Western Conference camp questions
On Monday, we took a look at what was on the training-camp docket for teams in the Eastern Conference. Now, here's what's happening in the West:
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
From day one, goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere will have to prove he can play with streamlined equipment. New coach Randy Carlyle, previously the bench boss in Manitoba of the AHL, will have to establish a relationship with star Sergei Fedorov, who will have to return to elite form if the Ducks are to make the playoffs. With the departure of veteran forward Steve Rucchin (traded to the Rangers), which of the Ducks' young studs, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, finds his way onto the opening-night roster?
Dion Phaneuf, a force along the Canadian junior national team blue line, is expected to step into a starting role with the Flames, while Chuck Kobasew, the team's top pick, 14th overall in the 2001 draft, had a strong year in the AHL and could be ready to help out offensively at the NHL level. Eric Nystrom, son of Islander great Bob and recent Michigan grad, will get a long look.
Rene Bourque, an undrafted former University of Wisconsin star, was a revelation with the Hawks' AHL affiliate in Norfolk last season with 60 points. Defensive gem Cam Barker, the third overall pick in 2004, will be looking to move from the juniors and stick with a revamped Hawks club under new coach Trent Yawney. Reports out of Chicago's rookie camp indicate Brent Seabrook, selected 14th overall in the 2003 draft, was terrific and will be in the mix for a blue-line job at the big camp.
New coach Joel Quenneville will have his hands full with a team that includes castoffs Andrew Brunette, Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisebois, The trio will be asked to fill the void created by the departure of Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote. The team has traded away most of its young depth and will hope to get by on veterans of varying degrees of talent. The jury is still out on David Aebischer, the incumbent in goal. In the absence of a veteran backup, look for prospect Peter Budaj to assume that role.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Coach Gerard Gallant, who took over midway through the 2003-04 season, won't recognize his team, given the injuries that plagued the Blue Jackets throughout the last season and the recent free-agent signings. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla, the fourth overall pick in 2000, must step up and assume a major role on the back end. U.S. junior star Dan Fritsche will be expected to fill an offensive role on one of the team's top two lines.
A team with precious little depth, it will be an exercise in trying to find diamonds in the rough for coach Dave Tippett. Among the young blue liners up for consideration are Trevor Daley and bruising John Erskine, although the Stars have a strong veteran unit in place. Up front, Loui Eriksson, the Stars' top pick in 2003, hopes to turn heads as Tippett looks to fill three or four forward positions. Jussi Jokinen, no relation to Olli in Florida, was the 192nd pick in 2001, but had a strong season in the Finnish elite league.
Detroit Red Wings
General manager Ken Holland, hamstrung by the new salary cap, has done an admirable job assembling a fine defensive corps that includes the AHL's defenseman of the year Niklas Kronwall. But Holland is going to have trouble coaxing offense out of his squad if restricted free agent Pavel Datsyuk chooses to play in Russia for Avangard Omsk instead of coming back to Detroit. Jiri Hudler looks like the best bet to fill the big void left by Datsyuk. There's also the challenge of a brand new coaching staff with the arrival of Mike Babcock and his assistants. It's the first new staff in more than a decade, because of the departure of longtime Scotty Bowman acolytes Barry Smith and Dave Lewis.
Expectations are high in Edmonton, but there remains an oilfield of questions regarding the team's offensive capabilities. Former U.S. junior star Robbie Schremp will get a chance to shake off questions about his focus and contribute up front. Danny Syvret, captain of the Memorial Cup champion London Knights, hopes to make an impact on the Oiler blue line. The Oilers will be closely monitoring netminder Jussi Markkanen's recovery from a broken collarbone. He is expected to push Ty Conklin for the top job in the Oiler nets. Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk will battle for the temporary backup role in camp.
Los Angeles Kings
Watch for once-upon-a-time Canadian junior star Mike Cammalleri to earn a spot in the Kings lineup after finishing second in AHL scoring to the Sens' Jason Spezza. The Kings will have seven first-round picks in camp, including Finnish prospect Lauri Tukonen and recently signed Anze Kopitar. For what it's worth, the big center is considered the finest player ever to come out of Slovenia. Although Mathieu Garon is the No. 1 man in the nets, the acquisition of former AHL player of the year Jason LaBarbera may yield dividends down the road.
This isn't so much the "Wild Bunch" as the faceless bunch. Count on Jacques Lemaire to build a speedy, disciplined roster, and a couple of American-born prospects will be in the mix, including Patrick O'Sullivan and A.J. Thelen. Thelen, the 12th pick in the 2004 draft, will have to show he's matured after being dismissed from Michigan State last spring. Reports out of Minnesota indicate 2004 second-round pick Roman Voloshenko has improved his skating and could add some offensive jump to the Wild attack. Mikko Koivu, younger but taller brother of Montreal captain Saku, will get a chance, as well.
The Predators are among the deepest defensive teams in the NHL with Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter both blossoming during their lockout season in the American Hockey League. Watch for Shea Weber, a star at the World Junior Championships last year, to make a strong bid for a roster spot, although he'll likely be better served in the AHL. Fellow defender Kevin Klein might be more ready for the jump to the bigs. Even with Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan juicing the attack, the quest continues for the Predators to find solid, scoring centers. Free-agent signee Randy Robitaille has lots of tools, but there are questions about the toolbox. The team continues to wait on the development of forward Timofei Shishkanov, the 33rd pick in 2001.
The Coyotes' lineup has been pretty much set for months, but this is a team with many questions, starting with how the new coach, Wayne Gretzky, approaches his first coaching experience. David Tanabe needs to step forward as a top-four blue liner. Waiting in the shadows is highly touted defensive prospect Keith Ballard who, at 22, will make a case to be on the opening-night roster.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues gave up the big name in the Chris Pronger, but they received a lot of defensive depth in return. All of which will be on display during camp in the form of established NHLer Eric Brewer and prospects Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka. The Blues will again be offensively challenged, which means someone will have to step forward, perhaps Petr Cajanek, who will have to improve on his 12 goals in 2003-04.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks will once again look to become a Western Conference power from within, eschewing the free-agent market after failing to lure Scott Niedermayer, who ended up down the coast in Anaheim. One major question is whether Marco Sturm and top 2003-04 rookie Milan Michalek are fully recovered from serious injuries (broken leg and knee surgery, respectively).
One-time Blues goaltender of the future Brent Johnson has landed in Vancouver, the next in a long line of netminders who might be the answer if incumbent Dan Cloutier is not. The departure of Brent Sopel and Marek Malik will open the door for at least one spot on the blue line. Top contenders include career minor leaguer Sven Butchenson and Nolan Baumgartner.
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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