NHL training camp storylines to follow

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Here are 12 to follow until opening night Oct. 12:

The situation with Eichel and the Sabres

That Jack Eichel remains with the Buffalo Sabres could mean that the team hasn’t found the right offer to make it worth trading its captain. Eichel is dealing with a neck injury that has led to complications in his relationship with the Sabres.

He has talked about there being a “disconnect” regarding how his herniated disk should be treated. The center said he believes surgery is the best course, but the Sabres have been against that option and prefer the rehab approach.

General manager Kevyn Adams hasn’t ruled out Eichel playing for the Sabres this season, but it’s unclear when that could even happen because of the injury and the disconnect Eichel has talked about.

Video: NHL Tonight provides an update on Jack Eichel

Tarasenko’s trade request and what’s next with the Blues

Vladimir Tarasenko requested a trade from the St. Louis Blues through his agent, Paul Theofanous, on May 25, but the 29-year-old forward remains with St. Louis.

Tarasenko has been limited to 34 of a possible 127 regular-season games since winning the Stanley Cup in 2019 because of complications with his dislocated left shoulder, which has been surgically repaired three times since 2017-18.

General manager Doug Armstrong said he would have no problems with Tarasenko on the team this season despite the trade request. Tarasenko has two seasons remaining on his eight-year contract.

Coach Craig Berube also said on “The Cam & Strick Podcast” on Sept. 7 that he expects Tarasenko to play for the Blues this season and he won’t treat him any differently despite the trade request. 

Becoming a team in Seattle

The Seattle Kraken will start their first training camp Wednesday. There are a few guarantees, assuming good health.

Their goaltending should be set with Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger. Their top four defensemen look to be Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn and Jamie Oleksiak.

Sitting atop their center depth chart appear to be Alex Wennberg and Jared McCann. They won’t have center Yanni Gourde until November because of offseason shoulder surgery.

Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Eberle, Joonas Donskoi, Mason Appleton, Brandon Tanev, Calle Jarnkrok and Marcus Johansson are veteran forwards who should be in the mix.

But the forward lines, defense pairs, power-play units, penalty kill units, systems and just about everything else will be put together for the first time in training camp when Seattle finally gets to see what it has in a hockey team after the NHL awarded the city a franchise on Dec. 4, 2018.

Filling Krejci’s vacated role in Boston

David Krejci left the NHL to sign with HC Olomouc in his native Czech Republic. His departure left the Boston Bruins with an opening at No. 2 center behind captain Patrice Bergeron.

The Bruins could fill the spot with Charlie Coyle, who struggled last season, scoring 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 51 games. Coyle also had offseason knee surgery, but coach Bruce Cassidy said he will get the first crack.

It’s possible Jack Studnicka steps up and wins the spot. He was a second-round pick (No. 53) by the Bruins in the 2017 NHL Draft and scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 20 games last season.

Chicago could get its captain back

Jonathan Toews is hoping and expecting to play this season for the Chicago Blackhawks after the 33-year-old center missed all of last season because of chronic immune response syndrome.

There is no timetable for Toews’ return, but he’s in Chicago and has been working out with his teammates. Defenseman Connor Murphy said Sept. 1 that Toews was looking “great” in on-ice workouts as he gears up for training camp.

Toews scored 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games in the 2019-20 season. He has scored at least 20 goals in 12 of his 13 NHL seasons, but hasn’t played a game since Aug. 18, 2020.

Video: Jonathan Toews expects to play in 2021-2022 season

Drouin’s return to the Canadiens

Jonathan Drouin is expected to return to the Montreal Canadiens after the forward took a leave of absence for anxiety reasons late last season that carried through the Stanley Cup Final.

Drouin left April 28 and he was placed on long-term injured reserve. His last game last season was April 21. He scored 23 points (two goals, 21 assists) in 44 games.

His return would give the Canadiens another scoring and playmaking threat, and it’ll be interesting to follow how he gets reacclimated to the NHL and carries through training camp and the preseason schedule.

Drouin has scored 232 points (69 goals, 163 assists) in 393 regular-season games for Montreal and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Stars’ three goalie rotation

The Dallas Stars will open training camp with three goalies competing for the starting job.

Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger are the incumbents. They were joined in the offseason by Braden Holtby, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract July 28.

Dallas signed Holtby to create competition in net, especially since Ben Bishop has a knee injury that is preventing him from playing.

The Stars view the 22-year-old Oettinger as their goalie of the future after he showed promise last season, going 11-8-7 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. But if Holtby performs well it could make him or Khudobin expendable in a trade.

Merzlikins or Korpisalo in Columbus

The expectation is that goalies Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will share playing time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But the competition in camp between them should be interesting because it could give early indications as to which goalie coach Brad Larsen might prefer.

Larsen was promoted as the replacement for John Tortorella on June 10. Larsen was an assistant with the Blue Jackets the past seven seasons, so he has intimate knowledge of each goalie, their strengths and what makes them tick.

Merzlikins told The Athletic his plan is to win the Vezina Trophy as the League’s best goalie in honor of his friend and former Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who died in a fireworks accident July 4 at the age of 24.

Merzlikins was 8-12-5 with a 2.77 GAA and .916 save percentage in 28 games (23 starts) last season. Korpisalo was 9-13-7 with a 3.30 GAA and .894 save percentage in 33 games (31 starts).

Matthews’ recovery, readiness for opening night

Auston Matthews said he’s confident he will be ready to play in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season opener against the Canadiens on Oct. 13, but the center has work to do in order to make that happen.

Matthews had surgery on his left wrist Aug. 13 and was expected to miss a minimum of six weeks, which takes him to Friday.

He said at the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour in Toronto on Sept. 13 that he was going to have the splint removed before the end of the month and still needed time to build his strength back up so he could play.

Matthews’ recovery and targeted return date will be an everyday storyline in Toronto.

He won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the League’s leading goal scorer with 41 in 52 games last season. He scored one goal in the Stanley Cup First Round when the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Canadiens in seven games.

Video: Top 10 Auston Matthews Plays from the 2021 Season

Penguins preparing without Crosby, Malkin

The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t have centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in training camp and they’re each expected to miss the start of the season following offseason surgery.

Crosby had surgery Sept. 8 to repair a problem he’s had with his left wrist for seven years. He’s expected to miss six weeks, but he said on Thursday that he wasn’t sure when he would be able to play.

A six-week recovery time from surgery would take him until Oct. 20, which would have him missing at least the first four games of the season.

The Penguins announced June 4 that Malkin had right knee surgery and that he would be unavailable in training camp.

The Penguins will enter training camp with 36-year-old Jeff Carter as the top center on their depth chart. They also have Evan Rodrigues and Teddy Blueger, and they signed Brian Boyle to a professional tryout contract Sept. 3.

Wild, Kaprizov contract negotiations

The biggest story of the Minnesota Wild training camp could focus on when restricted free agent Kirill Kaprizov will sign.

The 24-year-old forward won the Calder Trophy as the League’s best rookie last season. Wild general manager Bill Guerin said on NHL Network last week that negotiations with Kaprizov were “pretty slow right now” but he was optimistic he would eventually re-sign.

The longer Kaprizov goes without a contract the more the storyline can also include the potential for him to return home to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Kaprizov led all rookies in goals (27), points (51), power-play goals (eight) and shots on goal (157) in 55 games last season.

Who else needs to sign?

Kaprizov isn’t the only young player unsigned entering camp.

Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes are unsigned, along with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk and Blues forward Robert Thomas.

Forwards Eric Staal, Alex Galchenyuk and Patrick Marleau are some of the top players who are still unrestricted free agents.

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