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Ready, set, skate: NHL training camps open Friday

by Adam Kimelman /
The golf clubs have been put aside. Water skis and fishing poles? Back in the garage for another season.

Summer is over for the 700 or so players hoping to make an NHL team this season. Training camps open Friday and veteran players will have their first official on-ice sessions Saturday morning. If early crowds are any indication–11,000-plus in Boston for a Bruins-Islanders rookie game, a sold-out United Center to watch a Blackhawks workout this weekend–fans are raring to go with a new season. Seems like many star players feel that vibe too.

"I have training camp in Moscow and I come on to the ice and I feel great," said Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. "I miss puck, I miss stick and I miss goals. It's my life and I try to play."

"I feel great," added Capitals defenseman Mike Green. "This is the first time I've been extremely excited to play at the start of the season."

As the dawn of a new season arrives, a number of questions come with it.

Can the Chicago Blackhawks defend as Stanley Cup champions despite turning over a third of their roster over the summer? What about goaltending questions in places like Philadelphia, San Jose and Washington? Can the Capitals recover after last season's playoff disappointment? Are the Penguins and Red Wings still championship-caliber clubs? Will some team lay the foundation for a surprise playoff run?

Those questions and more surround the always-entertaining opening of training camps.

There are a number of interesting players who will get their first official on-ice experience with their new teams. Mike Modano will be a strange sight in a Detroit Red Wings jersey after spending 20 years with the North Stars/Stars organization. Simon Gagne has a fresh start with the Lightning after 10 seasons with the Flyers. Dan Hamhuis will debut with the Canucks, while the Penguins will parade their top free-agent acquisitions, defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Jaroslav Halak, last spring's playoff darling with the Canadiens, will face his first shots as a member of the Blues.

One of the biggest newsmakers of the summer, Ilya Kovalchuk, will go through his first training camp with the Devils after joining New Jersey prior to the trade deadline last season.

And then there's the large number of former Blackhawks who will be skating with their new teams -- including Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd in Atlanta, Adam Burish in Dallas, John Madden in Minnesota and Antti Niemi in San Jose.

Niemi is one part of a fresh look in goal for the Sharks; he'll join Antero Niittymaki, who signed with the team July 1.

And then there's the always-exciting crop of rookies who will debut this season, a list that includes a trio of Oilers prospects -- forwards Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle.

Other youngsters to watch include the players taken immediately after top-pick Hall at the 2010 Entry Draft -- Boston's Tyler Seguin, Florida's Erik Gudbranson, Columbus' Ryan Johansen and the New York Islanders' Nino Niederreiter all have a chance of sticking with their NHL teams this season.

Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, Blackhawks forward Kyle Beach, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom, Canucks forward Jordan Schroeder and Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson also could earn full-time NHL jobs this season.

Five teams will have new coaches leading their camp, including three for the first time in the NHL -- John MacLean in New Jersey, Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay and Scott Arniel in Columbus. Edmonton's Tom Renney and Atlanta's Craig Ramsay are veteran coaches in new places, while Philadelphia's Peter Laviolette and St. Louis' Davis Payne open their first camps after taking over their clubs during the 2009-10 season.

New general managers making camp decisions include Rick Dudley in Atlanta, Dale Tallon in Florida, Doug Armstrong in Dallas and Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay. Also, Pierre Gauthier, who replaced Bob Gainey in Montreal late last season, hosts his first training camp.

Fans already are getting excited. The Bruins drew more than 11,000 fans to a rookie game at TD Garden against the New York Islanders, and rookie tournaments in Traverse City, Mich.; Penticton, B.C.; and London, Ont., were played in front of packed houses.

"It was amazing," Seguin said of the turnout in Boston. "I heard like 10,000, then I heard like 12,000 showed up."

Some teams have large parties surrounding their opening days. On Friday, the Flyers will unveil new road uniforms, which will look similar to their 2010 Winter Classic jerseys, and hold a public skate. The Buffalo Sabres also will introduce new jerseys for the season at a Saturday event.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will hold open practices Saturday and Sunday at their new home, Consol Energy Center. Opening day of camp for the Senators, Blackhawks and Hurricanes will see carnivals as well as free practices for fans to watch. The Blackhawks' event will feature a special guest on the ice -- the Stanley Cup. The Blues and Bruins will have special sales on game-used equipment over the weekend. The Lightning's first days of practice will feature alums of the team signing autographs.

Two teams will leave their home base for training camp -- the Canucks will train in Penticton, and the Dallas Stars will hold camp in Charlottetown, PEI.

There won't be much time for fans or managers to judge how their teams look in practice -- the first preseason games will be Sept. 21.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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