Puck Daddy - NHL

Listen ... do you smell something? Why, it's the unmistakable odor of fresh equipment and unfettered optimism! NHL training camps must be near!

Camps formally open all over the League this weekend, which got us wondering about some of the pressing issues around the NHL. Here are 15 burning questions about the Eastern Conference's 15 teams:

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils: Where does Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) fit, exactly?

Now that the drama is done and Kovalchuk is a Devil for the next 15 years (uh-huh), where does he fit on the 2010-11 roster?

Coach John MacLean told Fire & Ice that Patrik Elias(notes) will play on left wing, potentially with center Jason Arnott(notes). Kovalchuk is a left wing. So is Zach Parise(notes). MacLean was asked if he regards them both as left wingers:

"They're all left wingers. That's the position they've all played, yeah. But we'll see. Left wing, right wing, they're all wingers too. Sometimes they might line up on left. Sometimes they might line up on right. We'll see."

Well that settles it.

New York Islanders: Rick DiPietro(notes) is healthy for how long?

Great news: Rick DiPietro took batting practice at Citi Field and managed to escape unscathed from the Mets' voodoo curse. Which means he can still enter Islanders camp healthy, which is still hard to conceive.

A healthy DiPietro and the steady Dwayne Roloson(notes) can be an impressive backstop duo for the Islanders; that he's attending camp and not rehabbing an injury is an undeniable positive development.

New York Rangers: Can Wade Redden(notes) remain a Ranger?

After Marc Staal's(notes) free-agent deal pushed the New York Rangers over the salary cap for the regular season, the departure of Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit appeared cemented; or as New York Magazine put it, "Wade Redden's Days in New York Are Even More Numbered Than Before."

While it would appear that it's impossible for Redden to avoid demotion to Hartford or exile overseas, we won't be convinced he's gone until he's actually gone, because of two unpredictable variables: "Glen" and "Sather."

Philadelphia Flyers: Will Bill Guerin(notes) make the cut?

Former Penguin Bill Guerin will attend Flyers camp on a tryout contract, and Chuck Gormley handicaps his chances of joining the Eastern Conference champs this season:

If Guerin, who learned late last month that the Penguins would not be re-signing him, plays well enough to make the Flyers' opening night roster - and after scoring 21 goals last season there is a good chance he will - someone will need to be removed from the Flyers' roster, which currently stands at 23 players, excluding Guerin.

Even without the benefit of a preseason Guerin likely will begin camp as the club's third-line right wing behind Jeff Carter(notes) and Nikolai Zherdev(notes) and ahead of Jody Shelley(notes), Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe(notes). If Guerin signs with the Flyers it could force the club to place Carcillo or defenseman Matt Walker(notes) on waivers.

Jettisoning Dan Carcillo in favor of Bill Guerin? It's like a sacrifice to the Hockey Gods.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Does Jordan Staal's(notes) injury scuttle plans for Evgeni Malkin(notes) on the wing?

The Penguins announced on Thursday that center Jordan Staal will miss the start of the regular season because of a post-operative infection in his right foot, apparently snapping his consecutive games streak at 302.

The plan for the Penguins reportedly was to shift Staal to second-line center and move Malkin to the wing; the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes that Staal scored 29 goals playing with Malkin as a rookie. Will the Malkin shift be put on hold; and will it still happen upon Staal's return?

Northeast Division

Boston Bruins: Where will Tyler Seguin(notes) end up?

The preliminary plan this summer was to start Seguin, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, on the wing with Patrice Bergeron(notes) as his center and the ageless Mark Recchi(notes) on the opposite wing. The job would appear his to win, but there are still some defensive zone concerns that could have him start lower in the lineup -- or out of the NHL, in the worst case scenario.  

Buffalo Sabres: Can a newbie crack the blue line?

Twenty-year-old Tyler Myers(notes) is the unquestioned king of the Sabres defense, but after him there are some veteran names: Captain Craig Rivet(notes), Steve Montador(notes), free-agent signees Jordan Leopold(notes) and Shaone Morrison. Andrej Sekera(notes) and Chris Butler(notes) are both in the mix as well, which leads one to wonder if a player like AHL stud Mike Weber can crack the lineup. In the meantime, Weber will just continue to crack Tyler Ennis when he gets cute with the puck.

Montreal Canadiens: Where does PK Subban(notes) fit?

As we mentioned in the Habs preview, rookie defenseman Subban showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs. His offensive upside and popularity are exceptional. He wants to earn a spot and make a difference, but where will he fit on a crowded defense for the Habs?

Ottawa Senators: Can a reunion help Leclaire?

The Senators are reuniting Pascal Leclaire(notes) and his old Blue Jackets goalie coach Rick Wamsley this season, as the oft-injured keeper is attempting to have a big season in his contract year. From the Montreal Gazette:

Leclaire is enthusiastic about having Wamsley around. "We had a great relationship," Leclaire said. "He helped me a lot coming out of junior. He's a great teacher and I was really excited when I learned he was coming to Ottawa. ... He's a good guy, he's going to help us, and he has a lot of experience."

And if he doesn't help, there's always Brian Elliott(notes)

Toronto Maple Leafs: Where will the new faces fit at forward?

Kris Versteeg(notes), Colby Armstrong(notes), Mike Brown(notes) and Clarke MacArthur(notes) were added to the Leafs collection of forwards this summer. Top-liner Phil Kessel(notes) finished last season skating with Tyler Bozak(notes) and Nikolai Kulemin(notes), both whom return for the Leafs. How do the new faces, and the rookie prospects, reset the lineup?

Southeast Division

Atlanta Thrashers: Will Big Buff work on defense?

Dustin Byfuglien(notes) will begin with the Thrashers on the blue line, and tells Ben Wright that he's excited to be back on defense:

Yeah, I've always been a defenseman growing up. I came into the NHL as D and I've only played a couple years of forward. We talked a lot and had many conversations about what I was going to play and what they want me to play. So, yeah I'm going to play D to start off and I can always go back to forward. So defense is where I'm going to start.

With Buff on defense, how does that affect the Thrashers' pairings?

Carolina Hurricanes: Can Jeff Skinner(notes) make the cut?

Skinner, 18, was the seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft and impressed during rookie camp. Under the tutelage of Rod Brind'Amour, is he ready for an NHL roster spot?

Florida Panthers: Can Erik Gudbranson(notes) force his way into Florida?

Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in the draft, is an impressive defenseman on a team with a logjam on the blueline. Can he make the NHL cut or will it be back to juniors? The Rat Trick opines:

What do the Cats do?  In either case, it's a tough choice.  To be a 5th or 6th defenceman in the NHL may not the best thing for him.  Especially if the Panthers endure a losing season.   I myself haven't been this excited about a player coming to the Panthers since Pavel Bure arrived.  But that doesn't make it right to keep him here if he'll be better served with one more year in juniors.

In other words: Handle with care. 

Tampa Bay Lightning: Can Eric Perrin(notes) make the cut?

Maybe not the most pressing issue, but an interesting one: Center Eric Perrin, who previously played for the Lightning, returns for what could be his swan song on a tryout contract. 

Washington Capitals: Who centers the second line?

One of the most intriguing mysteries of the exhibitions season: Who plays behind Nicklas Backstrom(notes) as the second pivot for the Capitals? From Erika Schnure of The Fourth Period:

Second-line center, a topic of continuing conversation during the off-season has a number of contenders including Tomas Fleischmann(notes), Mathieu Perreault(notes), or Marcus Johansson(notes).

Fleischmann made the switch to center after being selected for the Czech Olympic team, but he hasn't shown the knack for the position that Backstrom, David Steckel, and Boyd Gordon(notes) have.

Fleischmann's point performance took a dip after the change, and he won only 43% of his face-offs. Perreault spent most of last season with the Caps' AHL affiliate (and Calder Cup Champions) the Hershey Bears, but played 21 games with the Capitals after a few player injuries. With the Bears, he averaged nearly a point per game. While small (he's listed generously at 5'10"), he's quick and has good hands, and has a definite shot at cracking the lineup.

Johansson, a standout at this summer's development camp, could also have a chance at the second-line center position, pending a successful rookie camp. General Manager George McPhee has hinted that the 2009 first-round pick will be on the roster come October, saying, "we're really confident he can play in the league this year and play for us."

And after that question is answered, another one emerges: Will this player still be the second-line center after the trade deadline?

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