant skate blade on Monday. Nashville prospects Ryan Ellis
and Craig Smith
have a chance to crack the lineup on opening night.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
With Travis Zajac
sidelined for at least the first month and a half of the 2011-12 season due to a torn left Achilles tendon, the Devils will utilize Patrik Elias
at center with Zach Parise
. Jacob Josefson
has an opportunity to play with Ilya Kovalchuk
. New Jersey bench boss Pete DeBoer wants to improve the team's horrid 28th ranked power play this year and right-handed shots from the point by first-round pick Adam Larsson
or tryout invitee Anton Stralman
could help if they land roster spots following camp.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS Mark Streit
will wear the captaincy for the Islanders this campaign after missing the entire 2010-11 season because of shoulder surgery. He is healthy now and should provide the team with offense from the back end and leadership this year. John Tavares
inked a six-year contract extension worth $33 million with the team last week and he should continue to grow this season.
NEW YORK RANGERS Marc Staal
's post-concussion headaches have kept him out of contact drills, but he is still skating. However, it is unclear if he will see any action in the pre-season or if he will be available for the commencement of the regular season. Wojtek Wolski
may have the inside track for the top-line left winger slot with Brad Richards
and Marian Gaborik
, but he'll have to carry on his solid start to earn the position.
The Senators will ice a young lineup in 2011-12 and it could feature 2011’s sixth overall selection Mika Zibanejad
. The talented Swede is making it difficult for the Sens to return him to Europe with his strong play in the pre-season. On the blueline, Jared Cowen
and David Rundblad
will garner consideration for roster spots on opening night as well. Nikita Filatov
has also enjoyed a solid camp while seeing time with Jason Spezza
and Bobby Butler
The Flyers may go with the trio of Jaromir Jagr
, James van Riemsdyk
and Claude Giroux
when regular season play kicks off on October 6th. Jakub Voracek
appears to be the likely replacement for Leino alongside Daniel Briere
and Scott Hartnell
. Keep an eye out for Zac Rinaldo
this season. He may earn a spot on Philadelphia's fourth line out of camp and has the potential to be the next Daniel Carcillo
PHOENIX COYOTES Kyle Turris
and the Phoenix Coyotes are far apart in contract negotiations and a trade may be the only way for both parties to resolve the matter. Daymond Langkow
will probably start the season on the Coyotes' top line between Shane Doan
and Ray Whitney
, which is a spot that Turris might have had with a new contract in place.
Obviously the health of Sidney Crosby
has been the primary focus of Penguins’ training camp. He has been skating regularly and hasn't shied away from high-traffic areas. Getting clearance for contact shouldn't be too far away now, but his return date is still uncertain.
SAN JOSE SHARKS Antti Niemi
had a cyst removed and it may keep him sidelined for the start of the regular season. The Sharks don't appear to be overly concerned right now, despite Niemi being vague about his status. Joe Pavelski
is projected to play with Joe Thornton
and Patrick Marleau
in 2011-12, while Martin Havlat
will join Logan Couture
and Ryane Clowe
ST. LOUIS BLUES David Perron
won't be ready for the beginning of 2011-12 due to a concussion that has kept him on the shelf since November 4th. David Backes
will wear the "C" this campaign for the Blues after being named the team's 20th captain earlier this month.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING Ryan Shannon
is being viewed as a player with a lot of potential in Tampa Bay after signing with the club this past off-season. Coach Guy Boucher
mentioned that Shannon could open the 2011-12 campaign on the top line with Martin St. Louis
and Steve Stamkos
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS Matthew Lombardi
hasn't received the green light for contact yet from a concussion, but he is making progress. His status for opening night is still cloudy at this time. Tyler Bozak
and Colby Armstrong
have been impressive during the exhibition schedule with three goals and five assists between the two of them in two games.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS Ryan Kesler
(hip) and Mason Raymond
(back) aren't anticipated to be ready for the start of the regular season due to injuries. Dan Hamhuis
is also on the mend from sports hernia surgery, but he should see action in one of the last two pres-eason contests.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS Marcus Johansson
has been skating alongside Alex Ovechkin
at camp with a revolving door of wingers. The duo have played with Mike Knuble
, Troy Brouwer
and Joel Ward
. Nicklas Backstrom
has lined up in the middle of Brooks Laich
and Alexander Semin
. Injury-plagued defender Tom Poti
(groin) failed his physical when camp opened, which will likely pave the way for him to land on the team's long-term injured reserve list. Dennis Wideman
and Mike Green
are fully recovered from their ailments, though, and are ready for 2011-12.
WINNIPEG JETS Mark Scheifele
, the seventh overall pick in 2011, is attracting plenty of attention at Winnipeg's camp for all the right reasons. He performed well in the rookie tournament and has carried that momentum into the pre-season where he tallied two goals and two assists in his debut against Columbus. At the other end of the spectrum, Dustin Byfuglien
’s notoriety stems from legal issues arising out of an arrest for suspicion of boating while under the influence. He will face four charges as a result of the incident, but to his credit he's just trying to stay focused on his performance at camp.