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Top storylines entering training camp

Restricted free agent signings, McDavid's health among things to watch

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Training camps open around the NHL on Thursday. It's a time when all 31 teams believe that they have a chance this season, that they can do what the St. Louis Blues did three months ago and win the Stanley Cup.

But there are questions for every team entering camp. Here are 10 that need to be answered before the regular season begins Oct. 2:

 

1. Will the remaining RFAs be signed in time?

The list of high-profile restricted free agents remains long and interesting. 

At the top is Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner, who set NHL career highs in goals (26), assists (68) and points (94) last season and has explored the idea of going to Switzerland to train with ZSC in the National League if he isn't signed when camp begins.

Also on the list are forwards Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, and Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins.

How many will miss time in training camp and, more importantly, will any of them miss regular-season games?

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Rantanen

 

2. Is McDavid going to be ready for the opener?

Connor McDavid, who tore the PCL in his left knee in the Edmonton Oilers' season finale against the Calgary Flames on April 6, said last week he expects to be in the lineup for the season opener against the Canucks on Oct. 2, but it's unclear if he will hit that target.

The Oilers center, who had an NHL career-high 116 points (41 goals, 75 assists) in 78 games last season, skated with teammates Saturday but said he doesn't know if he will put his knee to the test in a preseason game. Edmonton general manager Ken Holland said Wednesday that McDavid is unlikely to do so.

 

3. Will there be eight new captains?

The answer is unlikely, but there will be a handful, especially with three Original Six teams entering camp without a captain.

The Maple Leafs haven't had a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. It's possible they name one before they play their opener against the Senators on Oct. 2, with John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Marner being the top candidates.

Dylan Larkin is considered a leading candidate to be the Detroit Red Wings' first captain since Henrik Zetterberg was unable to continue his NHL career on Sept. 14, 2018, because of a degenerative back condition.

There is no clear favorite for the New York Rangers, who have been without a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018.

The San Jose Sharks named Logan Couture captain on Thursday. He replaces Joe Pavelski, who held the role for the past four seasons before signing with the Dallas Stars as a free agent July 1. The Carolina Hurricanes also are without one after Justin Williams stepped away from the NHL on Sept. 2.

The Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights and Senators are the other three teams without a captain.

Video: Looking at top storylines heading into 2019-20 season

 

4. Will Hall sign a contract extension before the season begins?

Taylor Hall is expected to continue contract negotiations with the New Jersey Devils in training camp and will meet with general manager Ray Shero soon, leaving open the possibility that the left wing will sign before the opener against the Jets on Oct. 4.

The 27-year-old has one season remaining on a seven-year, $42 million contract he signed with the Oilers on Aug. 22, 2012, and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2020.

Hall is coming off an injury-plagued season, when he missed the final 47 games after having arthroscopic surgery in February to remove fragments from his left knee. He had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 33 games after scoring an NHL career-high 93 (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games in 2017-18, when he won the Hart Trophy.

Video: Hall lands at No. 41 on the Top 50 Players list

 

5. How will Hughes and Kakko handle the jump?

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the first two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, will play in the NHL this season, and how the 18-year-olds fare in camp will determine their expectations.

Hughes could be good enough to win the job as the Devils' No. 1 center and the chance to play with Hall. Kakko could be the Rangers' top-line right wing and play with Artemi Panarin, who signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with New York on July 1.

 

6. Will any other 2019 first-round picks make it?

It's unlikely but certainly possible that six of the first seven players selected in the 2019 draft will be on opening night rosters.

Kirby Dach, selected No. 3 by the Chicago Blackhawks, has a chance to be one of their top three centers with Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. For the Avalanche, injuries on their blue line (Erik Johnson, Ian Cole), could open a spot for defenseman Bowen Byram, who was selected No. 4.

Moritz Seider, the No. 6 pick by the Red Wings, will certainly get a look in training camp, but it's questionable whether the defenseman can make the jump from Germany's top league to the NHL. If he can't, Seider could play for Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League, Adler Manheim in Germany, or Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League.

Forward Dylan Cozens, the No. 7 pick by the Buffalo Sabres, recovered from surgery he had in early July to repair a dislocated thumb and might get a chance to stick if he impresses in camp.

The No. 5 pick, forward Alex Turcotte of the Los Angeles Kings, is committed to play at the University of Wisconsin.

 

7. Who will be the Blue Jackets' starting goalie?

The biggest question facing the Columbus Blue Jackets is who will replace two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year contract with the Florida Panthers on July 1.

Joonas Korpisalo is the returning candidate as the backup to Bobrovsky the past four seasons, going 41-31-9 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 90 games, including 10-7-3 with a 2.95 GAA and .897 save percentage last season.

But Korpisalo is expected to be pushed by Elvis Merzlikins, who was selected by Columbus in the third round (No. 76) of the 2014 NHL Draft and played for Lugano in Switzerland's National League the past seven seasons. 

The Blue Jackets feel they can be a Stanley Cup Playoff team even after losing Panarin, Bobrovsky and center Matt Duchene (Nashville Predators) in free agency, but the key will be whether one of the goalies can step up and show he can handle being a No. 1.

At least seven other teams could also have intriguing battles for the No. 1 job, including Buffalo (Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark), New Jersey (Cory Schneider, Mackenzie Blackwood), Chicago (Corey Crawford, Robin Lehner), Calgary (David Rittich, Cam Talbot), Los Angeles (Jonathan Quick, Jack Campbell), Edmonton (Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen), and the Arizona Coyotes (Darcy Kuemper, Antti Raanta).

Video: CBJ@EDM: Korpisalo uses quick glove to rob Nurse

 

8. How will the new coaches integrate?

Seven teams are entering training camp with a new coach. 

Joel Quenneville (Florida) is the most decorated of the group as a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015). He has the second-most wins in NHL history (890) behind Scotty Bowman (1,244).

D.J. Smith (Ottawa) is the only one of the seven who has no previous NHL head coaching experience. Smith was an assistant with the Maple Leafs the past four seasons. 

Ralph Krueger (Buffalo) is back in the NHL after spending the past five years working in soccer as the chairman of Southhampton in the English Premier League. Krueger, whose head coaching experience in the NHL was with the Oilers in the shortened season in 2012-13, going 19-22-7, is the Sabres' sixth coach in the past eight seasons.

Dave Tippett (Edmonton), Todd McLellan (Los Angeles) and Dallas Eakins (Anaheim Ducks) are the three new coaches in the Pacific Division. All three have previously coached in the division, with Tippet coaching the Coyotes (2009-17), McLellan coaching the Sharks (2008-15) and Oilers (2015-18), and Eakins coaching the Oilers (2013-14).

Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia) is back in the Metropolitan Division after taking one season off following five seasons as the coach of the Rangers.

 

9. Will top players on new teams develop chemistry?

Training camp is the time when players who changed teams in the offseason adjust to their new environments, teammates and cultures. 

Some of the high-profile players who will have to do that includes Bobrovsky in Florida, Panarin and defenseman Jacob Trouba in New York, Duchene in Nashville, Pavelski and right wing Corey Perry in Dallas, defenseman P.K. Subban in New Jersey, right wing Phil Kessel in Arizona, and center Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia.

How they adjust and how quickly they become leaders will go a long way toward determining how they start the season.

 

10. Will Ristolainen make it through camp in Buffalo?

The Sabres expect defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to be in training camp when it opens Thursday.

However, Ristolainen fueled speculation that he could be traded last month when he told MTV Sports in Finland in an interview translated by NHL.com that he will attend an NHL team's training camp and that he hasn't been able to enjoy hockey.

Ristolainen, who has led the Sabres in ice time in each of the past four seasons, averaging 25:52 per game, has three seasons remaining on a six-year, $32.4 million contract he signed Oct. 11, 2016.

With the Sabres acquiring defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju in trades with the Golden Knights and Blackhawks, respectively, they have five right-shot defensemen on their NHL roster; the others are Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Brandon Montour.

Video: BUF@BOS: Ristolainen whips wrister past Rask

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