INSIDE HOCKEY » NHL http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Tue, 30 Sep 2014 06:23:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Duclair Turning Heads in Rangers Camp http://insidehockey.com/duclair-turning-heads-in-rangers-camp http://insidehockey.com/duclair-turning-heads-in-rangers-camp#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 02:45:26 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59244

NEW YORK – He may be a kid, but he sure isn’t playing like it.

Anthony Duclair, a 19-year-old forward and the Rangers’ third-round draft pick in 2013, has been turning heads since the team’s training camp opened less than two weeks ago. His impressive skill-set including a deft scoring touch was on display Friday in Chicago, when he scored a goal and added an assist in the Rangers’ preseason victory over the Blackhawks, and again on Monday in the Rangers blowout win over the Flyers.

“He makes good plays, uses his speed well, and possesses good vision,” Rangers amateur scout Daniel Dore said in a team release. “He displays the execution of a pro.”

“He’s definitely creating an impression. There were some other guys that played pretty solid [on Friday]. That’s what young players have to do,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said on Friday. “Their job is to make our decisions real hard.”

That’s exactly what Duclair has done – he forced himself into the lineup for Monday’s exhibition game against the Flyers, and scored his second goal of the preseason on a perfectly-placed howitzer from a bad angle. He also added an assist, giving him back-to-back multi-point games.

“I’m just gaining confidence every day,” Duclair said. “With the help of the veteran guys here, they’re really helping the young guys, just making us comfortable. Makes the difference at the end of the day.”

“He’s just a young player that’s come in here and tried to play to his strengths,” said Vigneault. “Definitely, the speed element is something we like. His skill with the puck is something we like. Got to see if he can do it on a regular basis and do it against big NHL competition. He has done it real well so far.”

The Rangers have only two options for Duclair. Either they keep him with the big club, or he gets returned to his junior team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the rest of the season. Due to age requirements, he’s not eligible for the AHL.

Last season, Duclair had 50 goals and 99 points in 59 games with Quebec City (QMJHL).

“I want to stay here as long as possible,” Duclair said. “Whether it’s making the team or starting the season, I want to come here every day ready to work and give my all.”

It’s not as simple, however, as whether or not he’s good enough to play in the NHL – the Rangers’ reserve list is at the maximum of 50 players. If Duclair makes the club, even for the allowable nine-game regular-season tryout, they’ll have to cut a player from that list. Whether they’re willing to do that could be one of the deciding factors in whether the youngster makes the club.

In order to cut a player from the reserve list, he has to either be traded, or claimed by another team off waivers.

“Going back to juniors wouldn’t be a downgrade at all,” Duclair said. “It’s just a question of development. I’m still a kid, I’m still 19 years old. There’s still a lot of things I need to work on. Like I said, I want to stay here as long as possible, but if I end up going back to juniors it’s nothing bad.”

“What he has to do is focus on the next game,” Vigneault said after Monday’s game. “He’s playing well right now, he’s playing to his strengths, he’s creating real good opportunities for himself and his teammates on the ice. This is a daily process, and he has to continue.”

The Rangers might also want Duclair to head back to juniors because his team will be hosting and participating in the Memorial Cup, the most prestigious junior tournament in Canada. It’s believed the team wants him to experience that powder keg before being thrown into the blender that is the National Hockey League.

“I’m just going to come to the rink every day ready to work,” Duclair said. “See what happens from there. Obviously I’d like to get another couple games in before they make a decision, I’m just trying to be ready to work and staying consistent.”

Of course, the injury to Derek Stepan further complicates things. The Rangers are now down a forward for the first month of the regular season, throwing their depth up the middle into disarray. While Duclair is a winger, if he makes the team Vigneault could choose to move another winger to the middle. It’s all a complicated game of chess, which will play out within the next ten days before the team opens its regular season on October 9 in St. Louis.

“With the injury to Stepan, there’s a spot available up front,” Duclair said. “With my style of play I have to push the coaches to be in the top six. I’m just here, working hard, obviously I’m a younger player, but I want to prove to them that I can stick at 19 years old.”

NOTES:

Henrik Lundqvist played the entire game on Monday, stopping 22 of 25 shots in the Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Flyers.

Ryan Haggerty scored a pair of goals on two nifty plays, blowing past defenders and beating Steve Mason (31 saves). Jesper Fast added two goals, and Chris Mueller scored on the power play for the Rangers, who had nine players tally points and seven players score multiple points.

Ryan Malone (hip flexor strain) and Matt Lombardi (groin), who are both fighting for two of the last spots on the roster, did not play. Malone isn’t expected back on the ice until the end of the week, while Lombardi, who’s had a poor training camp, could be available on Tuesday when the Rangers finish their home-and-home with the Flyers.

Before the game, the Garden revealed a photo commemorating the Rangers winning the Eastern Conference title this past May 29, as part of its Garden 366 exhibit on the main concourse.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Click here to view the embedded video.

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More Tough Luck for Bennett Opens Door for 18-year-old Kapanen http://insidehockey.com/more-tough-luck-for-bennett-opens-door-for-18-year-old-kapanen http://insidehockey.com/more-tough-luck-for-bennett-opens-door-for-18-year-old-kapanen#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 16:54:44 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59237

After missing most of last season due to injury, Beau Bennett had surgery for an ongoing wrist issue immediately after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs. He was the first one back in Pittsburgh this summer to prepare for the upcoming season, and his hard work during four months of rehab showed as he was perhaps the Penguins’ best player in the first week of the preseason.

“It’s still getting strength back but I felt good with all my fitness testing, feel good on the ice, feel good with my shot, so back to my normal stick,” said Bennett, who called himself “useless” in the six second-round games he played against the New York Rangers last spring due to his inability to shoot. “It was a good summer and [I feel] really positive going into this year. No limitations whatsoever.”

In his first two preseason games, the 22-year-old, former first-round draft pick had notched a goal – a wrister that showed the extent of his healing – and an assist on a no-look pass to center Brandon Sutter, with whom he’d been displaying promising chemistry, particularly since making the switch back to his natural right wing under new head coach Mike Johnston.

“Last year, I was even a little bit banged up in the preseason. It’s nice to come in and be really healthy and eat my vegetables and have strong bones,” Bennett joked. “In recent years, I’ve just been kind of [throwing] it toward the net, and today I was trying to pick spots.”

All of the summer’s promise and hard work, however, were crushed Friday morning when Bennett had to be helped off the ice after sustaining a lower-body injury in practice.

“He was in the drill and, when he was skating across the ice, [2014 first-rounder Kasperi] Kapanen’s skate clipped him on the back of the heel, and so he spun around in an awkward manner and went down on the ice,” Johnston said.

Bennett’s spirits were also crushed. “Haven’t had the best luck and no one is more mad/sad than me,” he tweeted that afternoon. “It’s getting embarrassing, I’m sorry.”

“Kind of a freak play,” Sutter said. “Tough luck; the guy’s had some bad luck. He’s been great to play with so far; hopefully we’ll be back on the ice together soon.”

That reunion will be about six weeks off, Johnston said Saturday. He declined to cite the specific nature of Bennett’s injury, but the timeframe seems to indicate the forward escaped what could have been a serious knee issue.

“It was just one of those unfortunate things,” Johnston said. “I talked to him after and, when he left the ice, he was thinking, ‘Oh no, here I go again.’ If you look at the injuries he’s had, it’s not like he can’t battle through things, [but] there’s certain injuries that are unavoidable, like that one there.”

The relatively short timeframe for recovery, compared to some of the other situations Bennett has dealt with, should make it easier for him to keep his spirits up, said his new coach, whose son played youth hockey with Bennett when Johnston was an assistant for the Los Angeles Kings.

“Right now, I just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got six weeks,’” Johnston said. “He’ll be back working out, he’ll be back skating. I told him to get in the video sessions, be part of the team, be ready to go. At least his mindset now’s on when his next game’s going to be, not ‘Here we go again.’”

In the meantime, ironically, the young man who clipped Bennett with his skate might stand to benefit from the situation.

After impressing with his poise and maturity on and off the ice in the Penguins’ rookie camp, the 18-year-old Kapanen started the NHL preseason looking like a boy against men at times, despite playing against men regularly in the Finnish Elite League.

“It’s amazing playing with NHL guys; it’s eye-opening,” he said after his first NHL action Tuesday in Columbus. “It was tough. It’s a high-tempo game, defensive stuff … everything happens so quick, so you’ve got to be on your toes.

“The style of the game is not so intense [in Finland]; it’s more of a talented game, if you could say that, and the rink’s probably two times bigger than this one over here. It will take time for me to adjust, but I think I’ll do fine.”

Over the course of the week, Kapanen showed the coaching staff enough improvement that they were prepared to use him on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz when the Penguins hosted Columbus Saturday afternoon.

Although Crosby did not make his preseason debut as scheduled, going home to Nova Scotia following the death of his grandmother, Kapanen still had the chance to play alongside high-quality talent – and audition for the suddenly vacant top-six role Bennett had been a candidate to fill to start the season.

“That’s an unfortunate injury for Beau. Obviously it opens up a spot for somebody and, like everybody here, I’m just fighting for a spot,” Kapanen said. “I’ll keep playing my game – use my strengths, the things that got me here – and hopefully I’ll get it.”

The rookie took full advantage of the opportunity in his outing versus the Blue Jackets, notching a power-play goal and showing high-level skill en route to being named the game’s No. 1 star.

“I think it’s always exciting to get your first National Hockey League goal, so it’s a big thing for me and just gives me more confidence and hopefully there’s more to come,” Kapanen said. “Of course you’re a little bit [more] comfortable when you know what’s coming at you; I don’t know if you just feel more calm and you know what to do a little better. I felt pretty good playing without the puck and with the puck. If I didn’t even score that goal, I’d say it was my best game so far.”

“We tried to play him in different spots, just to see how he looks with players and to see if he could play with guys like that,” Johnston said. “I thought he looked good. He’s very good on the power play; you can see his offensive skills and his instincts. I think defensively he’s still got to learn the game, and I’ve seen big strides in the last couple days. You have to remember a guy like him is coming over and playing on a different ice surface, so things do change that way.

“But his skill and his speed and his poise with the puck is very good. He could be a good that could jump in for opening night.”

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Photo Gallery: Capitals at Bruins (9/24/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-capitals-at-bruins-92414 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-capitals-at-bruins-92414#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 02:04:18 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59220

The Boston Bruins beat the Washington Capitals 2-0 Wednesday night in Boston.

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New-look Caps have new attitude http://insidehockey.com/new-look-caps-have-new-attitude http://insidehockey.com/new-look-caps-have-new-attitude#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 03:48:14 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59206

As if sacking the head coach and general manager at the end of last season, signing high-profile free agents to bolster a weak defensive corps, nabbing Barry Trotz as a new head coach and bringing in fresh goaltending coaches and assistant coaches wasn’t enough to prove the Capitals are ready for and expecting change this season, the team also redesigned their locker room.

While the fact that the Caps upgraded to brand-new, navy carpeting and modern, dark wood and stainless steel benches may seem mundane, the roped-off Capitals logo on the carpet at the center of the revamped dressing room is not.

“I think there’s a pride that we should have in our organization,” Trotz said of his decision to rope off the logo. “It’s about what’s on the front of the jersey, not what’s on the back of the jersey. What’s on the front of the jersey is very important and should be a little bit sacred.”

The Capitals dressing room carpet didn’t even have a team logo last year, let alone one given VIP treatment. While every notepad-toting visitor to the locker room was explicitly told not to step on the logo in the pursuit of post-game quotes, it seems the ropes will stay up, at least when outsiders are in the dressing room.

“You can tell the mentality has changed,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said. “There’s a lot of things that contribute to that. Obviously it was a long summer, a lot of guys were anxious to get back, anxious to train hard all summer to make sure that we prove ourselves a lot better this year. (There is a) different attitude coming into camp. Guys are excited, guys are ready to learn, to play as a team.”

Carpet symbols are hollow, however, until the Caps back up their professed culture change on the ice. After missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons in 2014, a symbol could at least serve as a good rallying point.

According to Trotz, he liked what he saw from his team in their first exhibition game, a 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. After two grueling days of training camp, he knew his team would be tired and was pleased that they made smart plays given their fatigue and a less-than-perfect sheet of ice.

“I was happy with our veterans,” he said. “Nicky Backstrom, you can see what kind of two-way player that he is…I thought Brooks Laich looked like he could skate all day today.”

So far, the players are also happy with the new coaching staff.

“They made it very clear,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said. “The system and stuff was very easy to understand and very well-prepared for (learning) throughout the summer. Obviously (the coaching staff) did a lot of work, but it’s a tribute to our guys for really caring about getting it right.”

“Caring about getting it right,” was something the Caps failed to do on a consistent basis last year. Perhaps a new coach, a new locker room and a new attitude will lead to new results come April.

 

Extras:

Alex Ovechkin on readjusting to left wing:

“It’s not that strange because I played World Championship on the left,” he said.

Capitals forward prospect Andre Burakovsky on scoring a goal:
“It was nice to score the first goal. I got a great pass from (Jason) Chimera and I just took a wrister and it went in. I was kind of shocked, but it feels really good to have the first goal. And after that goal, I think I could relax a little bit more in the game, feel more comfortable out there and just keep playing hard.”

 

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Penguins Learn New Systems, Compete for Roles After Summer of Change http://insidehockey.com/penguins-learn-new-systems-compete-for-roles-after-summer-of-change http://insidehockey.com/penguins-learn-new-systems-compete-for-roles-after-summer-of-change#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 02:52:38 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59202

Friday, as the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ice for their first formal practice, the organization unveiled its new third jersey, a throwback to the early 1990s teams that won two Stanley Cups.

It was a canny marketing decision, bringing back the beloved “Pittsburgh gold” closely associated with owner Mario Lemieux and lending a feeling of familiarity to a team that looks radically different than the one that blew a 3-1 series lead to be ushered out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers last May.

Gone are general manager Ray Shero, head coach Dan Bylsma, and assistant coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden and, for the most part, Jacques Martin, who moved upstairs into an advisory role. In their places are general manager Jim Rutherford and a team of associate and assistant GMs in Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin, all of whom were promoted from other roles in the organization. New head coach Mike Johnston came from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for his first NHL head coaching gig and will be assisted by former Penguin Rick Tocchet – who won a Cup in Pittsburgh gold in 1992 – and Gary Agnew, formerly an assistant in St. Louis and Columbus.

At forward, gone is sniper James Neal, who scored 40 goals two years ago alongside Evgeni Malkin, traded at the draft for lle Predators Patric Hornqvist, who might take a spot alongside Malkin, and Nick Spaling, who’s expected to contribute versatility in a bottom-six role. The team lost scoring in free agent Jussi Jokinen and grit in Joe Vitale and Tanner Glass, but brought in Blake Comeau, Steve Downie and Daniel Carcillo in an attempt to improve the bottom-six depth they lacked last season and make them a tougher team to play against.

“You need energy guys like that on the team and, to me, physical guys and energy guys, those are the guys that we are looking for in our lineup in depth positions,” Johnston said. “We’ll evaluate them as a group and see where they fit in.”

On the blueline, Matt Niskanen stepped up as the Penguins’ best defenseman in his contract year, and it paid off as he and fellow free-agent D Brooks Orpik departed for long-term deals in Washington. Offensive-minded Christian Ehrhoff signed with Pittsburgh for a year, and several young defensemen, like Simon Despres and the currently injured Derrick Pouliot, who played under Johnston in Portland, are expected to have the chance to show they’re ready for regular work in the NHL. Veteran goaltender Thomas Greiss signed on and will compete with Jeff Zatkoff to back up starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

After so much change, this year’s camp and preseason is significant in terms of the players and staff getting to know new systems and each other. One early consensus was that Johnston expects hard work and lots of skating, including practices that ended with windsprints.

“It was really tough out there; they really put a great standard for this training camp,” Hornqvist said. “We want to be better every single time we’re stepping on the ice, and Mike did a great job today about that.”

“As a team he wants us to play pretty fast, always to be a puck-possession team and create chances for ourselves,” said center Marcel Goc. “Everybody’s got to know what everybody’s supposed to do on the ice, where your spot’s supposed to be and, once we start trusting each other and knowing that everybody knows what he’s supposed to do, I think we can have a lot of success.”

In early practices, the Penguins worked on specific situations, special teams, a 1-3-1 defensive structure and the neutral-zone forecheck. “My feeling with the neutral-zone forecheck is it shouldn’t happen more than two or three times a game,” Johnston said. “If you’re really playing the right way, if you’re putting some pressure on the puck in the neutral zone, I don’t want to sit back and get into a forecheck. If it happens, it happens, but we’re going to try to push the puck.”

The Penguins welcomed some players back from surgeries, including forward Pascal Dupuis, who’s wearing a red, no-contact jersey, and forward Beau Bennett and second-year defenseman Olli Maatta, who have no restrictions. They’re missing some key players, however, in Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz, who have missed some or all of camp so far with minor injuries the team doesn’t want to aggravate.

Monday, this new group of players will start combining their instincts with what they’ve learned over the past few days when they host the Detroit Red Wings for their first preseason contest.

“I think any time there is change, there’s a renewed focus to a degree, because everybody wants to know what am I supposed to do, what’s my role, what’s my responsibility,” Johnston said. “There’s going to be some new things we’re trying here that maybe you’ve done before or haven’t done before. What you need to do is ask some questions and then, when we head into the games, you need to be able to play the game.

“So, [Monday], we’re going to talk a lot about just playing the game and relying on your instincts. We’ll talk on the bench, we’ll teach but, certainly, with change, there’s some new ideas, new concepts, and some that the players are going to grasp right away and others we’ll have to work on.”

And, with more depth and competition for spots on this year’s training camp roster, the coaching staff will be evaluating. However, Johnston said, they’ll be looking less at how players acclimate to the system and more at how hard they work for the opportunity.

“It’s a competitive situation right now – guys are vying for ice time, minutes, roles and responsibilities, who’s going to play with who. So, the competition starts to heat up. It’s about competing for spots and learning to play the system, but I don’t want the system and the strategy and style of play to overtake the compete and energy in the game.”

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Isles’ Nelson Ready For Challenges of New Season http://insidehockey.com/isles-nelson-ready-for-challenges-of-new-season http://insidehockey.com/isles-nelson-ready-for-challenges-of-new-season#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 02:40:28 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59196

RyanStrome_BrockNelson

Brock Nelson is ready for a new challenge. The 24-year-old Minneapolis native had a good rookie season, scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 72 games. The former North Dakota star played a variety of roles on many different lines over the course of the season. By the end of his rookie campaign, Nelson had proved he belongs in the NHL.

“I think I learned a lot throughout the year, on the ice, off the ice. Whatever it was I just tried to take as much away from it as I could and I think going into this summer, it helped me know what to expect and re-evaluate where I was and what I needed to work on,” Nelson said.

Nelson is eager to begin his second season. “I think this summer was a good summer for me and I’m headed in the right direction and ready to get back at it and get back to playing some games…It’s exciting. Everybody’s glad to be back, to get back on the ice.”

Many experts think Nelson, a natural center, is a prime candidate to take the vacant wing spot on the Isles’ top line alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. But the second-year pro feels he is ready to fill in wherever the team needs him. “Wherever you’re put, you’ve just got to go out there and play,” Nelson explained. “Just embrace your role whether it switches every day or you’re on the same spot on the wing or at center. Just go out there, play to the best of your abilities and continue to work.”

Nelson has a strong work ethic. He emphasized the importance of constantly trying to improve his skills. “You can’t ever stop working on your game,” he said. “As soon as you do that, you’ll probably get passed by somebody else, so just continue to work hard and get better in every area.”

This offseason, Nelson said he concentrated on, “Some little things…Edge work, shooting, quickness, things like that. Getting bigger, faster, these are all things you continue to work on.”

It is clear that Nelson has improved his size since the Islanders drafted him. At his first rookie camp, the 6’3″ forward looked lean and lanky. But now, Nelson has grown into his frame and added several pounds of muscle to help him win 50-50 battles for loose pucks and gain position against bigger opponents.

Nelson genuinely seemed excited about the moves the Islanders made to improve the team during the offseason. The Isles brought in goalies Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson as well as forwards Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.

“The offseason was good. We added a few key guys and some depth which will create some competition in camp,” Nelson added. “I think that’s a strong aspect of what we’ve got here and everybody’s happy with how that went. We’re ready to get back to work and push each other and try to make a spot. So just go out there and work hard and what happens, happens.”

Nelson’s optimism permeated the Islanders locker room on the first day of training camp at the Nassau Coliseum. “It’s going to be a fun year here. I think everybody’s really looking forward to it…I think everybody’s trying to.. have a wonderful year and try to accomplish our main goal.”

Overall, Nelson is eager to start his second full NHL season. “I think this summer was a good summer for me, and I’m headed in the right direction,” he said. “I’m ready to get back at it and get back to playing some games.”

The Islanders first preseason game will be Monday when they play a pair of split squad games against the Ottawa Senators.

 

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98 Days Later, Rangers Start Anew http://insidehockey.com/98-days-later-rangers-start-anew http://insidehockey.com/98-days-later-rangers-start-anew#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:33:30 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59191

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – It’s been 98 days since Alec Martinez broke the Rangers’ hearts in the Stanley Cup Final, though it feels like just a fraction of that time has passed.

The lightning-quick offseason is over for the defending Eastern Conference champions, who opened training camp on Thursday with physicals and medical testing. They take the ice for the first time as a team on Friday morning.

Twenty-two of the last 25 teams who lost in the Stanley Cup Final didn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs the following year. Over the last 30 years, only the 2009 Penguins won the Stanley Cup the year after losing in the Final.

“This is exactly the right length as far as a break in the summer. I think this is perfect,” said second-year Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who coached the Canucks in 2010-11 when they lost the Cup Final and was behind the bench for the team’s first-round ouster the following season. “For me, on a personal level, I remember coming back in Vancouver at this time, and I was still exhausted, I was still tired. I remember coming back to camp, looking at how I feel internally, and how my players felt. It wasn’t the same as the year before.”

For the last three weeks to a month, I’ve been chomping at the bits to get back at it,” Vigneault said during his first press conference of the season Thursday afternoon at the team’s training facility. “All of the players that I’ve talked to – because before I start every season I meet all our veteran players one-on-one – I’m getting sort of the same response. Not exactly sure why, but I like the enthusiasm and the energy level this group has right now.”

Five of the players that hit the ice for the team’s final game of the season 98 days ago – forwards Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett, and defenseman Anton Stralman – are no longer on the team.

Eight forward spots appear to be set in stone, but there’s going to be plenty of competition for the final four spots on the forward lines.

“Up front, we lost some very important players who had very important roles,” Vigneault said. “I’m not saying we’re going to structure the team the same way, we have to sort this out and figure out what’s best for this group, but there’s some great internal competition.”

The competition will feature a mix of veterans like Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak against some hard-charging rookies like J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, and Kevin Hayes.

The youngsters might already have an edge.

“If a young player and older veteran are both playing the same, I’d say to you most teams would go with the younger player because he’s going to have a chance to improve, whereas the older player it can sometimes be more challenging,” Vigneault said. “Younger players should play, so if they’re not going to play on a regular basis here, it would probably be better to go to Hartford (AHL). But each situation is different. If a player shows that he can contribute and help us win, he’ll be here.”

Vigneault said he expects to name a new captain at the end of training camp – before the team’s first game of the regular season, which is scheduled for October 9 in St. Louis. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is believed to be the odds-on favorite to become the franchise’s 27th captain.

“All teams have a core leadership group. It’s not just up to the captain to be the leader,” Vigneault said. “It has to be a group effort, and in our team I see some real strong possibilities as far as being captain, but I also think, since it’s a new year and we’ve changed some pieces to the puzzle, I want to see how things unfold during training camp.”

NOTE:

The Rangers’ six-game preseason schedule begins Monday when they host the Devils at Madison Square Garden.

ALAIN VIGNEAULT PRESS CONFERENCE:

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Isles Final Season on Long Island is Bittersweet http://insidehockey.com/isles-final-season-on-long-island-is-bittersweet http://insidehockey.com/isles-final-season-on-long-island-is-bittersweet#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 20:32:16 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59173

Tavares_Moulson_Mason_Flyers_Islanders

There was a time when the New York Islanders represented Long Island to the sports world. Maybe I’m being nostalgic, thinking about things that happened more than 30 years ago, but for that glorious four-year run, the Islanders franchise told the world that Long Island, not New York City, had the best team in hockey.

Some fans don’t understand why the Isles planned move to Brooklyn has me and many Long Islanders upset. Sure, the Isles are staying in the New York area and that’s great. It’s certainly better than seeing them move to Quebec City, Seattle or Kansas City. But they are abandoning Long Island, and that’s a painful thought for people who grew up in Nassau or Suffolk Counties or lived much of their lives here.

There’s nothing wrong with Brooklyn. It’s just TOO far away and it has a culture and personality all its own. But while Brooklyn may geographically be a part of Long Island, culturally, it’s just not.

Look, the New York Post is part of the culture of New York City, but Newsday is Long Island. Coney Island is a New York City destination, but Jones Beach is Long Island.

For the past four decades, the Rangers were New York City, but the Islanders were Long Island. Madison Square Garden may be “the world’s most famous arena,” but the sight-lines at MSG were nothing compared to the Nassau Coliseum and the Coliseum could rock as loud as any building in the league during the glory years or any time the team was successful (remember the 2013 playoffs against Pittsburgh?).

Like the Island itself, those great Islanders dynasty teams may not have been glamorous or flashy like Studio 54, but they were honest, hard-working and determined to make a name for themselves. The Rangers starred in Sasson jeans commericials and were often pictured on page six of the Post. The Islanders just showed up for work every night and won, and won and won and won.

What’s more, they gave Long Island an identity that stretched not just throughout the Metropolitan area, but throughout the hockey world. Fans from as far away as Sweden (Anders Kallur), Russia (Alexei Yahsin), Moose Jaw (Clark Gillies) and Denmark (Frans Nielsen) all knew that their local stars played professionally on Long Island.

The players also lived on Long Island during the hockey season. Fans would run into them in bars and restaurants and in their local neighborhood. They were a part of the local community, especially in the days before salaries got so high that players and fans weren’t even in the same universe anymore economically.

At the end of this hockey season, that will all be gone. Long Island will no longer have a major league professional sports team to represent it. Like Brooklyn after the Dodgers packed their bags and left for the West Coast, there will be nothing but warm memories of what might have been and of what used to be.

Like the Dodgers, the Islanders were lost by short-sighted town and county politicians who couldn’t put their petty differences aside to keep a Long Island institution here where they belong.

It took Brooklyn more than 50 years to get back a major league sports team back in their borough. How long will it take for Long Island to get a team back?

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David Krejci Strikes (Black and) Gold http://insidehockey.com/david-krejci-strikes-black-and-gold http://insidehockey.com/david-krejci-strikes-black-and-gold#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:01:20 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59165

The Boston Bruins have just paid their top-line center.

According to sources, David Krejci has agreed to a six-year contract extension with the Bruins that will pay him somewhere around $43 million. Based on annual value, the playmaking center will make around $7.16 million per season.

The $7.16 million cap hit would put him slightly above the pay scale of Patrice Bergeron ($6.5 million), Zdeno Chara ($6.9 million) and Tuukka Rask ($7 million) to make him the highest paid Bruins player on an average annual value basis. The salary number should not come as a surprise given the rising salary cap and the big money extensions handed out to Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews earlier this season, and guarantees that the Bruins will keep together a roster built around their top two frontline centers for the majority of the next decade.

The 28-year-old Krejci was entering the final season of a three-year contract extension signed during the 2011-12 season, so the B’s clearly wanted to take care of their prized offensive weapon before the team headed into training camp.

Krejci is coming off one of his best regular seasons: He produced 19 goals and 69 points along with an NHL-best plus-39 during the regular season, but cooled off in the playoffs with just four assists in 12 games along with a minus-3 rating.

On paper, Krejci deserves the money, and would have likely received similar dollars if he were to test the open market this time next year. The problem here is the Bruins will have no one to blame but themselves for their lack of cap space and their inability to go out and sign high-priced veterans. Krejci would have been an excellent trade piece that would have brought back a substantial return. Now, management has put all of the eggs in the metaphorical basket known as the presently-constructed B’s roster.

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NHL 15: Producer Interview http://insidehockey.com/nhl-15-producer-interview http://insidehockey.com/nhl-15-producer-interview#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 17:05:33 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59142

Just when you thought the EA Sports NHL series couldn’t get any better, NHL 15 happened. With the new consoles (Xbox One, PS3) out and thriving, head producer Sean Ramjagsingh and his team of technicians were able to take their off-season advancements to a whole new level. Using the power of the new gaming format to revamp both game-play and presentation, NHL 15 is shaping up to be the best hockey game of all time. The E3 Game Critics Award winner in the Best Sports Category (for the second straight year)- beating out the likes of other EA favorites in Fifa 15 and Madden 15- NHL 15 looks like a champion of Stanley Cup proportions. In anticipation of this year’s release, I had the pleasure of interviewing head producer Sean Ramjagsingh to get an inside look at this year’s game.

Inside Hockey: What are the most noticeable game-play differences between NHL 14 and 15?

Sean Ramjagsingh: For us, it’s really exciting to be on the new consoles for the first time. The power of the consoles has allowed us to literally change everything with our game-play and presentation. With game-play specifically, one of the things you’ll notice right away is the new physics in the game. We’ve literally rebuilt our player model from the ground up- modeling the body, modeling the equipment and then modeling the jersey the cloth of the jersey on top of that, so we have dynamic cloth in the game.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Sean Ramjagsingh: We also redid our puck physics from the ground up. We had a professional come in and work on our puck physics. He modeled what happened in the real world with the puck and dropped that into our virtual world. So now when you’re seeing the puck, you’re seeing realistic bounces off the different tills of the game- whether it be the goalie pads, chest protector- you’re seeing the puck go places it hasn’t gone before because it can squeak through places it couldn’t squeak through before. You as a player who’s played our previous versions of it, you’re going see the puck going places it hasn’t gone before and goalies making saves they haven’t had to make before because the puck is just going to all these new places because of the new physics.

Inside Hockey: There were changes made to the collision physics too, yes?

Sean Ramjagsingh: With the new physics, we can now go from two players being in physics at any one time, to have the ability for all twelve players to be in physics. Again, this is leveraging the power of the new console, you can imagine how much math goes into having proper physics in our game and having physics run all the players at the same time, that’s another real game changer for us.

Now you’ll see a guy like Zdeno Chara be able hit one person, or sometimes even two people over at the same time. Or you could see Chara get hit, stumble but not fall over because he was hit by a smaller player, but then you’ll have another guy come over and hit him while he’s in physics, knocking him over to finish the check. Or you’ll see pileups in front of the net where there’s multiple hits happening, and guys piling up- three, four, five guys piling up in front of the net from multiple collisions like we’ve seen in the playoffs where it’s all desperation hockey. So it’s really primary collisions, multiplayer collisions, secondary collisions happening, and just really more natural behavior from all the hits in our game.

It better replicates the real world of hockey and the authenticity. Our additional vision for what we wanted from the physics was that playoff desperation, goalmouth scrambles, guys on the ice doing everything they can to get the puck in the net. That’s the type of situations that you’ll see in our game this year. The great thing about physics is you never really know what’s going to happen because it’s just physics doing what it’s going to do, it basically evolves based on the situation and what happens in the game based on how the users play.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Inside Hockey: What can we expect from the new Superstar Skill Stick?

Sean Ramjagsingh: With our superstar skill stick, we really focused on giving you more control than you’ve ever had before. Upper and lower body separation, you can hold the puck out, you can steer your character, and you can do moves while you hold the puck out. You can be in a protect puck position, see the defenseman over-commit and pull to the middle, so it’s really to give more and more tools to the user to create these many situations and get to places they couldn’t get to before.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Inside Hockey: How is the Vision A.I. being improved?

Sean Ramjagsingh: We went back to the drawing board with our Vision AI, and this is sort of a new foundation we’ve built, that will take us through this generation of consoles. We really started looking at formations in the offensive zone and the neutral zone, understanding movement, proper puck support, proper teammate support. You’ll see when you play the game this year, just more authentic, realistic behavior, better support from your teammates with guys getting open for you and reading the play for you. They’ll understanding where passing lanes are when the lanes are being taken away by defenders, situations where guys adjust on the fly as well. The results that we’ve seen so far with our Vision AI have been fantastic, and it’s something we’ll continue to build on for years to come.

Inside Hockey: What are the biggest visual differences we will experience on the new format?

Sean Ramjagsingh: The new format allows us to do more. More of everything. When it comes to the visuals, we can have higher resolution textures and do more of their lighting to make everything look better. We can run more physics and do more math under the hood, so that we can have up to 12 players in physics and have the puck always being in physics and following the laws of physics. You’ll literally see the puck this year get dumped down the ice, then get on its end sometimes and start rolling, and then take that kinda curb roll that you’ll see a rolling puck do. So really dynamic behaviors, the consoles just really allow us to do more.

They allow us to raise the resolution of all the visuals in our game. We’ve overhauled every single detail from our ice, to the boards, to modeling the authentic arenas for every team in the game. Nine-thousand new crowd models in each arena, so essentially every single person in the lower bowl is an authentic person. We have the home-team super fans, away-team super fans, we got the venders walking up and down, security guards, we’ve got families taking pictures, beer guys- lot’s of variation and variety to really bring those arenas to life and bring the atmosphere to a whole new level.

http://vassets.ea.com/Assets/Resources/Image/nhl-15-td-garden.jpg

Inside Hockey: New broadcast team?

Sean Ramjagsingh: So this year what you see on NBC Sports Network is what you’re gonna see in our game- brand new presentation package and commentators. Doc Emrick and Eddy Olczyk as the top two commentators for NBC, and having Ray Ferraro as a third man in complimenting those two guys. We have over thirty-five thousand lines of new speech in the game which is something that’s really exciting for us and our fans.

Inside Hockey is once again very appreciative of Sean Ramjagsingh for doing another interview with us, and the rest of the EA staff for their hard, impressive work. NHL 15 hits the stores on September 9, 2014 and is a cant miss purchase for hockey fans worldwide.

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