Seven things to watch for in the NHL preseason

Monday, 09.09.2013 / 5:45 PM
Tal Pinchevsky  - NHL.com Staff Writer

With training camps opening across the National Hockey League, every team is a potential Stanley Cup winner and every player is primed for a potential career season. But between new personnel and battles for roster spots, here are some of the main questions fans across the League will be asking.

Who earns the open spot on the Ducks' top line?

When the Anaheim Ducks traded forward Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators during the summer, they opened a spot on the team's top line alongside All-Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. That right wing spot hasn't been filled yet, although coach Bruce Boudreau will have an interesting group to choose from, including 2010 first-round pick Emerson Etem and future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne.

"I thought it was a good move," Getzlaf told NHL.com of the Ryan deal. "We got our kids who played really well last year and got some good experience. We're looking for more things out of them this year."

Who gets the No. 1 goaltending spot in Toronto?

There will be some intriguing goaltending battles in a number of NHL camps, including the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, but the battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs will be one of the fall's best dramas.

James Reimer enjoyed a great season with the resurgent Maple Leafs last season, winning 19 games and posting a .924 save percentage to help the team return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004. But the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings opens what should be a great battle for the No. 1 spot in Toronto.

"There are factors that do take place over the course of the season that do force you to make a change," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "But if you win, you're in."

Can Alain Vigneault open the Rangers' offense?

Despite boasting some of the game's top offensive talent on their roster, the New York Rangers weren't exactly an offensive force under former coach John Tortorella. The team ranked 15th in goals scored last season and 23rd on the power play.

New coach Alain Vigneault spearheaded one of the League's top offenses with the Vancouver Canucks and he'll be expected to find the right forward combinations to bring that scoring touch to his new team.

Can a youth movement turn certain teams around?

Take a look at some of the teams that were on the NHL playoff bubble last season and you'll see clubs that have spent the past few years developing a strong collection of prospects. Some of the teams that did manage to earn a low playoff seed last season, like the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, have some talented kids looking to earn full-time roster spots.

But it's the non-playoff teams from 2012-13 who really could look to turn the team over to their youth. The Winnipeg Jets will look to Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, while the Phoenix Coyotes will give a long look to Chris Brown and Max Domi. But it's the Florida Panthers, who got a Calder Trophy-winning season from Jonathan Huberdeau, who could dedicate the most roster spots to their prospects, a group that could include forwards Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck, and defenseman Alex Petrovic.

How much can Seth Jones bolster Nashville's defense?

The Nashville Predators lost a key piece of their blue line when defenseman Ryan Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in 2012. Shea Weber shouldered much of the load in Suter's absence, but the defense really benefited from the emergence of Roman Josi, who enjoyed a breakout season with 18 points in 48 games.

But the team's defense, long a strong suit of the team, may have turned the corner when Seth Jones fell to Nashville at the fourth pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. If Josi continues to develop and Jones finds his stride early, the Predators' defense should bounce back nicely.

Who fills Chicago's roster holes up front?

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they didn't take much time to celebrate before unloading much of that championship roster. Chicago won the Cup again in 2013, but has managed to retain most of the players who contributed to that Cup run. However, they did unload two of their top depth forwards when they traded center Dave Bolland to the Maple Leafs and Michael Frolik to the Jets.

General manager Stan Bowman has mentioned a few young players who potentially could fill the spots vacated through those trades. They include top prospects Mark McNeil and Brandon Pirri, as well as Drew LeBlanc, who won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top NCAA Division I player before signing with Chicago as a free agent.

Can Jonathan Drouin fill the void left by Vincent Lecavalier?

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn't just lose a top-six forward when they used a compliance buyout on Vincent Lecavalier in June. They also lost a team captain and the franchise's all-time goals leader. It's not likely that any one player will be able to step in and instantly replace all the intangibles that Lecavalier provided.

But there will be plenty of eyes watching Jonathan Drouin, who Tampa Bay took with the third pick of the 2013 draft. He had 105 points in 49 games last season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and could have enough skill to replace some of the offense Lecavalier gave the Lightning for 14 seasons. As for Lecavalier's leadership, star center Steven Stamkos likely will be looked at to fill that role.

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