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Will Landeskog Be the Only One to Leave the 'O' for the 'Show'?


Special Thanks to Bryan Thiel:

In the next few days, players will arrive from all parts of the globe for NHL Training Camps. It gives teams their first opportunity to take a look at new players, and find answers to the questions of why 29 of the NHL’s clubs fell short in the chase for the cup.

Their CHL counterparts have their own questions that they’re trying to answer right now, and depending on how some of their stars do at NHL camps, maybe a few more.

You see, so many things can happen in an NHL training camp, many of them with implications on junior hockey. An NHL star can go down injured and open up a spot for a hungry rookie eager for a nine-game tryout. A first-round pick once thought to need a few more years of seasoning could prove everyone wrong and evolve into a Calder candidate. Or, that undrafted training camp invite could suffer an injury, throwing a wrench into your OHL team’s championship aspirations.

The easiest example of the NHL foiling a junior hockey team’s plans is last year with the Kitchener Rangers. Following a surprise run to the Western Conference finals the previous spring, the Rangers were expecting both high-scoring winger Jeremy Morin and the physically-fluid wonderkid Jeff Skinner to be back in 2010-11. The hope was that the two would tag-team to lead the Rangers, along with future first-rounders Ryan Murphy and Gabriel Landeskog, to Mississauga for the Memorial Cup.

During the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Skinner was expected to be a mid-first round pick, probably falling in the 15-17 range. Jim Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes stunned onlookers however, when they selected the athletic centre seventh overall.

That wasn’t the only surprise however.

While many pegged Skinner as too small physically to make the NHL at that time, he outshone other ‘Canes rookies in summer camps and rookie showcases. His raw talent and fluid physical abilities made him impossible to ignore during training camp, so much so that he earned a third-line spot as an 18-year old and eventually worked his way up to top-six minutes.

Skinner’s departure would have been fine had the Rangers been left with Morin. But an off-season trade sending his rights to the Chicago Blackhawks and a new ruling passed down allowing Morin to play in the AHL following his time in the US Developmental System made sure that wouldn’t happen. Chicago sent Morin to Rockford, Skinner went on to win the Calder, and the Kitchener Rangers sat there shell-shocked. They were more-than-willing to admit that they had been preparing to live life without one of their stars. But both? Surprise…

This year NHL camps are full of similar questions, some of which have already been met with answers that rubbed some the wrong way.

The Rangers were in the middle of a summer whirlwind again when Import Winger and Captain Gabriel Landeskog was drafted second-overall by the Colorado Avalanche. With both Landeskog and Tobias Rieder filling the two Import Selection spots and Landeskog deemed the most-likely prospect to make and stick in the NHL, the Rangers were forced to decide whether they would keep Gabe on the roster, occupying both a roster and import slot, or release him and draft another Import. Kitchener did the later when they deleted Landeskog from their roster and drafted Czech Radek Faksa to avoid being hamstrung once again.

Along with Landeskog, questions surround some of the OHL’s brightest stars on the best teams. Niagara’s Ryan Strome has already turned heads on Long Island, and if he impresses the New York Islanders any more, he could find himself in a spot similar to Skinner’s last year. While it’s likely that Boston’s deep blueline will ensure that Dougie Hamilton will be back with the Ice Dogs this season, how deep in to camp is Hamilton kept? It depends how enamored the Bruins become with their ninth-overall ‘steal’, and who knows? Deep team or not, they may still want a first-hand look at the well-rounded blueliner.

The Ottawa Senators had a big haul in the first round of the NHL draft, landing Plymouth’s Stefan Noesen and Peterborough’s Matt Puempel three picks apart. While people rave about the player taken ahead of them by the Sens, Mika Zibanejad, on a roster that’s fairly underwhelming there could be room for one of the two OHL’ers to get a trial if they have a strong camp.

And how about this? The London Knights, who are quickly becoming a trendy pick to win the Midwest, could be in the same position with towering defenseman Jarred Tinordi as the Rangers were with Morin last year. You may remember that Tinordi went to London last year following his time in the USNTDP. It could happen with Jack Campbell too, but is far less likely.

So as you wonder whether your team has the pieces to make it all the way, your new drafts picks will have an immediate impact or you’ll have to wait a little bit for them to come along, or that overage goalie will lead your team of young upstarts to a couple of upsets, keep in mind that not all of the questions are right in front of you. Some of them will end up coming from above.

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