I took the opportunity and showed them I could handle the pressure...It was an eye-opener and I cherished every moment. But there will be five or six guys fighting for two spots in camp. The odds are not great, but they are better than they would be on a lot of other teams...I'm getting a little more credit than I was before, but I can handle the big guys and play at this level whether I'm 5-10 or not...I think times have changed and a lot more smaller guys can play in this game.Then there is head coach Paul Maurice dropping the names of who I assume to be his early favorites for the open spots beyond the top paid top four of McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina & Gill.
We identified at the end of the season the areas where we most needed to improve and they were mostly on the back end, the goaltending and the defense....We re-signed Bryan McCabe, who was an unrestricted free agent, to a five-year contract. We also signed veterans Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina and that has really strengthened our defense...Tomas Kaberle, Carlo Colaiacovo and Wade Belak return along with Staffan Kronwall who suffered a knee injury at the start of last season. So, we're getting younger on defense.
Carlo is the no-brainer. But Kronwall and Belak? Let's hope Maurice has an open mind about this, because I don't agree with this early assessment of who should suit up for the big club.
There are several other notable quotes from Maurice in the nhl.com article, regarding setting a foundation and assigning roles early, improved physical preparedness in reaction to the slew of injuries experienced last season, the depth of the organization's on-ice talent, being difficult to play against, and kudos of Aubin.
So, the season seems to be shaping up as a likely improvement over last year's campaign. And with the feel-good stories about O'Neill getting his head back on straight (I'm reserving judgment on how his legs will rebound from taking a year off) we just might make it to the dance.
UPDATE: I'd be remiss if I didn't link to Ulmer's background story on blue-chip goal tending prospect Justin Pogge. When JFJ traded Rask at the draft, I was worried the team had given up the better of the two creasemen in waiting, especially after Rask had that amazing performance with 50+ saves at the WJCs and subsequently being named best goalie in the tournament. Some figured Pogge should've won the award with his two shutouts, but considering the team in front of Pogge, Rask seemed to be the more 'outstanding' player. And part of me still believes this. But after reading about Pogge's hard-knock childhood, and the strength of character he has developped, I'm very excited to witness his potential flourish.