By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
NHL Rookie Camps opened last week, and players have found their way back to their rinks to get geared up for another NHL season. For many teams, rookie camps include a tournament, which is a chance for coaching staffs to assess their young prospects in real game action. While ultimately meaningless games, rookies wanting to make an impression are challenged to bring their best. Canadian teams took part in three separate tournaments.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were at the Rookie Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan to compete against
Columbus, Dallas and Detroit.
The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators were headed to Buffalo to participate in the Prospects Challenge against rookies from the Sabres, the Bruins, the Penguins and the Devils. Out west, the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia featured the host Vancouver Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets, the
Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.
There are some impressive kids making a play for their futures. The Habs will be keeping an eye on two
defensemen, in particular. Their first-round pick, David Reinbacher, is participating and there is a decision to be made about whether he will stick around or return to Europe for the season. Logan Mailloux is
also in their sights, having just been cleared by Commissioner Gary Bettman to play in the NHL if he makes the team.
After joining the Leafs late last season after the college year ended, Matthew Knies is ready to kick off his first full season and hopes are high. Forward Ridley Greig will try to make a case to stick for the whole
season in Ottawa.
The Flames have two big forwards trying to make a name for themselves – Samuel Honzek and Matthew Coronato. If Connor Hellebuyck is on his way out of Winnipeg, the Jets may be most interested in goaltending prospect Thomas Milic, but forward Brad Lambert will try to steal some of their attention.
The Oilers are desperate for cheap forward depth, and they have two potential contributors in Xavier Bourgault and Matvey Petrov. The Canucks will have eyes on Josh Bloom, whom they landed at last
year’s trade deadline.
While the rookies are burning adrenaline like it’s kerosene, some final pieces of business continue to
roll in as main camps draw nigh.
The Oilers brought in another depth forward on a professional tryout, this time adding Adam Erne.
The Colorado Avalanche signed another former Habs player. After signing Jonathan Drouin earlier in
free agency, they added Tomas Tatar this past week.
Some teams also named captains this week. The Jets chose Adam Lowry as their captain after a season
of not having one. Blake Wheeler, who was bought out this past summer, was stripped of the captaincy
leading up to the start of last season.
In Vancouver, Quinn Hughes has been given the C, a move which has raised questions about the future of
Elias Pettersson with the Canucks. Local boy Mike Matheson will wear an A in Montreal this coming year,
replacing Joel Edmundson who was traded this summer.
On Wednesday the Habs and Sens made a minor deal, with Ottawa sending forward Jakov Novak to
Montreal for future considerations. Novak will likely be at Habs camp, but is no doubt headed to Laval to
provide veteran support to a young roster.
Not everything is new and fresh in the NHL, either. After being away since 2019 when he was fired by the
Toronto Maple Leafs, Coach Mike Babcock was brought back to an NHL coaching gig by the Columbus
Blue Jackets. But before he could hold his first practice, Babcock was once again the subject of controversy.
Following his dismissal by the Leafs, Babcock faced allegations from several NHL players of verbal
and mental abuse. There were a few raised eyebrows when he got the nod from Columbus. Why would an
up-and-coming team take the risk? But even the biggest skeptics likely didn’t imagine things would hit the fan as soon as they have.
It all began when former NHL player Paul Bissonnette reported on the Spittin’ Chicklets podcast that during the initial meetings between Babcock and his players, the coach asked to see the photos on the players’ phones so he could see “the type of person you are”. Bissonnette said he had multiple confirmations from players that this occurred. Both Babcock and Boone Jenner, the team captain and the player named on the podcast, denied the allegations, and painted a picture of a mutual and consensual sharing of photos as part of getting to know each other.
On Thursday, representatives of the NHL Players Association were reportedly in Columbus to speak
with players as part of investigating the matter. As of press deadline, the investigation remained ongoing.
Blue Jays Babble
On the Sept. 9 weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays kicked off a 10-gamehomestand with a series against the
Kansas City Royals.
On Friday night, Yusei Kikuchi allowed just one run in five innings pitched, and the bullpen allowed
three more. But Bo Bichette was strong in his return from injury, with two hits and two runs batted in to lead the Jays to a 5-4 win.
On Saturday, Kevin Gausman pitched a beauty and George Springer hit two homers in a 5-1 win. The Jays completed the sweep on Sunday with a 5-2 win.
But just when it started to feel like the Jays were getting on that roll they’ve needed all season, the Texas Rangers arrived in Toronto. Both were in a fight for a wild card spot.
On Monday, starter Chris Bassitt gave up five runs on nine hits in five and a third innings and the bullpen didn’t do better in a 10-4 loss. Hyun-Jin Ryu held the Rangers to three runs over six innings pitched, but the bats couldn’t get going in a 6-3 loss on Tuesday. Things didn’t get better on Wednesday when the Jays were absolutely blown out in a 10-0 loss.
The Jays were hoping to salvage a win on Thursday, but after gaining so much ground last weekend, it was all wiped out in one series against the competition.
The Boston Red Sox were due in town for a weekend series, with the season hanging in the balance.
After five of the original six teams in the Professional Women’s Hockey League named their three free
agents in the middle of last week, New York took a little longer and finally announced last Friday that
they had signed forwards Alex Carpenter and Abby Roque, and defender Micah Zandee-Hart.
The 15-round draft gets underway in Toronto at noon on Monday, Sept. 18, where the six teams will build out their rosters in advance of November training camps.
By Lori Bennett