With camp about half over, we'll see (I think) our first batch of cuts today. Usually, the first batch isn't too dramatic or surprising, consisting mostly of players who are a year or more from serious consideration by the big club. I thought I would take a look at the various positional battles and attempt to make completely capricious and/or unreliable assessments of who is making a good case for himself, and who isn't.
Second Line Left Wing
1. Scott Parse -- Parse and his linemates Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams have seemed like a bona-fide NHL line throughout camp. All three have something to prove this year, and -- for the last 10 days at least -- you can tell. However, Parse sat out last night with a foot injury. Hopefully, he'll be back in a day or two, but you never know; those are things that turn into broken toes and suddenly the guy is out a month. If that happens, who gets the LW2 spot?
2. Andrei Loktionov -- by all accounts, Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius looks bigger and stronger this year, which is great news. I have been saying for awhile that when Loktionov gets his man body, he will have an NHL career. If that day is now, I think he has a shot at replacing Parse if Parse is indeed hurt for more than a day or two.
3. Oscar Moller -- Many have commented that Oscar looks bulked up, which is good news, even though I think might be an illusion, since he has always been built more or less like a tank. Many have also commented that he looks faster, and/or is a "man among boys" when compared to the rookies and prospects. If Loktionov is a genius playmaker (and he is), then Moller is the sniper you need to pair with him. There's a reason Parse/Loktionov/Moller was the best line in the AHL last year before call-ups broke up the line.
4. Brayden Schenn -- I keep waiting for Murray to try him on a wing, but so far it hasn't happened.
5. Brad Richardson -- I can see him stepping in to a top-six role if an injury happens during the season, but not now.
1. Kevin Westgarth -- when you break a guy's jaw in your first pre-season fight, you get to be #1.
2. Kyle Clifford -- a better all-around player than Westgarth, by a mile. But slightly less scary.
3. Rich Clune -- eh. He's more like the enforcer's wise-cracking sidekick. Like, "The Mighty Westgarth (and Clune)." But a good sidekick is important.
4. Jordan Nolan -- He will be here in the future. But so far, he's been quiet.
1. Thomas Hickey -- put up a point or two, logged big minutes, is finally healthy, and he's a genuine threat on the power-play. Don't forget we don't have the artist formerly known as Randy Jones to man the second power play unit. Unless we want to see a lot of Stoll or Williams on the point (please, no), having another power-play specialist is a good idea. Hickey is having a good camp, and I think he has the inside track on the third pairing spot. (And if he makes it, I hope he switches to #4.)
2. Jake Muzzin -- lots of buzz during the first week of camp, but I haven't heard anything about his play in the games. Last year's OHL Defenseman of the Year can't be ruled out.
3. Davis Drewiske -- started off with a vote of confidence from Terry Murray, but has been victimized a few times in the games, and that sounds like more of the same to me.
4. Johan Fransson -- other than the fact that he's a grown-up, I haven't seen or heard anything especially impressive about him. He may be the quiet type, for all I know. When I see him skate, he does seem like a real NHL player. I just can't tell if he's a good NHL player.
1. Jonathan Bernier -- solid in practice and excellent in the five periods he's played so far.
2. Jonathan Quick -- this category was going to be "back-up goalie" until I watched last night's game at Staples. Yes, it's meaningless. Yes, it's just a pre-season game. But he needs to be more focused than that. When you read those half-complimentary comments from Terry Murray, it just takes me right back to March and April.
3. Erik Ersberg -- injured.
Fourth Line Forwards
(Assume the crime-fighting duo of Westgarth and Clune -- "enforcers" above -- are taking up two of the five remaining forward spots, the ones that are scratchable; this category is for the other two or three spots. I actually can picture a silhouette of Westgarth used like a Batsignal whenever he's called to duty.)
1. Richardson -- has done nothing to hurt his favored son status.
2. Moller -- having a great camp as far as I can tell.
3-4. Clifford and Schenn -- I really can't tell how well these guys are doing. Schenn got a scrappy goal last night. Clifford never looks out of place. I know they're doing at least "fine," but they need to blow people away in order to dislodge the more experienced (and not waiver-exempt) Richardson. The main reason I think they might not make the team is that I don't know what Lombardi will do with Brad Richardson if they do.
5-6. Corey Elkins and Trevor Lewis -- older and more experienced, I can see either of these guys as call-ups. Lewis, in particular, is a pretty safe 4th line choice, sort of a more skilled but less-experienced Richardson.
7. Loktionov -- I have a hard time picturing him playing on the 4th line, no matter what TM says.