Who will be Connor McDavid’s new linemate? Can Mike Smith be a No. 1 goalie, can Jonathan Drouin be a No. 1 centre and can Thomas Chabot be the next Erik Karlsson?
With training camps opening around the league on Thursday, here are seven burning questions facing the seven Canadian teams.
Will Mike Smith find his footing?
No one is anticipating that Smith will have to battle Eddie Lack for the No. 1 goaltending job. Then again, no one expected that Brian Elliott would temporarily lose the net to Chad Johnson at this time last season.
If anything, the Flames will be looking for Smith, who was acquired in a trade from Arizona, to provide assurances that he can rebound from a tough season last year and be the starter Calgary needs him to be. If he can’t, Lack might be more than just the backup.
Who will be Connor McDavid’s winger?
Playing on a line with McDavid turned Pat Maroon into a 27-goal scorer (he previously never had more than 12) and propelled Leon Draisaitl into the top-10 in scoring with 77 points.
But with Draisaitl getting a chance to centre his own line, last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner is looking for a new running mate. Will it be Ryan Strome, who was acquired in a trade from the Islanders? Fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi? Or can someone else, such as Jussi Jokinen or Drake Caggiula, win the most coveted spot in hockey?
Can Jonathan Drouin play centre?
When the Canadiens traded their top defensive prospect to the Lightning for Drouin, it added more pressure to a Quebec-born forward who was finally starting to find his game. That pressure was likely amplified in the last few days, when head coach Claude Julien and general manager Marc Bergevin made it clear that Drouin — and not Alex Galchenyuk — would open training camp at centre.
Forget that Drouin is only 22 years old and still developing. He’s now being asked to play a position he hasn’t played since junior. And he has to do it in Montreal? Zut alors!
Can Thomas Chabot fill in for Erik Karlsson?
Chabot is not the next Karlsson. He isn’t even his body double. But with Karlsson expected to miss some time while recovering from off-season surgery, the rookie defenceman will get a chance to show whether he belongs amongst the team’s top-four.
It’s a lot to ask of a 20-year-old who has played just one game in the NHL. But after winning the MVP at the world juniors and in the Quebec junior league, expectations are sky-high for the early Calder Trophy candidate.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
How will the forward pieces fit together?
When the Maple Leafs acquired Patrick Marleau as a free agent, it gave the team a proven 25-30 goal-scorer. But it also gave them yet another winger.
We assume that Marleau, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk and Connor Brown are locked in as top-nine forwards, but we don’t know who’s playing with whom and whether Zach Hyman or Leo Komarov will be relegated to the fourth line. And with so many forwards on the team, will minor-leaguers Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Leivo be able to push someone like Matt Martin out of a job?
Will Jake Virtanen benefit from Travis Green?
It was a difficult — some would call it rock bottom — year for Vancouver prospect Jake Virtanen last season. After failing to score a goal in the NHL, he was demoted back to the AHL, where he struggled even more, scoring nine goals and 19 points in 65 games.
The positive? He played for Travis Green, who became a fan of the 21-year-old’s resilience, and who now happens to be the head coach of the Canucks. That could help. But first, Virtanen has to show he belongs in the NHL.
Will Winnipeg inject more youth?
Jacob Trouba is not sitting out, Tyler Myers is healthy and head coach Paul Maurice and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff both have extensions. About the only question now is whether one or more of Kyle Connor, Jack Rosolovic and Brendan Lemieux can win jobs at training camp.
Of the three prospects, Connor seemingly has the best chance after making the team out of camp last year and appearing in 20 games. But that doesn’t mean Rosolovic or Lemieux won’t steal a job from a veteran like Matt Hendricks.
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