In the Devils’ second day of training camp, Coach Peter DeBoer’s agenda was filled with drills out on the ice. Unlike previous coaches, DeBoer’s practices are more up-tempo and fast, just like the start of a hockey game. Then again, he’s conditioning the players to be ready from the very second the puck drops.
Each of the three groups on Day Two remained the same as the previous day. The only difference was the addition of Johan Hedberg and Eric Boulton to Group One. Both players returned last night from Farmington, Michigan after attending the funeral of Brad McCrimmon, a former assistant coach of the Atlanta Thrashers and head coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who died in the plane crash on September 7. There were no survivors from the Lokomtiv team in that plane crash.
Hedberg had a close relationship with McCrimmon. He lived a few houses away from him in Atlanta. He knew the family very well.
“He was a hockey guy,” Hedberg said. “He loved the sport. He loved people.”
Ilya Kovalchuk, who was training in Russia at the time of the crash, knew the majority of the Lokomotiv team, including McCrimmon who coached him in Atlanta.
“I knew them all,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s a huge tragedy. You can’t really say much. Hopefully it will never happen again.”
Kovalchuk was originally scheduled to head back to the States around the time the tragedy happened. Instead, he changed his plans and headed to Yaroslavl for the memorial service the Saturday after the crash. He then headed back to Moscow and then went to see his family in Miami before heading to the Devils training camp.
One of the young forwards looking to find a permanent spot on the team is Vladimir Zharkov. He played in only 38 games for the Devils last season, splitting his time with the Albany Devils. Kovalchuk trained with Zharkov in Russia for the first time this past summer.
“It’s not easy to train with the trainer who I train with,” Kovalchuk explained. “It’s really tough practices and it’s a long one. You usually getting tired. [Zharkov] never give up. He never missed any practices. He never say ‘I’m tired’ or ‘It’s too hard for me.’ I think this was a great experience for him at first. He seems to have prepared himself the best he can. I think I talked to him every day. He’s lighter. He’s moving quicker. We’ll see. I hope he’ll do real well.”
As far as Zharkov’s English, Kovalchuk said, “I think he’s much better. I think he’s almost the same as Volchenkov.” This was immediately followed by the very rare appearance of Kovalchuk’s laughter.
Did any young players stick out to Kovalchuk? “No,” he responded.
“We’re all lucky,” he said. “Everybody’s in great shape. We’re just so exciting to be back on the ice. We’re all hungry to get out there.”
The Devils are looking to bolster their blueline with a new face. With the departure of Colin White, one lucky rookie will be taking one of the spots on defense. Matt Taormina, who clicked very well with White at the beginning of last season, played in only 17 games before getting injured. His injury required surgery that left him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season.
While he is at 100 percent now, he is now faced with the challenge of trying to fight his way back into the lineup. He is not the only defensive talent that has shown up to camp.
Taormina is an offensive defenseman. He’s one of those types of defensemen that are rare and very much needed in the Devils lineup…one that can score goals at the point. He tallied three goals from the point in his short time in the NHL last season.
“I knew coming into camp that I was going to have to work for where I want to be,” Taormina said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
“Last season, I didn’t really have as high of the expectations as I do now. I just kind of came in. I knew the coach pretty well. He knew me pretty well. It helped out. But now, coming in, knowing that I can play at this level, I’m definitely coming in with a different mindset.”
Taormina jelled very well with White in preseason last year and during the start of the season. It was as if the two had perfect symmetry in every movement they made together on the ice. Was he the reason why the young rookie was able to shine so well?
“The chemistry was there for a while,” he said of White. “He definitely helped out a lot.”
One of the biggest threats to Taormina winning White’s old spot is the Devils first round draft pick this year, Adam Larsson. While it is very rare for the Devils to give a roster spot to an 18 year old without first developing him in the Devils’ system prior to his first NHL game, Larsson’s play in the elite leagues of Sweden could earn him a spot.
Larsson has already made a big impact on fellow defenseman Bryce Salvador. The veteran sees that this young newbie’s training with the Swedish Elite leagues have helped to develop him into one of the hottest defense rookies in camp.
Another couple of players looking to earn a roster spot is Petr Sykora and Stéphane Veilleux. While Sykora is in camp on a tryout basis, he seems to be meshing well with another former alumni of the Minnesota Wild that knows a thing or two about Lemaire’s system. They are meshing so well, Veilleux has been stealing the show with one amazing goal after another. Their quick play out on the ice allows for some hard goals to the net that always finds a way in off of Veilleux’s stick.
Sykora’s quick moves and passes to Veilleux has generated plays that are hard to beat. Veilleux has been an amazing scoring talent that is shining head over heels over the rest of his group. If anything, Veilleux may be coming into his own for the first time in his career.
Two other Albany Devils looking to make it into the lineup are Matt Anderson and Adam Henrique. Both players ranked at the top of their club last season. Anderson lead the team with 55 points (23g, 32a). Henrique lead in scoring with 25 goals.
With Travis Zajac out for the next few weeks, Henrique could make the jump to one of the open centering positions, especially if Patrik Elias heads to the top line to center Zach Parise in Zajac’s absence.
Another two wingers that are playing very well together are Kovalchuk and David Clarkson. While both are usually amenable to any line, this may be the right fit this season, so long as they have the right center for their line.
The Devils will have their first scrimmage on Monday. They’ll head up to Albany for their first preseason game on Wednesday against the New York Rangers, and then again on home ice at Prudential Center on Friday.