Ahh, training camp. The long wait of the offseason is mercifully drawing to an end. Summer is nice and all, but as training camps kick off across the league, we can officially say that hockey is back, and that is blessed news for us all.
Training camp is an odd mix. You have players who are absolute locks for the roster, just trying to get back into gear and avoid injury. You have players who have no realistic hope of making the NHL this year, but are looking to make an impression for the future. You have players on the way out, just looking to latch onto an NHL roster spot. It’s a real smorgasbord of players and stories, and also a chance for us to get to know some players who are not household names.
Often, this results in some very formulaic storylines and news items. Below is a brief collection of story types you should keep your eye on as training camp begins.
Player X is in the best shape of their life
The Storyline: This is a news item we’re sure to see about many players, but it is often stated about a veteran who just came off a bit of a down year. Reportedly, this player spent their offseason training like a madman to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and to fight the effects that aging often has on production. Spoiler - it often doesn’t seem to work. Be sure to keep an eye out for its cousin - “Player X put on Y pounds of muscle” this offseason, where Y is an amount that is certainly not possible to add in lean muscle over the course of 3 months without the use of
performance enhancers grit and tenacity.
The opposite story is much less common, unless you’re Phil Kessel, or are the latest first line forward to have the pleasure of being run out of Edmonton or Boston.
Likely Leaf Recipient: Eric Fehr
Eventual Outcome: The player is slightly worse than last year.
The perspective of two players competing for the same spot
The Storyline: The premise of this article is that a reporter talks to two (or more) players who know there’s only one spot available between them. The reporter talks to them about what they’re doing to cement the spot, and the players give equally boring answers of keeping their head down, working hard, and making the right plays. The players will vaguely allude to their rival being ‘good players’ and ‘tough competition’, and will often observe that ‘we got a lot of strong guys here’. Left unsaid, of course, is the mutual hope that one of them really fucks up during the game to leave the door open for the other. Bonus points if the players in question actually happen to be roommates or old junior teammates.
Likely Leaf Recipients: Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen
Eventual Outcome: One player makes the team, and demurely notes that it could have easily been the other. He doesn’t say the “but it fuckin’ wasn’t” with the accompanying fist-pump that is likely going through his head. The other player is in the AHL, and is therefore dead to the local media.
The hotshot rookie who needs to learn the ropes
The Storyline: This rookie has got it all. You can see the talent on a shift-by-shift basis. They’ve just come from lighting up a junior league, doing whatever they want, and living out every kid’s dream, where they’re just streets ahead of the competition. But now, they’re playing against pros, and that is going to be an adjustment. The player will talk about how much faster it is, and that the decision-making of everyone else is so much better. The coach will be asked for a quote and tersely say that the player needs to learn how to actually play hockey. An anecdote will be shared about how the rookie made an awesome play during a preseason game. A similar one will be shared about a bone-headed error they made. Ultimately, it will conclude with an optimistic outlook for the player going forward.
Likely Leafs Recipients: Jeremy Bracco and Adam Brooks
Eventual Outcome: The rookie shows flashes of talent, but is cut midway through camp. Everyone remains excited for him, until he turns into....
The former hotshot rookie
The Storyline: Two or three years ago, this guy was the hotshot rookie. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t stuck in the NHL. Maybe he’s struggling in the AHL. Maybe there’s a logjam in front of him. Regardless, this player is starting to age out of the ‘prospect’ bracket and into the ‘AHL level player’ bracket. Along with it, they are now waiver-eligible. The story will make reference to some ‘frustrating’ times. Perhaps it will also discuss how they’ve matured through their struggles. A reference will be made to the fact that the player is now auditioning for other teams, in addition to his own, and the ominous vibe of the story will make us feel like the player is on his last chance.
Likely Leafs Recipients: Kerby Rychel and Josh Leivo. Put Nikita Soshnikov in this bucket for next year, assuming he has become verbose enough to get quotes from for a piece like this.
Eventual Outcome: The player tries hard, impresses some people, but ultimately falls short. They get waived, and picked up with the chance to prove the same thing for another team. Maybe another year, they become....
The unknown who has a good camp
The Storyline: Whoa, who is this guy? He’s actually pretty good. We should temper expectations for him, but man, he could actually fill a need with the big club! Sure, his track record is nothing spectacular - in fact, it’s perfectly mediocre, even by training camp standards. But he’s different this year! What’s the secret? When asked by the writer, the player will say “Just working hard”. The coach will offer “He knows what to do”, and his teammates will praise his competitiveness and hockey IQ. Will the Cinderella story make it all the way on to the roster? The story will stoke the fire that this player could play for the Leafs, exciting fans that they’ve found a diamond in the rough. People will assume he’s young, because they haven’t heard of him before, but he’s actually in his 30s. The writer will not mention this.
Likely Leafs Recipient: Chris Mueller
Eventual Outcome: The player gets sent down and continues their relatively nondescript career.