National Hockey League training camps open this week and the season begins October 3 with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals facing the Boston Bruins.
The 2017-18 NHL season is chock full of interesting story lines involving players of color that are worth paying attention to. Here are a few:
THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AND JOSH HO-SANG. CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED? It’s safe to say that the Islanders and right wing Joshua Ho-Sang, the team’s 2014 first-round draft pick, have fit as well as an ice skating rink inside Brooklyn’s basketball-perfect Barclays Center.
Previous Islanders management complained that Ho-Sang was too head strong and defensively insufficient, among other things. Ho-Sang griped that the old Islanders brain trust overlooked similar deficiencies of other players and unjustly banished him to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Isles’ American Hockey League farm team, while others skated scot free.
Well, there are new sheriffs on Long Island in General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz, who guided the Capitals to the Cup last season by getting the best out of superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, and they seem determined to make the Isles/Ho-Sang marriage work.
Trotz and Lamoriello say Ho-Sang starts off with a clean slate under their regime And Ho-Sang appears to be singing from the same hymnal.
“Josh has to be part of our future,” Trotz told Stan Fischler last month. “He’s a talent who needs to be understood better than he has been. In this case, Lou will be good. My belief is that the kid has been misunderstood because he looks at the game differently.”
Ho-Sang told NHL.com that the new management has “been tremendous in working with me and talking to me. ”
“I really don’t want to get into what they’ve talked to me about, but it’s all been positive,” he told NHL.com. “Every conversation that I’ve had with them since the moment they became part of the organization has just been teaching.”
In addition to featuring a new attitude, Ho-Sang will feature a new number with the Islanders, if he makes the team, because notoriously old school Lamoriello has squashed players wearing high-numbered jerseys for 2018-19.
Ho-Sang wore No. 66 in previous stints with the Isles, which caused many hockey purists to lose their minds because it was Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux’s number during his glory years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ho-Sang will wear No. 26.
WHAT ABOUT WAYNE? Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds enters the season in the last year of his six-year, $23.85 million contract. Talks about an extension with one of the team’s most prolific goal scorers have been slow, raising question about whether the Flyers are interested in jumping off and moving on from the “Wayne Train.”
Adding fuel to the speculation are the Flyers’ free agent signing of former Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James Van Riemsdyk and the late 2017-18 rise of 19-year-old center Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ 2017 first-round draft pick.
Like Simmonds, Patrick and Van Riemsdyk are net-front players who score bunches of goals by parking themselves in front of opposing goaltenders in hopes of tip-in shots or fat rebounds.
And Simmonds is coming off a down scoring season – sort of. He had 24 goals and 22 assists in 75 regular season games last season and no goals and 2 assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff contests.
His 24 goals came after he scored 31 in 2016-17 and 32 in 2015-16. Some context here: Simmonds managed the 24 goals despite a laundry list of injuries that included a tear in his pelvic area, a pulled groin, fractured ankle, torn ligament in his thumb and a busted mouth twice. Still, he only missed seven games last season.
Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall insists that the team would like to retain Simmonds and Simmonds has indicated that he wants to finish his playing career in Philadelphia.
“For being injured, I didn’t have a bad season last year, but it’s still not to my best ability” Simmonds told reporters in August. “So we continue to talk, we continue to talk. It is what it is right now.”
WILL THE MONTREAL CANADIENS RIDE SUZUKI BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS? The Canadiens finally ended the Max Paciorietty saga Monday by trading the high-scoring left wing and team captain to the Vegas Golden Knights for center Nick Suzuki, who was a Knights’ 2017 first-round draft pick, forward Tomas Tatar, and a 2019 second-round draft pick.
The trade caused howls among many Canadiens fans who still suffer bad flashbacks from the the team swapping defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for blue-liner Shea Weber in June 2016 and shipping all-world goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in December 1995.
The Paciorietty trade may look lopsided sided now – he has 226 goals and 222 assists in 626 NHL regular season games – But the 19-year-old Suzuki is no slouch. He impressed the Golden Knights in the team inaugural training camp, though he didn’t make the team last season.
Instead, Suzuki lit it up with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League in 2017-18. He tallied 42 goals and 58 assists in 64 OHL regular season games. He had 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games in 2016-17.
“Suzuki was the key piece because we like a young prospect that was picked 13th overall, which I believe at the time we had at 11 on our list,” Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin told reporters after the trade.
The question is when will Suzuki arrive in Montreal? The OHL is one thing, the NHL is another. Some prospects need time and patience – things that are often in short supply in in hockey-crazed Montreal.
WILL THE KIDS STICK? A number of highly-touted prospects who’ve already had a small tastes of the NHL are heading to training camps looking to stay in the big leagues.
Minnesota Wild rookie left wing Jordan Greenway had a dream season in 2017-18: Becoming the first African-American to play on a U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, skate for Hockey East champion Boston University, and play for the Wild in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now the 21-year-old, Wild 2015 second-round draft pick has got to grind it out in training camp to land a permanent job in Minnesota.
“We’re just looking at his smarts, how he adjusts,” Wild first-year General Manager Paul Fenton told The Athletic at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. “Being able to play in the Olympics gave him a different dimension to where he was playing in college hockey. To turn pro and play in the playoffs, from afar I was watching and he looked like he adjusted to the pro game right away. That’s what we’re looking to see – how he was able to take the summer and take his maturity an go forward.”
The Calgary Flames are doing the same thing with right wing Spencer Foo and defenseman Oliver Kylington.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Foo told Canada’s Global News of the upcoming season. “First game of the season is always exciting whether it’s exhibition or not. I think everyone’s pretty pumped.”
Foo spent most of the 2017-18 season with the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ AHL farm team, where he was third in scoring with 20 goals and 19 assists in 62 regular season games.
He was there with Kylington, a 21-year-old blue-liner from Stockholm, Sweden. Kylington was the team’s seventh-leading scorer with 7 goals and 28 assists in 62 regular season contests.
“There’s a spot available” on the Calgary roster, Kylington told The Montreal Gazette. “And it’s a lot of work to get that spot. I feel ready, I’ve been training hard this summer and putting a lot of grind in the gym and mentally preparing myself for this year and this camp.”
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