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Training Camp Buzz: Stamkos aims to play in Lightning's preseason opener

Center hasn't played since injuring right knee Nov. 15; Maple Leafs, Coyotes in no rush to name captain

NHL.com @NHL

Welcome to the 2017 preseason! Veterans are reporting to training camps, and most will hit the ice on Friday.

This is a busy time, with rookies looking to make a name for themselves and veterans looking to lock down roster spots. Each day, we will have all the updates of note right here.

Here is the training camp news for Thursday:

 

Stamkos looking forward to return

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos plans to return to game action Sept. 19, when the Lightning host the Carolina Hurricanes at Amalie Arena in their preseason opener.

Stamkos, 27, has not played since he injured his right knee Nov. 15. He had surgery two days later. Without Stamkos, the Lightning finished one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

He said Thursday he plans to play in Tampa Bay's first preseason game and may play in more games than usual to test his knee. The Lightning said no rosters have been set for the first preseason game but confirmed he's been cleared.

The Lightning's near-miss last season is providing plenty of motivation to Stamkos and his teammates.

"Seeing the guys get so close and not make [the playoffs] was a motivating factor," he said. "I can't remember a camp I've been this anxious and excited for. It feels great to be back here and participating.

"This is the best I've felt since the surgery."

Stamkos had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 17 games last season before he tore his lateral meniscus playing against the Detroit Red Wings. He also missed 45 games during the 2013-14 season, when he broke his right leg.

Tampa Bay opens its regular season at home against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 6.

 

Maple Leafs won't have a captain this season

The Toronto Maple Leafs won't have a captain this season, general manager Lou Lamoriello said Thursday.

"It's not time," he said. "When it's the right time, there will be a captain. If it was the right time we would have a captain."

The Maple Leafs haven't had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. Last season they had four alternate captains, defensemen Morgan Rielly and Matt Hunwick, and forwards Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov.

Lamoriello would not elaborate on how the Maple Leafs will know the right time has arrived to name a captain.

"That's something internal, how we make that decision," he said. "Right now, where we are with the number of leaders we have it [the locker] room, we don't think it's necessary. It's as simple as that."

The Maple Leafs also announced that defenseman Roman Polak will attend training camp on a professional tryout contract. Polak, 31, had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 75 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs last season. He sustained a season-ending right leg injury during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals and had surgery April 18.

"Roman has gone through tremendous rehab," Lamoriello said. "He's just a great human being and just a competitor. He found himself right now where he's ready and he understands the situation and we're delighted to have him. It's just great to have him here."

Polak played last season on a one-year, $2.250 million contract.

The Maple Leafs also announced forwards Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton failed their physicals. Lupul has not played since Feb. 6, 2016, because of a sports hernia injury. Horton has been sidelined with a back injury. He last played with the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 9, 2014.

 

Chara, Bruins could start working on extension

With restricted free agent forward David Pastrnak signed to a six-year, $40 million contract Thursday, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney can move on to other issues, and the next one could be a contract extension for defenseman Zdeno Chara.

Chara, 40, has been eligible for an extension since July 1. He's entering the final season of a seven-year, $45 million contract.

"I've had talks with [Chara]," Sweeney said at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston on Thursday. "Our indications are, as he has indicated, he would like to continue to play hockey. We would like to continue to have him as part of the Boston Bruins, so we'll monitor that as we go through camp and as we go through the start of the season and continue to have those talks. I think it's important for him to understand that we're in his court in that regard. But there's no timetable to have those discussions. But I think he wants to play, I think he can play and I think he's an impactful player. So hopefully we can look forward to having him while he monitors how long he wants to play."

Chara re-iterated his desire to stay with the Bruins on Thursday.

"We reached out and we had brief talks and the interest is on both sides," he said. "I expressed my interest and would be more than happy to stay with his organization that I signed with in 2006 and it's been an absolute thrill for me to be part of this organization. I want to continue to play, like I said, beyond this season, so it's something that we both expressed an interest and right now it's going to be about the team, how are we going to get ready for the preseason and the regular season."

Chara said he's willing to consider short-term and long-term offers.

"For sure it's something that also one year means an extension, absolutely," he said. "But it's always nice to have a little bit more because that gives you extra motivation, extra jump. So I'm confident that I can play more than one year."

Chara has been with the Bruins since 2006 and was named captain prior to the start of the 2006-07 season. He has 429 points (131 goals, 298 assists) and a plus-170 rating in 820 regular-season games for the Bruins. He helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reach the Final in 2013, and won the Norris Trophy in 2009.

-- Matt Kalman

 

Tippett to serve as guest coach at Blues camp: report

Former Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett will serve as a guest coach for the first several days of the St. Louis Blues training camp, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday.

Blues coach Mike Yeo played for Tippett with the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League from 1995-99. Tippett was hired to coach the Dallas Stars in 2002 by then-general manager Doug Armstrong, now the GM of the Blues.

Tippett and Arizona mutually agreed to part ways on June 22 after eight seasons as coach. The Coyotes reached the Western Conference Final under Tippett in 2012 but have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since. He had a 282-257-83 record with the Coyotes and is 553-413-120 with 28 ties in 14 seasons, including six with the Stars.

 

Zajac close to starting rehabilitation

New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac said he is less than a month away from starting rehabilitation after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle Aug. 17.

"Right now it's just in the healing phase," Zajac said Thursday, the first day of training camp at Prudential Center. "Obviously the legs aren't broken so you get some conditioning and some strength work that way. But other than that, it's just to rest and let the healing take place. I'm probably still less than a month away from doing some rehab stuff."

Zajac, 32, was injured during offseason training, and his recovery is expected to take 4-6 months. The Devils open their season against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 7.

"I'll take my time with this and make sure I'm 100 percent recovered [before returning]," Zajac said. "I have to be patient with these things. I'll be ready to go when the time is right."

Zajac had 45 points (14 goals, 31 assists) in 80 games last season, and has missed 20 games during the past five seasons. The No. 20 pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, he has 435 points (155 goals, 280 assists) in 779 games in 11 NHL seasons, all with New Jersey. His best season was 2009-10, when he had NHL career highs of 25 goals and 67 points.

-- Mike G. Morreale

Video: The impact of Travis Zajac's injury

 

Coyotes not ready to name captain

The Arizona Coyotes have no timetable to name a captain, coach Rick Tocchet said Thursday.

"For me it's a day-to-day thing," he said. "I don't know when I'm going to name one, when we're going to name one.

"I look in that room and I see a lot of leadership in there. You've got [center Derek] Stepan, you've got [defenseman Niklas] Hjalmarsson, you've got the guys from last year. It will sort itself out. I don't have a timetable."

Another candidate could be defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

"It's hard to fill that void," Ekman-Larsson said. "I don't think you're going to find the same leader. I think you can lead in different ways. You don't have to be the guy who's screaming and yelling at people, but I have learned a lot from him from just being around him. I kind of want to be that leader, but we will see. Doesn't really matter if I get the [captaincy or alternate captain], I'm going to be the same guy and be same leader in the room."

Shane Doan, who had been captain since 2003, retired Aug. 30.

 

Fast could return to Rangers by end of October

New York Rangers forward Jesper Fast is progressing in his recovery from offseason hip surgery and is on target to make his season debut at the end of October, coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday.

Fast had surgery June 5 to repair a labral tear in his right hip. His expected recovery time was five months.

"He's right on schedule," Vigneault said. "He's feeling real good. He's been skating every day, I think, for close to three weeks. He's exactly where our docs, our medical staff thought he would be."

Fast had 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 68 games last season, and six points (three goals, three assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Vigneault also said forward Pavel Buchnevich, who was hampered by a recurring back injury last season, is healthy to start training camp.

"He came in I want to say the third week of July, has been working with our conditioning guys ever since," Vigneault said. "No back issues. Condition-wise, he's followed the plan to the letter to what he was given.

"I think he's going to come in and be a real good player for us."

-- Dan Rosen

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm5: Fast buries Smith's smooth feed

 

Hanzal to miss start of Stars camp, Heiskanen decision coming

Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal isn't going to take part in the first four days of training camp because of a sprained ankle, coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday. Hanzal was injured during an informal skate and will practice when the team shifts training camp from Cedar Park, Texas, the home of their American Hockey League team, to Frisco, where their practice site is, on Tuesday.

General manager Jim Nill said a decision will be made in the next 2-3 days if defenseman Miro Heiskanen will come to training camp. Heiskanen, 18, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, sustained a concussion sustained during a Champions Hockey League game with HIFK, his team in Finland.

Nill said defenseman prospect Chris Martenet will be out two months because of mononucleosis. Martenet, a fourth-round pick (No. 103) in the 2015 NHL Draft, is starting his first full professional season and is expected to play in the American Hockey League or the ECHL.

-- Sean Shapiro

Video: MIN@STL, Gm4: Hanzal beats Allen with wicked snipe

 

Bonino aiming for Predators season-opener, Fiala cleared for camp

Nashville Predators center Nick Bonino said Thursday that he's hoping to be in the lineup for the regular-season opener at the Boston Bruins on Oct. 5.

Bonino is recovering from a fractured left tibia he sustained during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Predators while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had surgery after he signed with the Predators on July 1 and has been skating in informal sessions.

"When I came here, I think it was July 5 or 6, I met with [doctors]," Bonino said. "We decided to let it go for two weeks and see how it healed, and it hadn't really filled in yet on the X-rays so we just threw some screws in. It really stabilized it."

Bonino said his recovery is coming along well and that he is ahead of where he originally thought he would be.

"It feels good," he said. "It feels better than we thought it would at this point, so we're doing everything we can to be ready for Boston."

Forward Kevin Fiala will be ready to participate in training camp after healing from a fractured left femur he sustained during the Western Conference Second Round against the St. Louis Blues.

"When I watched back, it was tough," Fiala said. "It was a long way, but right now I'm fully 100 percent. It went very quickly. They thought it was going to be much longer so I'm just very happy it went that well."

-- Robby Stanley

 

Eberle looks for quick chemistry, Pulock ready for full-time role with Islanders

There was one fresh face when the New York Islanders opened training camp Thursday, and one still trying to find a way to stick in the NHL.

Right wing Jordan Eberle, who was acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for forward Ryan Strome on June 22, has met his new teammates and is aiming to quickly create chemistry with center John Tavares, who is expected to be his linemate when the Islanders hold their first on-ice session Friday.

"He's a good enough player that I think anyone you put with him, he's going to have success," Eberle said. "For me, it's just a matter of finding my game and confidence and feel good going into the regular season from preseason."

A 17-17-8 start to last season cost the Islanders dearly; they failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs by one point. Eberle said he and his teammates are aware that can't happen again.

"It's huge," Eberle said of a fast start. "You get confidence that you're a good team when you do that, not to mention you could really make or break a season early on. Training camp is going to be huge as far as preparation moving into it and getting ready."

Defenseman Ryan Pulock knows he must be ready. The Islanders' first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2013 NHL Draft has a chance to grab a spot as a top-four defenseman following the trade of Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames on June 24.

"Travis was a big piece here, played a lot of minutes," said Pulock, who has played 16 NHL games, including one last season. He had 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 55 games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League in 2016-17. "With that spot opening up, someone has to fill that void. I think there's quite a few guys here fighting for those minutes, but personally I feel comfortable and confident that I can step in and be a contributor from the back end. That's what I'm looking to do here."

-- Brian Compton

 

Grabovski status with Golden Knights unknown, Neal improving

Forward Mikhail Grabovski reported for his physical hoping to be cleared to play as the Vegas Golden Knights opened training camp at City National Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, but his status remains unclear.

Grabovski has not played since March 15, 2016, because of concussion symptoms. He has one season left on the four-year, $20 million contract ($5 million average annual value) he signed with the New York Islanders on July 2, 2014. When the Golden Knights acquired him in a trade with the Islanders on June 21, the thought was that they would pay the balance of his contract as part of a trade for assets.

The Golden Knights acquired Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2019 Draft from the Islanders for future considerations.

Vegas general manager George McPhee said his understanding in the summer was that Grabovski was not expected to play. But Grabovski's agent, Gary Greenstin, said Grabovski had been skating and felt "very positive." Grabovski had a nameplate in the locker room Thursday, but no equipment. He was in the lobby wearing Golden Knights workout gear.

"It's up to the medical staff," McPhee said. "I'm not sure where this is."

Grabovski, 33, has 296 points (125 goals, 171 assists) in 534 games in 10 NHL seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and Islanders. He has scored at least 20 goals in a season three times but not since 2011-12.

Golden Knights forward James Neal said his hand was improving after offseason surgery, but didn't know when he would be able to practice.

"He may be a little bit behind everybody else; two, three, four weeks," McPhee said. "It's hard to say at this point. The hand is taking some more time to recover than we anticipated."

-- Nicholas J. Cotsonika

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