The boys are back on the ice for the first official on-ice session today and we couldn’t be more excited (well, at least I couldn’t, I find the general vibe around Oil Country to be quite jaded and somewhat demoralizing).
Coach McLellan gave us a bit of insight into the lines at his presser yesterday afternoon. To no one’s surprise, he indicated that, to start, McDavid would be flanked by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie. He also indicated that, from talking with Puljijarvi and some of his teammates, Jesse “feels the most comfortable” with Ryan Strome and they will start together.
McLellan was true to his word and some of the main lines on the ice this morning are as follows:
Personally, I would like to see Rieder and Puljujarvi switched as I see Puljujarvi as more of a top-six player and Rieder as more of a middle-six player. I would like to have the players in spots that match their skill-sets and I see Jesse as establishing himself in the top 6 this year. With that said, given McLellan’s verbal yesterday, we knew Jesse would start camp on the third line with Strome and I am happy to see Khaira on their left side as I was worried that we might see Caggulia in that spot. I should note that Caggulia isn’t skating today but it looks like he was slatted as the fourth line left winger as that spot is being occupied by Luke Esposito who, of course, is just keeping it warm for an NHL body.
Given Aberg is lining up with long-shots to break camp with the team, this implies that, to start camp, he is on the outside looking in for a lineup spot and likely slated for the 13th/14th forward spot. Aberg will need to earn his way into the lineup. Similar for Yamamoto who is currently not on an NHL line and will need to earn his way into the lineup (and on to the roster).
Some of the defence-pairings on the ice this morning are as follows:
No surprise to see Klefbom and Larsson together as the hope is, with both players being 100% healthy coming into camp, they can be the pairing that we saw night in and night out during the 2016/17 season and playoff run.
Glaring by omission, of course, is Darnell Nurse. Of note, Kevin Gravel is keeping Nurse’s spot warm alongside Benning on the 2nd pairing which, to me, implies that, assuming Nurse is in the lineup for Game 1, at this point, Gravel is on the outside looking in and likely slated as the 7th d-man.
Similar to Aberg and Yamamoto, Bear and Bouchard are on non-NHL pairings and will need to earn their way into a lineup spot (and a roster spot).
Overall, I like how the coaching staff has structured the lines early in camp. To me, they have taken their early view of the opening night roster and put it on the ice - prospects and bubble players will need to earn their way in the lineup.
This should allow chemistry and familiarity to be developed and light a fire under the asses of the bubble players and higher-end prospects.
Of course, the higher-end prospects and bubble players will get some chances up the lineup in the exhibition games as the full NHL lineup will not be on the ice for the early games.
I can’t wait to see which bubble players and prospects earn their way on to the roster and into the lineup.