Anthony Duclair Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Duclair has his sights set on a roster spot with the New York Rangers.
It happened quickly, just a flick of the wrists on a pass from Dominic Moore, and Anthony Duclair had another one. It was his third goal of the preseason, building momentum and his case to make the New York Rangers as a 19-year-old rookie.

Heading into training camp, coaches and general managers around the league say they want to give a look to their kids first before making any decisions on older players. Then, typically, when camp is ready to break, the safety and consistency of the veteran player is too hard to resist. The kids head back to junior or the AHL for further development. What was an intriguing preseason story gets lost in the grind of the regular season.

Duclair is doing everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen. At the end of the business day on Tuesday, teams must submit their opening night rosters and be salary-cap compliant. It makes this week fascinating because there are big questions on high-profile teams as training camp ticks down to its final moments.

Let’s start in New York, where the next generation of Rangers is making us reconsider concerns about the loss of depth this summer.

Big question: Has Anthony Duclair done enough to make the Rangers?

Let’s explore why a player with so much skill could slip to the third round of the 2013 draft.

Bruins search for right mix at right wing 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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Boston BruinsEric Canha/CSM/AP ImagesSimon Gagne, center, is hopeful that he can slot in to a top-six role for Boston in 2014-15.
It started with a conversation this summer between Patrice Bergeron and Simon Gagne. The two played in a charity game together, and Bergeron liked what he saw from Gagne. He saw the smarts and some of the speed that led to 288 regular-season goals in nearly 800 games.

Sure, it was only an exhibition, but it was enough to spark an idea.

“I’d seen him a few times over the summer. We’re from the same town. On the ice, he looked the same to me,” Bergeron said. “It’s hard to tell sometimes in the summer.”

So, they chatted. Bergeron asked Gagne how he felt. He asked him what his plans were, if he definitely wanted to play, if he had any other offers. He was gathering information, information he’d eventually pass on to Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.

Bergeron, as it turns out, is a good guy to know.

“I don’t do that often, but Peter is the kind of guy who is open; if it can help, why not?” Bergeron said. “I just kind of mentioned that he was skating, looked good, kept in shape and was looking for something.”

As were the Bruins.

Boston remains the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not without question marks, most notably down the right side of its forward group. A little more clarity came on Monday when the team released Ville Leino from his tryout, and convinced Reilly Smith to take a one-year deal below market value to squeeze under the salary cap.

Signing Smith and Torey Krug at such reasonable numbers means the Bruins don’t necessarily have to trade Johnny Boychuk, a player who might have netted help at right wing in a deal, if they don’t want to.

It means the most likely course of action is that those currently in camp will fill the opening at right wing, created by the departures of Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton.

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What Connor McDavid sees on the ice 

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Connor McDavidDennis Pajot/Getty ImagesConnor McDavid's vision and thinking on the ice are on par with his incredible physical talents.
His is a quiet game, but not quiet in production.

Erie’s Connor McDavid scored his first goal of the OHL season against Windsor on Friday night, then followed it with two more against Plymouth on Saturday. The consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the 2015 NHL draft has eight points in three games.

It’s a solid start.

McDavid’s game is quiet in the sense that he’s not banging his stick on the ice when he gets open. It’s quiet in the sense that he’s not responding to post-whistle shoving or any attempts to muscle him off his game. It’s quiet in the sense that he just calmly finds an opening on the ice, then remarkably the puck finds him.

“He doesn’t chase after the puck, the puck chases after him,” said one NHL scout sitting in the stands and watching him play over the weekend. “The puck wants to be on his stick.”

McDavid has all the physical tools. Now in his draft year, he’s even stronger and his skating is more explosive, which you notice particularly in the neutral zone.

That’s half of it. What makes McDavid the kind of generational prospect who will transform a franchise is his hockey sense. The best players aren’t just guys with the physical tools, they’re the guys who somehow instinctively know exactly where to go on the ice and what to do with the puck when they get there.

McDavid has that sixth sense, and following his game against Windsor on Friday, he graciously attempted to explain what he sees on the ice that allows him to do what he does. It’s one thing to simply play and react, but the smartest players can tell you exactly why they made the pass when they did, or why they chose that particular spot on the ice to make a play.

Through the lens of three plays he made Friday night against the Spitfires, we asked McDavid to share his thought process and what he saw

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Blackhawks keeping the pipeline full 

September, 26, 2014
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Chicago BlackhawksCal Sport Media/AP ImagesChicago has an almost unique ability to build with a long-term star structure in place.
Like many of his colleagues, Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley traveled to Buffalo on Thursday to check out super-prospect Jack Eichel and his teammates at the All-American prospect game. The plan was to then drive over the Windsor and catch Connor McDavid against the Spitfires. Two days, the two best players in the 2015 draft.

Kelley was looking forward to seeing these franchise players on consecutive nights to observe how their games had grown since the last time he watched them live. As the guy in charge of amateur scouting for one of the best teams in the league, Kelley’s opinion on these guys may just be for entertainment purposes only. The days of Chicago picking at the top of the draft ended when it grabbed Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and called it a decade.

Every once in a while though, he’ll remind GM Stan Bowman just how good the top of the draft is this year. You know, just in case

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Ten players worth reaching for in fantasy 

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
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Nathan MacKinnonAP Photo/Jack DempseyNathan MacKinnon's dominance as a rookie was only the beginning.
For whatever reason, there’s typically a divide between traditional hockey writing and fantasy writing. The church-and-state attitude means fantasy writers get all the fun when it comes to making draft cheat sheets, Top 300 rankings and all the lists that are indispensable on draft night.

Am I jealous? Maybe a little. I think all individuals who cover sports for a living have a little Matthew Berry in them. So when my editor suggested I compile a list of 10 hockey players I’d be willing to reach for in the coming fantasy drafts and auctions this season, I quickly accepted the offer. (It didn’t occur to me until later that the assignment came shortly after he invited me into his own fantasy league.)

These 10 players are guys I’m willing to grab earlier than where they’re ranked in the ESPN Top 300 (with their current ranking in parenthesis). They’re players who coaches, teammates or scouts have mentioned as guys ready to make a jump. Did I leave one or two of my favorites off the list for the sake of my own team? Maybe. Perhaps that’s why we leave the fantasy writing to others.

[Editor's note: Start your free ESPN Fantasy Hockey season here.]

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (No. 44)

It's not breaking news that MacKinnon is a star in the making. He won the Calder, so he's not exactly flying under the radar. But what we saw last season was just the beginning. The kid was dominant in the playoffs, with a gear that few other players in the league have. He plays in a system that is conducive to producing offense. He scored 24 goals as a rookie, and I expect that total to jump considerably. In the last 22 games of the regular season, he scored just two goals on 66 shots -- shooting percentage of three. His luck will improve there.

By now you’ve heard he’s put on muscle, and that’s great. The better news is that he’s learning how to use his speed at the NHL level.

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How analytics are changing NHL coaching 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Leafs Bench Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty ImagesWill an investment in analytics by Toronto result in a change in Randy Carlyle's coaching?
William Boll turned his laptop to the side to share what he was tracking. On the screen was a list of hockey players competing live on a rink a few feet away. A group of players would be highlighted green, and then the highlight would go away, moving to another player. It was constant action of green highlights appearing and disappearing.

It was a computer program tracking ice time as it happened.

Every time a player hopped the boards, his timer started calculating whom he was playing with and against and for how long. Slowly a database of information, even in its simplest form, was being automatically tracked thanks to the willingness of each player to wear a Band-Aid-sized tracking device during one of the NHL prospect games in Traverse City, Michigan.

“It’s all real time, based on the chip,” Boll said while describing each function on the screen. “The only people we manually control are the goalies because goalies are superstitious. In Europe they don’t care; in North America they care.”

The automated information collection is currently just doing the basics. Ice time. Shift charts. Data that is already readily available each night in NHL rinks.

It’s the next generation, likely available next season, that Boll, the CEO of Quantum Pro Hockey, is most excited about.

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Four keys to the Wild being contenders 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Darcy Kuemper Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI/Getty ImagesRecently re-signed Darcy Kuemper represents the Wild's best hope in the crease.
As far as training camp drama goes, the Minnesota Wild are giving the Columbus Blue Jackets a run for their money. It never escalated to Ryan Johansen levels, but Minnesota had its own contract stalemate, with goalie Darcy Kuemper arriving late while standing firm on a demand for a one-way contract. Josh Harding broke a foot, and according to the Star Tribune’s Mike Russo, it was the result of an altercation with a teammate and led to a suspension.

Ilya Bryzgalov was even brought in to settle things down. Let that sink in for a moment.

The goalie situation in Minnesota was already fascinating without the drama; the incidents last week just added a layer of intrigue. Starting Monday night against the Winnipeg Jets, the drama shifts to the ice.

In a typical season, Wild coach Mike Yeo would already have his entire goalie plan mapped out. He’d know who was starting every preseason game and how long each goalie would play. By the end of training camp, he’d work it out so his No. 1 goalie played enough games and got enough work to prepare for the start of the season.

That’s not happening this season.

Tonight, Niklas Backstrom and Bryzgalov will split playing time against the Jets, Yeo said. Kuemper will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

After that? Let’s just put it down as TBD.

“That’s our challenge; it’s tough,” Yeo said when we chatted on Sunday afternoon. “The plan is, the first couple games, everyone will see some action.”

By the final few games, Yeo will have a better idea of which netminder gets the No. 1 goalie treatment and will prepare for the start of the season.

“That could be anyone,” he said.

While many teams can use preseason games to get into game shape, tweak systems and get a good look at young players, this is an open competition for the goalie job in Minnesota, a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations.

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Hayes has opportunity in New York 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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Kevin HayesRichard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesKevin Hayes passed on the Chicago Blackhawks to sign with the New York Rangers this summer.
The prospect tournaments wrapping up this week can be a hard place for the untrained eye to do true talent evaluations. There’s a wide range of skill and a wide range of ages.

When a 6-foot-3, 22-year-old forward looks good out there -- like New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes looked at the Red Wings prospect tournament in Traverse City, Michigan -- those factors have to be weighed. It’s better to depend on veteran talent evaluators who are looking less at the production and more at the process.

One widely respected talent evaluator left the tournament impressed with what he saw in Hayes.

“He looks like a player,” he said. “Free guys are hard to get. That’s a guy 29 other teams would have been happy to get.”

They had their chance.

When the NHL and the NHLPA agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement to end the last lockout, one of the rules some general managers hoped to see amended survived.

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Johansen pact will have NHL-wide impact 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Sidney Crosby; Ryan JohansenJamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty ImagesIn Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets have a true No. 1 center. Will they agree to pay him like one?
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- For two years, the Columbus Blue Jackets have worked hard to build an identity. They’re a four-line, everybody-works, blue-collar group where no one player is more important than the team.

In 2013-14, the season started without big free-agent signing Nathan Horton, and the Blue Jackets survived. They got only 22 games out of Marian Gaborik, and the Blue Jackets survived. They’d like to think that goes for anyone in the lineup.

It’s a theory that could soon be tested.

Last season, center Ryan Johansen was the constant. He played all 82 games, developed into the No. 1 center the franchise had previously never enjoyed and finished with 33 goals -- 19 more than he’d scored in his 107 previous NHL games.

Training camp opens this Thursday, and barring a complete course change from one of the two sides, the restricted free agent won’t be there.

Like many teams this summer, Columbus is discovering that the second contract is becoming a bear to negotiate. It’s the one time teams have the hammer and most of the leverage, and they're trying to use it. Across the league as the cap increases, players and their agents are pushing back

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Tough decision ahead for Mike Babcock 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Head coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red WingsJeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty ImagesMike Babcock is entering the final year of his contract, having already won a Stanley Cup with Detroit.
TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN -- For now, Mike Babcock is still patiently answering questions about his future. He understands how the fact that he’s entering the final year of his contract -- and is in no hurry to extend that contract -- is a fascinating subplot to the coming Detroit Red Wings training camp.

He’s fine saying that as of Saturday evening there had been no additional contract conversations between him and Detroit GM Ken Holland. He’s not concerned about it.

“If it wasn’t Ken Holland and myself and the relationship wasn’t the way it is, it might be different,” Babcock said when we sat down for a chat over the weekend. “If I was concerned about this, it would be different.”

He’s not.

“Not one bit,” he said. “Not one bit.”

In Detroit, he might be in the minority.

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Player poll: Who is top franchise player? 

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Sidney CrosbyGregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby was the overwhelming favorite among players in the top franchise player voting.
Back in July, we conducted a poll of executives, coaches and a couple players to see which players they would build a franchise around if they were starting a team from scratch. It was an attempt to rank the league's franchise players, and it led to some fascinating results and debate.

Jonathan Toews edged Sidney Crosby for the top spot, with the Stanley Cup playoff performance of Drew Doughty still fresh in the mind of voters, who put him third on the list.

This week in New York, many of the franchise players who were named by executives gathered for the player media tour, the unofficial kickoff to the NHL season. It was an opportunity to give the players a chance to answer the same question. The same rules applied: Players were asked to list three players they'd want if they were starting a franchise from the ground up.

A few players wanted to add their own ground rules. Tyler Seguin felt compelled to pick teammates, so he added a rule that you couldn't pick your own teammates. Some guys followed the rule, others didn't.

Claude Giroux introduced the idea of picking himself, to which we had no objection. Henrik Lundqvist, however, saw a conflict of interest there.

"Am I the GM?" Lundqvist asked. "Then I'm not picking myself."

He quickly identified Sidney Crosby, then paused for a moment. "This is tough."

And with that, here are the results, giving three points to a first-place vote, two for a second and one for a third:

Sidney Crosby (19 points): Crosby finished a close second to Jonathan Toews when executives voted, but he ran away with it among the players.

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Players weigh in on advanced analytics 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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videoNEW YORK - When you get a parade of NHL stars coming through the office, like was the case at the NHL’s annual media event in New York, it’s good business to prepare questions to ask everyone, to get a cross section of the league on trending issues.

Coming off the summer of analytics in the NHL, the advanced stats movement was a hot topic this week in New York. In response, the ESPN.com video crew asked every player to define Corsi. The results make for good video, but as a whole, the advanced stats movement hasn't trickled down from the front office to the players.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was in the majority with his answer, “I know of it, I don't know the definition of it."

A few players were able to answer correctly, most notably Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane and Edmonton Oilers winger Taylor Hall, who gave textbook definitions.

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Evgeni Malkin, Sidney CrosbyGregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesFranchise center? Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both check that box for Pittsburgh.
The Pacific may be the home of the defending champs, and the Central may be the league’s deepest and strongest division. But no division comes with more intrigue than the Metropolitan, a division where nearly every team can make the playoffs. Or not.

But how many are built to win a championship? In the final installment of Chasing the Kings, we examine each Metro team and how their rosters stack up in five key characteristics that make the Los Angeles Kings great: franchise center, strong top four anchored by legit No. 1 defenseman, playoff tested-goalie, skilled fourth line and players contributing on their entry-level deals.




Pittsburgh Penguins

Franchise center: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both qualify here. Crosby received a lot of attention last spring for a subpar, by his standard, postseason.

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Chasing the Kings: Central Division 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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Jonathan Toews Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsThe Kings outlasted the Blackhawks in an epic playoff series, but Chicago is not far behind.
The champion may reside in the Pacific Division, but its biggest group of challengers is in the Central. While the Los Angeles Kings spent the summer just trying to retain their talent, on and off the ice, the clubs in the Central ramped up the aggression to try and bring the Kings down.

The Chicago Blackhawks brought in Brad Richards to strengthen the team down the middle. The St. Loius Blues added offense in the form of Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. The Dallas Stars created another scoring line with the additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, while the Minnesota Wild landed Thomas Vanek. Not to be outdone, the Nashville Predators signed every other veteran center remaining on the market.

It was a busy and successful offseason for the general managers among some of the Kings' biggest threats in the West, a development that didn't go unnoticed by Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

“Who went backwards?” Lombardi said and then joked that his counterparts in the Eastern Conference needed to pick up the slack.

“Can't they take some of these players?” Lombardi joked.

The Central, already strong, is better than ever and is the league’s deepest division. Earlier this week, we identified the five characteristics of the Kings that make them the ideal champion in a cap era: a franchise center, a strong top four anchored by a legit No. 1 defenseman, a playoff-tested goalie, a skilled fourth line and entry-level contributors.

We looked at the Atlantic Division on Wednesday, and here’s how the Central stacks up through the lens of those five characteristics

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Chasing the Kings: Atlantic Division 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
10:56
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Patrice BergeronRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesPatrice Bergeron checks the "franchise center" box for the Boston Bruins.
The Los Angeles Kings have become the gold standard. They’ve won two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons, and Dean Lombardi has built a roster that is nearly flawless.

On Tuesday, we identified the five characteristics that make the Kings' roster championship caliber and then compared the rest of the Pacific division to see how they stacked up.

We also checked in with Lombardi to see if he felt the five characteristics were an accurate assessment of what is needed to win in today’s NHL. It is his team, after all.

The five characteristics: a franchise center, a strong top four on defense with a legitimate No. 1, a playoff-tested goalie, a skilled fourth line and players contributing on entry-level contracts.

His thoughts?

“What you have identified is your micro-core,” Lombardi said Tuesday afternoon. “The only debate is the order of the top three. There’s always been a hypothetical question in hockey: Who would you take -- Gretzky, Orr or Dryden? Most of the argument would be the goalie or the D. A goalie can make five guys better, a defenseman can make four guys better and a center two.”

The final two qualities are especially important in today’s NHL, where teams are so evenly matched.

“The fourth one [skilled fourth line] is dead-on. You saw this in the playoffs,” Lombardi said. “That’s what happened against Chicago. Toews and Kopitar -- nobody beat the other one; they just neutralize each other.”

It’s up to the players further down the lineup to make the difference. It becomes even more important as Western Conference teams stock second lines to try to get an edge, with the best teams potentially neutralizing each other’s entire top six.

The final characteristic -- players contributing on entry-level contracts -- is one he said hasn’t always been a necessity but is now.

“That’s very new to our sport,” he said. “We were fortunate in [2012] when [Jordan] Nolan and [Dwight] King broke through, and this year the other two guys [Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson] ... quite frankly, you might have to move that up to No. 1.”

As the season closes in, determining whether or not your team has a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup can be done in comparing just how closely they’re constructed to Lombardi’s Kings. We started with the Pacific and continue with the Atlantic, where one team especially stands out as a franchise that is close

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