Camp buzz: Penguins, Red Wings, Canucks prospects impress
A quick look at the latest buzz from training camps around the NHL:
• Have to believe it’s the end of the line for Sergei Gonchar. The veteran defenseman, who is in Pittsburgh’s camp on a PTO, has struggled mightily with coverage in his own zone—no surprise to anyone who watched him work the revolving door the past two seasons in Dallas and Montreal. Gonchar was on the ice for two more goals-against in Wednesday night’s 7–2 loss to Detroit. That, according to beat writer Jason Mackey, means he’s been out there for nine of the 20 that have been scored on the Pens so far in exhibition action while he’s been in the lineup. No doubt Gonchar still has something to offer at the other end of the ice, but that’s not this team’s pressing concern. If he’s a liability defensively, it’s impossible to justify keeping him around.
Gonchar’s partner last night, Derrick Pouliot, might not be long for the Pens himself. He’s been on the ice for 11 of the 21 goals scored against Pittsburgh on nights he’s dressed and has been soundly outplayed by Adam Clendening. With Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Ben Lovejoy, Rob Scuderi, Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin likely to stick, Pouliot seems destined for assignment.
• One bright spot for the Pens has been the play of Daniel Sprong. The team’s first pick in the 2015 draft (46th) scored one of Pittsburgh’s goals last night to extend what’s been a very strong camp. “He looked like he belongs,” said one scout who caught the 18-year-old in action recently. “Quick, creative and playing with a lot of confidence. He’s not intimidated by his surroundings the way a lot of kids his age might be. He looks better away from the puck than I expected.” The numbers game suggests he’s still a long shot to make the opening night roster, but Sprong has made an excellent first impression.
• It’s no secret that the Red Wings like to slow cook their prospects, but with the way he’s performed in the preseason how are they going to keep Dylan Larkin down on the farm? The 19-year-old has been dynamic in the preseason, impressing observers with his speed, his determination and his pair of silky mitts. Larkin’s latest beauty came on Wednesday night at the expense of the Pens. He took the puck wide as he entered the zone, then turned on the jets to blow around a defender and went to the middle where he roofed one on goalie Jeff Zatkoff.
But it’s not his finishing touch that will land Larkin a job. It’s his ability to bring veteran poise to every element of his game. It’s how reliably he makes the right decision, and how attentive he is to his details. With Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm both out for an extended period, the Wings need help down the middle. Larkin is the answer.
• An undercooked two-way game makes Nikolay Goldobin a long shot to stick with the Sharks, but there’s no denying the team’s first-round selection of 2014 has some serious puck skills. The 19-year-old winger needs to play in the top-six to be effective, and he certainly had his moments during an audition with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski against the Canucks on Tuesday night, but his decision making isn’t up to speed just yet. “He was a high-risk/high-reward pick,” a scout recently told SI.com. “The upside is there but he’s got to learn that the moves that worked in juniors won’t necessarily work up here.”
• Lots of positive buzz out of Vancouver about the play of Jared McCann. The 19-year-old center has averaged a point per game in each of his four preseason appearances and impressed with a complete effort that’s reminiscent of a young Jonathan Toews. “There’s everything there for Jared to have success at the NHL level,” Sault Ste. Marie coach Drew Bannister told the Vancouver Province. “He’s not a prototypical center coming out of junior who has to learn the position. He’s doing things pro players are doing, or having a hard time doing. And there’s a self-awareness about what he can do and where he wants to get to.”
With Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat ahead of McCann on the depth chart, the odds are stacked against him breaking camp with the big team. That said, the Canucks are poised for a significant roster overhaul during the next 12 months. If McCann doesn’t get his nine-game look this season, he’s a good bet to stick next year.
• Another name to keep in the back of your mind: Brett Pesce. The young defender has played beyond expectations in camp with the Hurricanes. “He hasn’t given them a reason to cut him, that’s for sure,” one observer said. “There’s nothing that especially stands out [about his game], but he keeps it simple, limits his mistakes and has been really effective. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s not a star but he could definitely play for this team.” The 20-year-old is likely ticketed for AHL Charlotte to start the season but could earn a quick recall, especially if Ryan Murphy struggles.
• The Dallas Stars have allowed 20 goals in five preseason games, which suggests they are still vexed by having to play defense. But there’s time to fix what ails ’em, says Mike Heika.
• Things are going fairly well for Auston Matthews in Switzerland. The top prospect for the 2016 draft has five points in his first four games, but that’s hardly the whole story.
• We’re saddened to learn that Larry Orr, the man who dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off ahead of the Kraft Hockeyville game in North Saanich, BC, passed away on Wednesday. Kevin Woodley wrote a terrific piece about the long-time volunteer ahead of his big moment. The game wouldn’t be what it is without people like Larry. RIP.