If it were simple -- if there were no surprises or disappointments, no trades percolating and no one pulling up lame -- then National Hockey League training camps would not only be moot, they would be excruciatingly dull.
Without the drama that comes from the scrapping for jobs and young stars pushing old vets, the big brains in the Winnipeg Jets' hockey operations department would simply carve their depth chart into stone. Every player on the roster would buy, not rent, and also start hammering out their side deals with car dealers, mortgage companies or -- hello, Zach Bogosian -- any outfit that might peddle camouflage gear.
And so while there were certain givens as the Jets opened camp on Thursday -- Bryan Little between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler; the usual questions about how high the numbers got when Dustin Byfuglien stepped on the scale, etc. -- there was also just enough intrigue to set up the next few weeks before the club's regular-season opener in Edmonton on Oct. 1 as particularly riveting.
- Can Mark Scheifele nail down the No. 2 centre spot? (He was between Evander Kane and Devon Setoguchi in the first morning scrimmage).
- Is Jacob Trouba, the 19-year-old defenceman, really ready for The Show?
- Does Olli Jokinen still have enough gas in his tank?
- Who rounds out a defensive corps that looks to be about 10 deep?
- Is there room for two tough guys in Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso?
- And which players are on the bubble to crack the opening-night lineup?
"There's lots of really good guys here," said winger James Wright, one of the bubble boys. "Everyone is fighting for a job, everyone is fighting for a spot. There's young guys who want to make this team.
"You're fooling yourself if you believe these guys who say they're 'just here for the camp.' Everyone has a goal to make the team. As a guy who has been here before I know I have to play well and play better than them in order to keep that spot."
The juiciest roster subplots revolve around two of the franchise's young stars: Scheifele and Trouba. A more-mature-looking Scheifele is now listed at 192 pounds and, with two brief tastes of the NHL over the last two years, makes no secret of his desire to stick and contribute.
And Trouba, who played for the U.S. at the IIHF World Championship and is on the radar for the American Olympic team, has a unique outlook that is tough to describe. It's a quiet confidence-slash-too-young-to-know-any-better approach that must have the team's brass beaming.
Asked if he thought he was ready to make the jump to the pros, Trouba gave a why-the-hell-not shrug and then offered a three-word answer:
"Yup, I do."
(Note to the Jets Gear Store types: double order those No. 3 jerseys).
"He looked good out there in the scrimmage," said Zach Bogosian, who was 18 when he first suited up for the Atlanta Thrashers. "He's a strong guy, a good skater and he can move the puck. I like what I see out of him, but it's up to him to go out there and show the coaches and management that he belongs here. I think he's going to be a really good player.
"It's a lot of responsibility for a young kid. I remember going through my first few years... a lot of up and down years. But you learn to let things go when you make a mistake. I remember playing my first couple of years and if I made a mistake I was thinking about it the whole game, especially the first couple of games, wondering what the management was thinking. It's just learning to let things go."
But as much as everyone wants to flip the pages to the end of this chapter and fill out their own lineup cards, it was head coach Claude Noel who threw up the yellow caution flag when asked specifically about Scheifele and the No. 2 centre job that seems to be his to lose.
Essentially, his message is this: Sit back and watch this drama play out over the next little while.
"I don't look at it the way you guys are presenting it," said Noel. "I'm just patient. I just go day-by-day and see how things go. I don't want to be hypothetical about what might happen and if this and if that.
"Let's just calm down and watch this situation develop and take it from there."
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