Greetings CanesCountry! I am happy to be joining the words here with an occasional guest blog. By way of introduction, I am the regular Canes blogger at hockeybuzz.com and a sporadic contributor on a couple other Canes boards. But more significantly, I am very simply a die-hard Canes fan.
So with training camp finally upon us after a longer than desired summer, other than guys with slots just playing their way into form, what is worth watching for in training camp? I can think of 4 and am sure we can run a list to something like 10.
1) Work of guys like Cullen, Hamilton, etc. on defense in training camp? What you say?!?! Are we so short on defense that Coach Laviolette will need to use these guys here? No. But we made no significant addition on the blueline in terms of a powerplay quarterback. We do get a bunch more Kaberle which helps a lot, but I figure there 4 slots (2 on each unit) to be filled and really only 1 real version of defenseman available. Coach Laviolette has been known to use 5 forwards late in a game in desperation mode. Because of personnel (2 more decent forward point types added in Cullen and Hamilton) might we see 5 forwards on the powerplay used a little more often/earlier in games? Watching the powerplay units in training camp and also if we see guys like Hamilton and Cullen get some coaching/work on defense could be telling.
2) The penalty kill units and Craig Adams. All of us hope that we get the same Matt Cullen back that left here last summer. He is the definition of a player who excels in a certain system/role such that he is just a better player in it than elsewhere. But the real kicker could be the full season of development in a more defensive role in New York. He was a regular and solid penalty killer for the Rangers, a role he did not play on his first stint with the Canes. He provides another real center and faceoff man which is ideal. He also provides the offensive speed/danger that Coach Laviolette loves to use on the penalty kill to keep teams honest and from cheating too much at the blueline and also pick up opportunistic scoring chances. So if you couple that with our aging/seemingly always banged up blueline that warrants 7th defenseman in the lineup, the expectation that Hamilton could stick in the lineup to be a powerplay specialist/offensive boost and the spot Larose solidified last season, that leaves Craig Adams looking for where he fits. (My guess is that Letowski is #13 and on the outside looking in already.) IF Cullen pairs with Larose on a 2nd PK unit, and if Hedican's situation or other injuries force us to skate 7 on D, and if Hamilton wins powerplay minutes, through no doing of his own, Craig Adams sits. It will be interesting to see him try to dial his game up to keep his minutes and also how the penalty kill pairings play out.
3) Hedican. IF the long summer is enough to regain his full health, Hedican is still capable. If he just can't go and is forced to retire, Jim Rutherford might still be able to fill the hole (Tanabe?). It seems the worst situation for the Canes is if he is still trying to go but just not getting there like much of last season. Hedican is a warrior and solid guy. He will give 100% and do everything in his power to help the team if he plays. There is no question on the will/desire/effort. The question will be if/how much he is physically able.
4) Staal. Except for the players who entered the season with unhealed significant injuries (Stillman, Kaberle, Hedican, etc.) in 06-07 following our short summer, I would argue that Eric Staal was most impacted by the short summer. Last summer he was still a 21-year-old kid who should have been using summers to recover from the season and also work out hard to add 5-7 pounds of muscle to fill out his frame. Instead, last summer he had barely enough time in July/August to recover from the grind of the extra 24 games stretching to late June. With no playoffs at all in 06-07, he had nearly 5 months off. I would expect him to return looking stronger, faster, and everything else you gain as you go from a skinnyish 18-year-old to a player nearing his physical prime.
So off the top of my head, those are 4 story lines I will be following through September. I would be curious to hear anyone else's speculation on how these things will play out and what else you are watching for in camp.