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Training camp preview: Bounce-back candidates

Bobrovsky, Kessel, Pavelski look to finish strong after struggling at pause

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, is taking a closer look at key storylines for each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. 

The qualifiers will start on Aug. 1 with the top four teams in each conference, based on points percentage, playing a three-game round-robin, and the No. 5-12 seeds playing in eight best-of-5 series. The winners of those series will advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the four teams from the round-robin.

Today, we look at 12 players (listed alphabetically) who were struggling before the NHL season was paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and have the chance to bounce back in the qualifiers. 

Jamie Benn, F, Dallas Stars -- Benn's production has dropped in the past two seasons as his consistency has waned. It was evident again before the pause for Dallas' captain, who had a hat trick on Feb. 11 against the Carolina Hurricanes but scored one goal on 23 shots (4.4 percent shooting) in the last 13 games; meanwhile, the Stars went 0-4-2 in their last six. Benn can flush the finish and start fresh. The Stars will be in the Western Conference round-robin.

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida Panthers -- Bobrovsky struggled in his first season with the Panthers, going 23-19-6 with a .900 save percentage and 3.23 goals-against average in 50 games, including 49 starts. He was 38th in save percentage and 43rd in GAA among the 45 goalies who played at least 30 games. The potential positive is Bobrovsky had a .938 save percentage (four goals on 65 shots) and 2.05 GAA in two starts against the Islanders, the Panthers' opponent in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Video: TOR@FLA: Bobrovsky sprawls to rob Marner

Brock Boeser, F, Vancouver Canucks

Boeser played one game after returning from an upper-body injury that kept him out for 12 games from Feb. 10-March 8 and didn't score a goal after Jan. 11. The Canucks rely on Boeser's production, and the pause in the season gave could have given him a chance to work on some details in his game that he otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to do since he came back at a time when Vancouver was in a playoff race. The Canucks will face the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference qualifiers.

Devan Dubnyk, G, Minnesota Wild -- Dubnyk lost his grip on the No. 1 job to Alex Stalock before the season pause. He started six of the Wild's last 19 games and went 3-3-0 with a .882 save percentage and 3.59 goals-against average. Stalock was 9-3-1 with two shutouts, a .924 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. The break evens the playing field and gives Dubnyk a chance to re-claim his job, but he may not be the favorite when training camp begins.

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights -- Fleury was losing what was previously vice-like grip on the No. 1 goalie job in Vegas because of the acquisition of Robin Lehner on Feb. 24. Fleury lost two of his last three starts with a .846 save percentage and 3.34 goals-against average. Lehner won his first three starts with Vegas, with one shutout, a .940 save percentage and 1.67 GAA. Fleury has a chance to reestablish himself as Vegas' No. 1 in the Western Conference round-robin.

Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers -- Gostisbehere didn't play in 24 of the Flyers' final 26 games because of arthroscopic knee surgery and a slow recovery. He's had ample time to recover and a fresh start could be exactly what he needs to get back to the player he was in 2017-18, when he had 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists) in 78 games. But he needs the opportunity. The Flyers, who will play in the Eastern Conference round-robin, could have eight defensemen vying for six spots.

Video: PHI@WPG: Gostisbehere sends wrist shot home

Ryan Johansen, F, Nashville Predators -- Johansen's production was way down this season. He scored 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 68 games, an average of 1.56 points per 60 minutes, which was 11th on the Predators among players who appeared in at least 40 games. He was second on the team last season with 2.21 points per 60 (64 points on 14 goals, 50 assists). Johansen needs a second chance to make this season better for himself and the Predators, who face the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference qualifiers.

Phil Kessel, F, Arizona Coyotes -- Kessel's offensive numbers in his first season with the Coyotes were down across the board, putting him on pace for his least productive season since he had 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) as a rookie with the Boston Bruins in 2006-07. He had 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) and 153 shots on goal in 70 games this season. He averaged 74 points (28.66 goals, 45.33 assists) and 260.6 shots on goal per season in the past six full seasons. A restart gives Kessel an opportunity for a fresh start with the Coyotes, who finished with 2.71 goals per game, better than only the Stars among the 12 teams returning in the West.

Artturi Lehkonen, F, Montreal Canadiens -- Lehkonen was struggling before the pause with five points (three goals, two assists) and a 6.0 shooting percentage in 25 games from Jan. 11-March 10. However, he scored in Montreal's last game, a 4-2 loss against the Predators, ending a streak of 16 straight games without a goal. At least that gave him something positive to think about during the pause and going into the Canadiens' Eastern qualifier series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Video: NSH@MTL: Lehkonen deposits goal after board bounce

Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers -- Lundqvist has a chance to regain his job as the Rangers' No. 1, especially because of his history against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers' opponent in the qualifiers. He went 3-0-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .947 save percentage against Carolina this season. He is 33-12-1 with a 2.00 GAA and .934 save percentage in 46 games against the Hurricanes in his career. However, he started only four of New York's final 30 games and now has to beat out Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev for the job.

Joe Pavelski, F, Dallas Stars -- Pavelski's production in his first season with the Stars was down significantly from what he was consistently doing for the San Jose Sharks for years. He had 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 67 games this season after scoring 64 points (38 goals, 26 assists) in 75 games last season. Pavelski was sixth in the League in goals from 2013-19 with 205, an average of 34.2 per season. The Stars need his offense. They were 26th in the League in goals per game (2.58).

Mats Zuccarello, F, Minnesota Wild -- Zuccarello scored a goal in his last game before the pause; it was his first since Feb. 1 and ended a 17-game drought. Maybe he would have been able to build on that goal had the season continued, but he didn't have the type of production in his first season with the Wild that he would have liked. Zuccarello scored 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 65 games; by comparison, he had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 46 games with the Rangers last season before they traded him to Dallas. Now he gets a fresh start, but with the experience of playing with his Wild teammates against the Canucks in the qualifiers.

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