Breakout Stars at 2013-14 NHL Training Camps
It's been a long while since an NHL preseason has been so entertaining and chock full of storylines. From P.K. Subban getting the chance to take on his brother Malcolm Subban early on to the line brawl between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, there's been no shortage of intrigue.
Lost in the shuffle of all the stick swinging and tomfoolery is the fact that some players are actually out there trying to earn jobs.
Some of the guys on this list have erupted out of nowhere to show that they belong in the NHL full time, while others are out to prove that they can still hang in what really amounts to a young man's league.
All preseason statistics appear courtesy of CBSsports.com.
The idea was for Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur to share the crease for the New Jersey Devils. In an attempt to quell any goaltending controversy, coach Peter DeBoer named Marty the opening-night starter almost a week ago, according to CBSSports.com.
Schneider has a knack for usurping incumbents and making life difficult for coaches with his outstanding level of play, however, and this preseason has been no different.
He's seen action in five periods and has yet to give up a single goal. His 0.00 GAA is obnoxiously good, even for the preseason, and DeBoer is already comparing Schenider's calming influence to that of Brodeur, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger:
He hasn't been scored on. He looks solid in the net. He gives your team confidence. A lot like Marty for us. There is a calming influence to guys like that.
We all knew that he could play, but taking zero time to adjust to a new city, system and teammates is worthy of note.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have had the most dominating line of the preseason. Sure, it's just preseason, but the trio of Boone Jenner, Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky has been downright steamrolling the opposition.
While it's no surprise that Gaborik is filling the nets—the guy is playing for a new contract—and that Dubinsky has come out flying after an injury-filled 2013, Jenner has caught a lot of people off-guard.
Dubinsky broke down Jenner's style of play for the Columbus Dispatch for the uninitiated:
That guy works his (butt) off. He’s smart. As time goes on, he’s just going to get better. He chips pucks and chases ’em down. He hits guys. He plays hard every shift. It’s a blast to watch him out there.
The goal heading into this particular preseason for Jenner was just to make the Jackets as a full-time NHLer. It appears that he's not only cemented his place in the lineup, but that he'll be a part of the first line moving forward.
The trio has accounted for a whopping 17 points in just three games together, and folks in Columbus are already referring to the new top line as The Force.
Jussi Jokinen sent fantasy hockey nuts scrambling for the Add Player button after scoring a hat trick on September 21 while skating on a line with Evgeni Malkin. The duo seemed to find some chemistry immediately.
Just check out this pass in GIF form, courtesy of PensBurgh.
While he's known mostly as a shootout artist capable of making even the slickest poke-checking goalies look silly, Jokinen is a former 30-goal scorer and knows how to find the back of the net in the right situation.
He's making a case to play at least some minutes alongside one of the most talented playmakers in the world, and will be one of the most pleasant surprises of the preseason if he manages to stick in that role.
It's always nice to see an NHL veteran like Jokinen carve out a role for himself, especially in an outstanding situation like that in Pittsburgh.
We probably won't be talking about Michael Bournival in a few months—at least according to Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette—but that doesn't make his story any less fun to consider and talk about.
After all, no one saw Brendan Gallagher coming down the pipeline, and all he did was help get the Montreal Canadiens to a surprising playoff run while garnering serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.
So allow us to present to you Bournival, your preseason goal-scoring leader.
Granted, preseason success does not a star make. Goalies aren't typically up to speed yet (or even NHL caliber) and full lineups are rarely out on the ice together, but scoring goals at this level is always noteworthy.
Will he stick with Montreal? Fans of the Canadiens seem to want him to make the opening-night roster, but Todd thinks it has become a numbers game, and it's working against Bournival:
But $3.5 million per season says Desharnais is going nowhere and another $1.85 million gives Therrien every incentive to find a spot for Moen, even though the bigger, grittier Habs might have trouble finding room for a guy who doesn't fight much or score much.
While it's likely Bournival will end up back in Hamilton, he's certainly earned his week in the limelight.
It's impossible to be a breakout star when you already are one, but Jarome Iginla has answered some important questions for himself and the Boston Bruins through the preseason so far.
The departure of Nathan Horton left a hole on Boston's depth chart on the right side, and they (finally) signed Iginla to fill that hole. Whether or not he'd actually click with David Krejci and Milan Lucic would be another matter entirely.
Through phases, the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line was one of the most unstoppable trios in the NHL. Play down the importance of chemistry if you want, but it was important to the B's to find a replacement. It appears they have done just that.
From Amanda Bruno of MassLive.com:
Iginla's transition with his new linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci has been seamless as if he's played with them for years. If one had to guess just by watching the three of them play together if one of them was a newcomer, they'd think you're joking... It's easy to get a little carried away with how well Iginla is adjusting to a new system, coaching staff and teammates, and why not especially if he's already cashing in?
Like everyone else on this list, it's important to take preseason success with a grain of salt.
Unlike everyone else on this list, Iginla has more than 1,100 points and over 500 goals to his credit over his career, so we feel it's safe to pencil this line in as officially dangerous heading into the season opener.
Tomas Tatar doesn't want to spend another second in the minors. He's spent the last four seasons shuttling between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Detroit Red Wings, and he has about run out of patience.
It's tough to blame the 22-year-old, who lead the Griffins to an AHL championship last season while the likes of Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson were trying to win the Stanley Cup.
Then the Red Wings brought in Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss as free agents and decided to re-sign Dan Cleary, winners of the bidding war for the veteran's services.
That didn't leave much room left for Tatar, and he wasn't stoked about it. He spoke to Ansar Khan of MLive.com about his feelings:
It's hard to pretend the forwards are not here. So I know there's lots of players here and everybody is battling for a good spot, so it's a little frustrating. But good teams can choose the players they want to fit into the lineup and I'm going to do my best to fit there, and I think I'm in a good position to do it.'
Detroit has its back against the wall with Tatar, as he'd have to clear waivers to play in Grand Rapids again, and there's absolutely no way that another NHL team wouldn't find room on the roster and payroll for the talented youngster.
With all of this going on in the background, Tatar has come to the ice nightly and performed incredibly well. He's scored three goals in three games and played very solid hockey in all three zones for the Wings.
The Anaheim Ducks surprised a lot of onlookers by selecting Hampus Lindholm with the sixth overall selection at the 2012 draft. That left highly regarded defensemen such as Mathew Dumba and Jacob Trouba on the table while Lindholm walked up to the stage to put on his new Anaheim Ducks sweater.
It didn't take long for the young Swede to make Anaheim's brass look brilliant. He blew all defensive expectations out of the water in the AHL, as Hockeysfuture.com highlighted earlier this year:
While Lindholm did not have the offensive season many were expecting in 2012-13 in his rookie AHL season, he was tremendous defensively. This is actually better for him moving forward as the Ducks are in need of that style of player more than any other.
Making the team out of training camp was left up to Lindholm, and with injuries already piling up on Anaheim's blue line, odds are good he'll be on the opening-night roster. He's been steady as ever during the preseason, and even has a game-winning power-play goal to his credit.
There may not be a player from the 2013 draft class facing more pressure to perform now than Sean Monahan. Nathan MacKinnon is at least somewhat shielded by the fact that he's already penciled in for a third-line role. Aleksander Barkov has yet to play a preseason match due to injury. Jonathan Drouin has been on the cover of nothing so far.
On the other hand, NHL.com listed Monahan as one of the defining X-factors for the Calgary Flames heading into next season. The site put the spotlight on him during the Young Stars Classic. The Ottawa 67's have named alternate captains, yet wait with bated breath to hear about whether Monahan will return or not.
The Hockey News has featured a quote from Flames coach Bob Hartley in their "Say What?!?" sidebar for the last five days concerning Monahan:
I'll be honest with you…in many ways, his demeanor his body language, he reminds a lot of Joe Sakic. And I know that's big shoes to fill and I'm not saying that he's going to fill those shoes right away, but we have big plans for this young man.
The Calgary Herald dug into what Monahan had been up to during the offseason and highlighted reasons that he could be an effective No. 1 center right out of the gate.
So yeah, the pressure is on for the No. 6 selection, who doesn't turn 19 until next month. He's a breakout star whether he's played like one or not.
Monahan wasn't outstanding in his preseason debut against the Edmonton Oilers, but appeared supercharged when the Flames took on the New York Islanders on September 18. That likely won't be the only bounce-back performance from him this season, as he adjusts to life in the NHL as a top-six forward with all of Calgary watching simultaneously.
At least one or two NHL general managers that passed on Valeri Nichushkin are kicking themselves for it already. He's gone from scary, mysterious Russian to a workhorse for the Dallas Stars almost overnight and is a lock to make the opening-night roster, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Craig Custance over at ESPN did an excellent job of outlining how difficult it is for a rookie to make an impact as an 18-year-old, and named Nichushkin the most NHL-ready rookie around. Coach Lindy Ruff called him "an easy guy to play," according to Dallasnews.com, and no one would be surprised if the new Star ends up in the running for the Calder Trophy this season.
Of course, all of this comes on the heels of a good training camp and solid preseason. Nichushkin has been impressive throughout the process and is an emerging young gun worth keeping an eye on as the regular season progresses.
The knock on the Washington Capitals has been the same thing for the last few years. They're capable of offensive fireworks and can win the 5-2 games, but seem to come up short when contests require grit and sandpaper.
That could all change with the emergence of Tom Wilson. Kevin Klein of Japers' Rink compared the big-bodied forward to Milan Lucic, and Alex Ovechkin told Adam Vingan of NBC Washington that Wilson is "kind of piece we've been missing."
That's some high praise coming from the team captain, and it's almost inconceivable at this point that the Capitals would send him away to play hockey somewhere else this season. Adam Oates spoke to the Washington Post to that effect:
I like what I see in Willy enough that I would like to keep him around us, but obviously that’s going to be George’s call. We’ll talk about it a lot. The one thing we definitely don’t want is to hurt his learning curve, because he looks like he’s going to be a very good hockey player.
Of course, the cap and current veterans could prevent Wilson from jumping to the ranks of full-time NHLer, according to russianmachineneverbreaks.com, but he's making it very difficult for Washington to send him packing, which is his only job right now.