The first day of the Nashville Predators training camp is in the books. The players were split into three groups, each with an hour and a half of ice time and practice drills to show the coaching staff what they bring to the team.
Head coach Barry Trotz admits that he has some tough decisions to make, and it isn’t just deciding who will be Pekka Rinne’s backup goalie. As a result, the team is moving to a scrimmage-based training camp rather than one dominated by practices. “Everybody is working really hard,” Trotz said, adding that difficult decisions will have to be made at all three positions.
Ranking the top defensive players will be tough for the coaching staff as Trotz believes the ranking is wide open after the first several slots suggesting “it is everybody probably from number 6 to probably number 10. And they are all pretty good.” Trotz cited players such as veteran skater Aaron Johnson and the young prospects at camp including Jonathon Blum, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, as players trying to force the organization into making those tough decisions.
At forward, Trotz mentioned several players he believed were now mature enough to compete for a job. One player he mentioned was Sergei Kostitsyn, the Belarusian right-wing was acquired from Montreal for the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd before the July 1st free agency deadline. While there were several players on Trotz list of forwards challenging for a position, his advice to all players on the bubble was the same. “Make sure to be really selfish. But I’m saying it in a good way. You better be selfish in that you want to be on our hockey team and fight and claw to be on it,” he said.
At the time Trotz spoke to the media, only two of the three groups had gone on the ice. He had yet to see Kostitsyn skate. In no way was Kostitsyn the best player on the ice in his group, or even the best player on his own practice line, as Jamie Lundmark, the former first round draft pick of the New York Rangers who has spent most of his career in the American Hockey League, outworked Kostitsyn to the puck and executed drills with more accuracy.
Maybe Kostitsyn’s lackluster performance on Saturday was the result of nerves, being unfamiliar with the Predators system of play, or the result of illness. But Predators fans can’t help but already panic. Kostitsyn was often accused of being lazy during team practices in Montreal and accused of not being a team player. Remember, early last season, the Habs decided to send the 23 year old to Hamilton of the AHL. Kostitsyn refused to report and demanded to be traded instead. After getting suspended, Kostitsyn reported to Hamilton but left the team after 5 games. The Habs suspended him again.
Despite his past, and even his present, there are tremendous expectations surrounding Kostitsyn’s arrival in Nashville. No one will forget that in 2006-2007, Kostitsyn finished third in CHL scoring behind London Knights teammate Patrick Kane and Oshawa’s John Tavares, with 40 goals and a whopping 131 points in 59 games.
Saturday afternoon, Kostitsyn spoke with the media after his first official practice in a Predators uniform. When asked about his initial impression of his new team, Kostitsyn had some high praise. “The guys are nice guys here and I feel pretty good here. They have a good team. Very good defensemen, goalie and good forwards and I think I can help the team win some games” Kostitsyn said, adding that he believed he would fit in with the Predators style of play and was happy to have been sent to Music City. “I was expecting to be traded but I didn’t know where. My agent called me and told me the Nashville Predators traded for me. I’m really happy to be here. I watched a couple of the playoff games against Chicago,” he said. It was the positive attitude Kostitsyn needs to succeed in Nashville.
What is also reassuring is that Kostitsyn seems to know his spot on the roster isn’t guaranteed. While he believes he can help the team offensively, he also believes it is up to him to prove himself. “I have to show the coach and everybody how I can play. The coach will decide [my role],” Kostitsyn said. Hopefully, Sunday’s scrimmage will showcase the Kostitsyn fans are desperately hoping emerges this season.
The Predators have four consecutive days of scrimmages and practices set, followed by four preseason games in five nights. During this time, some of those tough decisions that Trotz knows are looming will have to be made.