ARLINGTON, Va. – With Niklas Backstrom injured the hole in the middle of the Washington Capitals lineup seemed tailor-made for 2019 first-round pick Conor McMichael, who impressed as a rookie in the American Hockey League last season.
The place may still be his. But 2020 first rounder Hendrix Lapierre, who is a year younger and came in with less fanfare, has had one of the biggest training camps around the NHL and could make it to the opening night roster.
“If I want to be in that starting lineup, I have to push (myself) every day and make sure I’m prepared and do the little things correctly,” Lapierre said. “It certainly is, but right now my goal is to improve and learn new things every day.”
Lapierre, 19, scored four points in his first two preseason games, held his own in practice against Alex Ovechkin and was positioned to be succeeded by the coaching staff. He probably still needs to add more strength to handle the 82-game season, but Lapierre is a strong skater and has kept the pace.
“He’s done well with his game so far: his creativity, his pace,” said coach Peter Laviolet. “Definitely skating hasn’t been an issue.”
Unlike McMichael, who can return to the AHL’s Hershey at age 20, Lapierre must return to Junior if he is not in the NHL and cannot be recalled except on emergency grounds. He can play up to nine games without wasting a year of his entry-level contract, and Lapierre’s vision and the way he sees games may be enough to earn him a tryout while Backstrom is on the shelf. Is.
Seth Jarvis, Carolina
Taking nine places ahead of Lapierre, forward Seth Jarvis has stayed longer than expected in Carolina’s camp and is a candidate to play for the Hurricanes immediately.
Jarvis has skated with Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Nino Niedreiter and got some power-play looks in practice. He told reporters that the team hasn’t told him much about the future, which is either sticking to the NHL or going to the juniors.
“They want me to focus on the defensive,” Jarvis said. “They know I can play with the puck, and in the offensive zone, it’s more focused than the puck and (d) I have a responsibility in the field, so it’s just learning that way.”
Shane Pinto, Ottawa
While the biggest story in the senators’ camp is the absence of unsigned banned free agent forward Brady Tkachuk, the rise of center Shane Pinto is a close second.
Pinto is skating on the second line in Ottawa between 2020 number 3 pick Tim Stutzl and high-scoring winger Conor Brown. After playing at the University of North Dakota, Pinto tasted the NHL at the end of last season, playing 12 games and scoring seven points.
Coach DJ Smith called Pinto one of the best players in the camp ever, and now the 2019 first-rounder looks like a big piece of the Senators’ youth movement.
Evgeny Svechnikov, Winnipeg
Carolina star Andrei Svechnikov’s brother, Evgeny, is at the Jets camp on a tryout and is getting closer to getting a contract. The 24-year-old was not offered a qualifying offer by Detroit after scoring eight points in 21 games last season.
Coach Paul Maurice told reporters he liked what he saw from Svechnikov, who represents untapped potential at a bargain price.
Maurice said, “He doesn’t mind going to the net. He has some hands, and he makes some good plays and I think he understands the game. It’s how he fits in with the other guys.” It will be a really important thing for him to move forward, but he has a good camp ahead.”
Michael Bunting, Toronto
Lost in the star power of the Maple Leafs of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is their trial-and-error process for building a core that has not yet progressed past the first round of the playoffs. Gritty Nick Ritchie and skilled Ondrej Kaase are part of the new mix, but so is Bunting, who signed a $1.9 million, two-year contract as a free agent.
No player has more preseason goals than Bunting’s four (through Sunday), and is projected to start the season alongside Tavares.
“He has been a late bloomer: someone who had to prove a lot of people wrong and always had the attitude to find a way,” Tavares told reporters.
The 26-year-old Bunting has 14 points in 26 NHL games with Arizona, but his camp showing comes as no surprise to Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dabas, who drafted him into the Ontario Hockey League with the Salt Ste. My. Bunting may now be one of the missing pieces of Toronto’s Stanley Cup puzzle.
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