10 Players Under the Gun Heading into 2013 NHL Training Camp
It seems like the sport of hockey has been on hold for an interminable period of time.
Even after the news that the NHL and the NHLPA had reached an agreement, the wait continued for another week.
Camps are supposed to open Jan. 13, and the first games will be played Jan. 19.
Once the business of the NHL is ongoing once again, a number of players will have quite a bit to prove over the truncated season.
Perhaps they know that time is running out and there will be no more patience. Good players will get a chance to show they have greatness in their game. Inconsistent players will have to demonstrate that they can focus on the task of improving and helping their team win.
Here are 10 players who will be under the gun in training camp and beyond.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Much more is expected from Patrick Kane.
Chicago Blackhawks management wants to see more, fans want to see more and so do his teammates and coaches.
It's not that Kane has been bad. He has scored 20 or more goals in each of his five seasons with the team, and he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2010 for the Hawks in their six-game series with the Philadelphia Flyers.
However, he has just not done enough with his superb talent. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, and it seems like he has flashed his talent instead of delivering on an every-night basis.
There's also the problem of his off-ice behavior. Kane has been involved in a slew of incidents, many of which have involved alcohol.
Kane has to concentrate more on his job and his career and put his partying days behind him this season. He has apologized for his actions, but Kane has to show that it's more than just words and that he can fulfill the high expectations that the Blackhawks have for him (source: sportingnews.com).
Steve Ott, Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres wanted to change their personality when they traded for Steve Ott in the offseason.
The Sabres were a finesse team in 2011-12, and when goalie Ryan Miller got hit by a runaway freight train in the form of Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic and none of his teammates responded properly, the Sabres knew they had to bring in a response team.
That's where Ott comes into the mix. He is a tough guy who is prone to assert himself in any situation that needs a strong hand.
Ott should not have to make any changes to his game as training camp starts. On the contrary, he will have to play the way he always has—he's had 135 penalty minutes or more in each of the last five seasons—and continue to play with that verve from the start of the season all the way to the finish.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
P.K. Subban is a restricted free agent.
He will either sign a contract with the Canadiens, they will trade him or he'll be a holdout.
The chances are he will be in camp within a day or two, and it's time for him to show some maturity to his game.
There's little doubt about Subban's talent as a skater, shooter and ability to play at a high level. However, Subban is a non-stop trash talker who takes too many cheap shots.
With some growth and development, he can go from being a player who shows how good he is once in a while to one that demonstrates his talent consistently.
Subban likes the notoriety that comes from being a bright personality. He needs to concentrate more on his on-ice contributions.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
It seems like Phil Kessel has always been under the gun.
Ever since he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Boston Bruins prior to the 2009-10 season, the heat has been on to produce consistently.
He has scored 30 or more goals in each of his seasons with the Maple Leafs, but there are still issues about his game. He needs to play better defense, play with more consistency and get himself in better shape.
The recent dismissal of Brian Burke puts even more pressure on Kessel because the former general manager acquired Kessel from the Bruins and paid a stiff price to do it.
Now that Burke is gone, the new regime may not be as positive about "Phil the Thrill," and his future in Toronto could be in jeopardy.
He needs to step up as soon as training camp starts.
T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
It was all positive for T.J. Oshie and the St. Louis Blues last year.
The team was one of the league's prime success stories, rising from the ranks of also-ran teams to second place in the Western Conference and winning a first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks
Oshie had a stellar year, becoming one of the Blues' best all-around players and leaders. His numbers were good—19 goals and 35 assists with 50 penalty minutes—but they were not spectacular.
However, Oshie brought it every night for the Blues, and head coach Ken Hitchcock knew he could count on Oshie to do something positive every game for the team.
Now the pressure is on for Oshie and the Blues to prove they are not just a one-year, feel-good story. They have to continue to work and develop and show that they are an upper-echelon team.
Oshie should continue to climb in the NHL pantheon, but it will take more work and more development to his game.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers traded for Ilya Bryzgalov prior to the 2011-12 season because they thought he could give them a significant upgrade in their play in the net.
They wanted consistency from him, something that did not happen.
Bryzgalov struggled for long periods of the season, had one hot streak in the second half and then played poorly in the postseason.
The Flyers need a great performance out of Bryzgalov this year. Their defense appears to be loaded with holes, and they won't be able to survive without stellar goaltending.
The quirky Bryzgalov will have to put all his distractions behind him and play stellar goal for the Flyers.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
All Rick Nash has to do to have a successful season is deliver a Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers.
How's that for pressure?
The truth is that Nash will have plenty of teammates who are in a position to help him. Stars like Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist.
However, when the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs last year by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference, the perception was that the Rangers did not have enough goal scoring in the lineup.
That's why GM Glen Sather traded for Nash. The former Columbus Blue Jacket has averaged 32.1 goals in each of his nine seasons in the NHL.
Nash needs to become a dominant scorer in New York if the Rangers are going to win their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Shea Weber has been a first-team NHL All-Star in both of the last two seasons and a three-time participant in the All-Star game.
He is clearly one of the best defensemen in the game, and he has a booming shot from the point. He has scored 74 goals in the last four seasons.
The Nashville Predators nearly lost his services in the offseason when the Philadelphia Flyers signed Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. The Predators matched the offer even though they are not a high-end revenue team.
GM David Poile knew the Predators could not afford to lose Weber after Ryan Suter left the team as a free agent and signed with the Minnesota Wild.
The heat will be on Weber to continue to produce and find a way to help make up for Suter's departure.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
If the Edmonton Oilers are going to turn potential into production this season, they must lean on Taylor Hall to have a huge year.
Hall doesn't have to do it by himself because the Oilers have explosive potential up and down their lineup.
Jordan Eberle has already reached star level after scoring 34 goals and 76 points last year. But Hall has to develop into the star he seemed destined to become when the Oilers drafted him with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.
Hall has been a decent young player, scoring 22 and 27 goals in this first two seasons. But he needs to come roaring out of the gate and play like a stud if the Oilers are going to make the playoffs and cause damage once they get there.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
There might be as much pressure on Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings as any defenseman in the NHL
Kronwall was in Nicklas Lidstrom's powerful shadow during their time as teammates with the Wings. Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Award.
Lidstrom has retired after a 20-year career.
Nobody is going to replace Lidstrom, but Kronwall is now the best defenseman on the Red Wings.
Kronwall is a hard-hitting defenseman who does everything well. He scored 15 goals and 21 assists last year.
However, he knows he has to step up his game.
He's not going to become another Lidstrom, but that won't keep fans from expecting him to raise his game significantly.