Friday, August 8, 2014

Devils' top 10 prospects paced by Boucher, Matteau

Opportunity always knocks for top prospects in the pipeline for the New Jersey Devils.

In 2013-14 the Devils recalled six players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Albany to replace injured starters. A seventh player, defenseman Seth Helgeson, was recalled on an emergency basis and practiced with the team but never got into a game.

"I think the organization sets the table with opportunity; that's the one thing I've seen over the three years I've been here," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Some of the young players grabbed it and ran with it like Jon Merrill and Adam Henrique, and some haven't yet. We need a few of these guys to do that this year."

One area the Devils have successfully stocked with A-grade prospects is along the blue line. Merrill and Eric Gelinas stepped in nicely when called upon last season, and it appears several others are ready to make the jump.

"I would put our defensive depth up against any other organization in the NHL," DeBoer said. "It's a long list of guys that are either able to play or have the potential to play very soon."

Here's a look at the Devils' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Reid Boucher, RW

How acquired: 4th round (No. 99), 2011 draft

Last season: Albany: 56 GP, 22-16-38, Albany, AHL; 23 GP, 2-5-7, New Jersey

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound right-shot forward split his first professional season between New Jersey and Albany and impressed. As long as he is more responsible defensively, Boucher, 21 in September, likely will get a good shot to stick with the Devils this season.

"I'm looking for [Boucher] to come into [training camp] and be in good shape," DeBoer said. "He's a veteran and I'm looking for some leadership. He needs to have a workmanlike mentality. Whether he's playing on a first line or fourth line, he has to bring that workmanlike mentality. I told him that the beauty about Zach Parise was that he was a first-line player with a fourth-line work ethic. I think Reid can take some notes from that."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Stefan Matteau, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 29), 2012 draft

Last season: 67 GP, 13-13-26, Albany, AHL

After playing in 17 NHL games in 2012-13, Matteau, 20, spent all of last season honing his skills in Albany in his first full professional season. Matteau is a big-bodied forward (6-2, 220) capable of shielding the puck and generating good scoring chances off strong moves to the net. He represented the United States at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden, where he had three goals, four points and a team-high 10 penalty minutes in five games as the U.S. finished fifth.

"Having played as an 18-year-old and not last year … it is what it is," Matteau said. "But I want to prove that I can play and I do want to play."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Keith Kinkaid, G

How acquired: Signed as free agent, April 18, 2011

Last season: 43 GP, 24-13-5, 2.29 GAA, .912 SVP, 4 SO, Albany, AHL

Kinkaid arguably was Albany's best player last season and had the third-lowest goals-against average (2.29) in the AHL. Kinkaid, 25, is one of three goaltenders in the organization who will battle for the backup role behind Cory Schneider this season. His NHL debut came March 5, 2013, when he stopped 12 of 13 shots in 25:45 in relief of Johan Hedberg during a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. His finest stop in that game came 1:08 into the third when he denied Steven Stamkos on a breakaway. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello has said he would like to see Kinkaid (6-2, 190) seize the chance to be the backup, though he did sign veteran Scott Clemmensen to a two-way contract as insurance.

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

4. Damon Severson, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 60), 2012 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 15-46-61, Kelowna, WHL

Coming off his fourth full season in the Western Hockey League, the 6-2, 210-pound right-shot 19-year-old believes he's ready to take the next step. He was tied for sixth among WHL defensemen in scoring and had four goals and 18 points in 14 playoff games.

"I played a couple of games in Albany after my season in Kelowna [in 2012-13] and didn't feel out of place at all," Severson said. "I felt like I belonged there when I was 18 and I've come a long way since then. I felt very comfortable in main camp with the pros and got in a couple of exhibition games, and I feel I'm close."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Steven Santini, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 42), 2013 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 3-8-11, Boston College, H-E

As a freshman at BC last season Santini earned All-Hockey East Rookie Team honors. He led the Eagles with 68 blocked shots and was first among all BC defensemen with a plus-25 rating. The 6-2, 207-pound right-shot 19-year-old represented the United States at the 2014 WJC and is a candidate to be back on the blue line for the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. John Quenneville, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 30), 2014 draft

Last season: 61 GP, 25-33-58, Brandon, WHL

Quenneville, who turned 18 in April, impressed during development camp in July, a continuation of a strong 2013-14 season. He had career highs in goals, assists and points in his second season with Brandon, and led them with 13 points in nine playoff games. Quenneville (6-1, 182) might spend two more seasons in Brandon and take on more of a leadership role before turning professional.

"He has similar playing patterns to an Adam Henrique," Devils director of amateur scouting David Conte said. "He's similar in stature to when Adam was that age. I think he's a complete player and on the cusp of developing into a more impactful guy."
Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Seth Helgeson, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 114), 2009 draft

Last season: 75 GP, 1-9-10, Albany, AHL

He provided a stabilizing presence in his first professional season, finishing with a plus-12 rating in 75 games. The 6-4, 215-pound left-shooting defenseman spent four seasons at the University of Minnesota and was an alternate captain for the Gophers as a senior in 2012-13 when he was named an All-WCHA Academic Team honoree. Signed to an entry-level contract by New Jersey in 2013, Helgeson, 24 in October, played in 121 straight games for Minnesota dating back to his freshman season in 2009-10.

"I used a combination of physicality and my size to an advantage, and when the time came to protect my teammates I did," Helgeson said. "You're also a target as one of the bigger guys out there, but I'll try and help the team any way I can."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

8. Scott Wedgewood, G

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 84), 2010 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 16-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .899 SVP, 4 SO, Albany, AHL

He was 11th in the AHL in goals-against average last season, his first in the AHL. Wedgewood signed an entry-level contract in 2012 and the 22-year-old (6-2, 190) will compete with Kinkaid to serve as Schneider's backup this season.

"There are obviously a lot of people ahead of me if you were to look at a depth chart on paper, but I think it's definitely how you play and the way you handle yourself in situations," Wedgewood said. "So I'm not going to come into camp [in September] thinking, 'It's back to the [AHL],' or anything like that. You want to push and see how far you can take yourself. There's obviously a mental side to things and a timely side, but you don't want to get complacent and just walk through the job."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

9. Raman Hrabarenka, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent, July 12, 2013

Last season: 48 GP, 6-15-21, Albany, AHL

The 6-4, 235-pound right-hand shot had five power-play goals and 75 shots on goal in 48 games for Albany last season. The 21-year-old represented Belarus at the IIHF World Championship for a third time and had two assists in eight games.

"Any time you have a 6-foot-4 guy that has hands, can skate and can be as tough as he chooses, it is interesting," Conte said. "Raman has excelled at the world stage with Belarus at a young age and has progressed in the AHL in adapting, so the sky is the limit."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

10. Ryan Kujawinski, C

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 73), 2013 draft

Last season: 45 GP, 23-18-41, Kingston, OHL

Finished with a career best in goals last season, his third with Kingston. A 6-2, 207-pound 19-year-old, he has 56 goals and 125 points in 170 OHL games. He won a gold medal as a member of Canada at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.

"Ryan has size, skill, sense and work ethic; he's a unique player," Conte said. "He just has to establish some durability and consistency, but a 6-foot-2 player possessing talent like that is very appealing."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

Devils lineup boasts depth up front, youth on defense

Since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Kings have played 44 Stanley Cup Playoff games and won a second championship in three seasons.

That is 44 more games than the Devils, who missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1985-86 and 1986-87. Ten of the 24 players who appeared in at least one playoff game during New Jersey's 2012 run remain with the team.

The two stars of that 2012 group, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, left in successive summers, and it appears the franchise's most iconic player, goaltender Martin Brodeur, has played his last game with the Devils. If losing Parise and Kovalchuk didn't signal the start of a new era, moving on without Brodeur certainly does.

New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello made one of the best signings of the 2013 offseason when Jaromir Jagr joined the Devils. He became their best player and fortified his status as one of the all-time great forwards. Lamoriello tried to add some options up front this offseason and turned the net over to Cory Schneider on a full-time basis.

The Metropolitan Division looks wide open behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, so a return to the postseason is certainly plausible and maybe even likely if the veterans up front can remain productive and healthy and Schneider confirms a place among the elite goaltenders in the League by finally having the chance to assume a large workload.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Devils:

FORWARDS

Mike Cammalleri - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr

Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder

Marty Havlat - Dainius Zubrus - Damien Brunner

Ryane Clowe - Stephen Gionta - Tuomo Ruutu

Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier

The additions of Cammalleri and Havlat gives coach Peter DeBoer more options, and also makes trying to figure out where everyone will fit more difficult. Zajac and Jagr together on the first line and Henrique slotting into the middle of the second seem like the surest bets here.

Beyond that, there are a lot of interchangeable parts. Elias and Cammalleri figure to be the top two guys on the left side. The Devils may want to give Havlat a chance to prove he's not a fourth-line player like he was sometimes deployed with the San Jose Sharks, but he and Clowe could flip spots. The same is true with Ryder and Brunner on the right, or Brunner and Ruutu for that matter. And while Gionta has centered the fourth line for a while now, he had a terrible season in the faceoff circle in 2013-14, so Ruutu could slide over to the middle.

DEFENSEMEN

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson

Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky

Eric Gelinas* - Bryce Salvador

Peter Harrold

The Devils are in an interesting transition period with their defense corps. Mark Fayne is gone, and how much of his possession success was a product of playing with Greene remains to be seen. New Jersey has spent a lot of money up front (more than $45 million on those 14 forwards) and Schneider's new contract is not cheap (seven years, $42 million), so this is where the cost-conscious maneuvers are.

New Jersey has three young defensemen in Larsson, Merrill and Gelinas who could all be very good NHL players in short order. There are a couple of other kids in the pipeline who also look very exciting. Where everyone fits in the lineup to start the season is the big question.

Placing each of the young players with a veteran makes a lot of sense. Merrill and Zidlicky played together a lot last season, so that seems like a good place to start. But is Larsson or Gelinas ready for tough minutes with Greene? If not, will DeBoer trust two of the kids together so Zidlicky or Salvador can pair up with Greene?

Another potential issue is depth. The Devils have six defensemen under contract (Gelinas would make seven) who have more than zero games of NHL experience. Among the six defensemen signed to NHL contracts that look likely to begin the year in the American Hockey League, two of them have played more than one season as a professional.
If there are multiple injuries in the defense corps, the reinforcements are either going to be young or come from outside the organization. Don't be surprised if the Devils add a defenseman or two on tryout contracts or two-way deals before or during training camp.

GOALTENDERS

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

Schneider has never played more than 45 NHL games in a season. If he doesn't in 2014-15, the Devils are probably looking at three straight springs without any playoff games.

Kinkaid and another young goalie, Scott Wedgewood, will battle with veteran Scott Clemmensen for the backup spot during training camp. Wedgewood is turning 22 years old this month and can be sent to the AHL without going through waivers. If he tossed two shutouts in preseason games, that might not be enough to keep him from continuing his development with regular playing time in Albany.

Clemmensen has played 36 games in the NHL over the past two seasons, and the results haven't been good. Kinkaid might get his chance, with Clemmensen acting as a mentor for Wedgewood in the AHL.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Reid Boucher, F Stefan Matteau, D Damon Severson, D Seth Helgeson, G Scott Clemmensen

*Restricted free agent

Gelinas' development critical to Devils' success

New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer believes defenseman Eric Gelinas has the potential to be something very special.

Gelinas gave Devils fans reason to get excited about the future after scoring seven goals and 29 points in 60 regular-season games as a rookie in 2013-14.

An injury to captain Bryce Salvador early in the season gave Gelinas a roster spot and an opportunity to showcase his cannon shot from the point on the power play. Gelinas turned out to be a catalyst for the Devils, ranking second on the team among defensemen in goals (five) and points (17) on the power play. The Devils finished ninth in the NHL with a 19.5 percent efficiency and the 23-year-old played a key role.
If Gelinas can prove his first year in the League was no fluke and improve in a few areas, the Devils will certainly be in a much better standing in the Eastern Conference in April.

"He has the potential to be really good," DeBoer said of the 22-year-old. "I recently watched the baseball draft and they talked about five-tool guys. Gelinas is a guy with all the tools. But he's stepping into a position that's arguably the hardest, maybe in professional sports, to step into and excel at an early age. Everybody has to have patience with the process so that he can reach what he's capable of reaching."

Gelinas did experience his share of downs last season, particularly when he was benched for extended periods after pinching at inopportune moments in a game. Then there were times when he should have been pinching and wasn't his usual aggressive self, perhaps a sign his confidence wasn't where it needed to be at this level.

It's for those reasons Gelinas was returned to the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on four occasions during the season. DeBoer needs to see improvement and decisive decisions at crucial stages of the game. Only then will he be able to fully trust the 2009 second-round draft pick (No. 54).

"You can't just be a big shot [from the point]," DeBoer said. "I think he's capable of being much more than that. Also, if you're going to have a long career you have to be multidimensional, and I think the other dimensions of his game are the areas he needs to work at. It's not a secret, but it's tough to get 20 or 25 minutes of ice at this level for a young defenseman.

"We're looking at this guy long-term more than shorter-term."

Gelinas averaged 16:55 of ice time, which ranked eighth among Devils defensemen. Rookie Jon Merrill, who passed Gelinas on the depth chart late in the season, averaged 19:13.

"Many of our young defensemen who will be given the opportunity to play must seize the opportunity and become NHL regulars," DeBoer said. "Gelinas is in that group."

Gelinas scored an overtime goal in a 4-3 win against the New York Rangers last December off a shot from the point that prompted veteran right wing Jaromir Jagr to say, "He might be a superstar in this League if he keeps working."

Schneider as No. 1 among Devils' five questions

After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs a second straight season, New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer organized a meeting with his staff to pinpoint what went right and wrong in 2013-14.

In addition to their team, they discussed the success of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the resurgence of the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.

"You're always looking for things you could do differently in order to make sure you're back in that group of elite teams the following season," DeBoer said. "I think it's a healthy exercise in finding ways not only to improve your own team but give some perspective. This is a tough League to make the playoffs, so just because you miss the playoffs doesn't mean you're a poor team. We did a lot of good things last year; we just have to find an extra edge."

Here are five questions facing the Devils:
1. Is goaltender Cory Schneider ready to take the reins as No. 1 now that Martin Brodeur has decided to move on? -- The Devils are committed to 28-year-old Schneider through 2021-22 after signing him to a seven-year contract extension in July. Schneider has patiently waited for this opportunity since entering the NHL in 2008-09 and is more than capable of playing 65-plus games in a season.

Schneider was 16-15-12 in 45 games for the Devils in 2013-14 and his 1.97 goals-against average was third in the League. He split time in goal with Brodeur, who won the Stanley Cup three times, the Vezina Trophy four times, and set every significant NHL goaltending mark in 21 seasons with the organization.

"Marty's legacy is what it is," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "Cory's not here to replace Marty. Cory's here to establish his own identity, which he has done, and go forward with that."

2. How does DeBoer incorporate free-agent acquisitions Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat into his group of forwards? -- Entering training camp, it would appear DeBoer has settled on Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique as his top three centers. Cammalleri, who has experience at center, could open the season on left wing alongside Zajac and right wing Jaromir Jagr.

Havlat could be a perfect fit with fellow Czech Republic native Elias. The two played on the same line in Znojmo in the Czech Republic during the 2004-05 work stoppage, and represented their country at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2011 IIHF World Championship.

3. Will Jagr pick up where he left off in 2013-14? -- Jagr played in all 82 regular-season games last season and had 24 goals and a team-high 67 points. DeBoer said he has no doubt Jagr will continue his assault on the NHL record book. He has 705 goals (seventh on the all-time NHL list), 1,050 assists (eighth all-time) and 1,755 points (sixth all-time) in a career that spans 20 seasons.

4. Can defensemen Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson realize their potential? -- Merrill turned it on toward the end of last season, but Gelinas and Larsson need to continue to find consistency at both ends of the ice. DeBoer is hopeful all three players can become fixtures in 2014-15, particularly after the losses of Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne in the offseason.

5. Will the Devils have better luck in the shootout in 2014-15? -- The Devils lost all 13 games that entered the shootout last season and scored four times on 45 attempts. There could be relief this season. Cammalleri went 2-for-6 in the shootout with the Flames last season. Sometime, the element of surprise works best; Jacob Josefson scored on his only attempt in 2013-14 and Reid Boucher scored once on two chances.

New-look Devils try to re-establish playoff profile

The road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs hasn't been an easy one for Peter DeBoer since he led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year as their coach three seasons ago.

That was a time when DeBoer had the services of All-Star forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, who combined for 68 regular-season goals and 16 playoff goals during that run to the 2012 Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils scored 146 even-strength goals in 2011-12.
They've failed to qualify for the playoffs since then, and, not surprisingly, have struggled offensively. The Devils scored 110 regular-season goals in the 48-game 2012-13 season, 67 at even strength. Last season, the Devils scored 197 goals, 136 at even strength.

Will the upward trend continue with the depth general manager Lou Lamoriello has incorporated in DeBoer's fourth season?

"It's lip service until you actually do it, but I believe we've gone through a couple of transition years here," DeBoer said. "After the loss of some key guys it hasn't been easy, but I think [Lamoriello] has done a great job of trying to fill the voids. Now, on the coaching level, we've got to find a way to put the mix together.

"But I like the group we've assembled and I think we'll be very competitive."

DeBoer is glad much of the core group remained intact this offseason, and is excited to have free-agent forwards Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat on board to bolster the offense. He's happy with the look of his forward lines, including what is shaping up to be a very productive top nine.

"When you look at the teams that were there in the end last season, I think there's a common theme of being strong down the middle," DeBoer said. "I like the idea of [Travis] Zajac, [Patrik] Elias and [Adam] Henrique down the middle for us; I think that gives us a center ice that's comparable to anybody in the League.

"I think we can create three scoring lines that are dangerous every night. We weren't a very good 5-on-5 scoring team last year, and that was probably the biggest thing we wanted to fix."

The Devils had two 20-goal scorers last season, Jaromir Jagr and Henrique, but they could have more this season with Cammalleri and Havlat, who scored at least 20 goals in six of his 13 seasons in the League, most recently in 2010-11 with the Minnesota Wild when he played 78 games and had 62 points.

Defensively, the Devils lost Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne, but DeBoer is confident Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill will enter training camp on a mission to prove themselves worthy of full-time roles.

"I like the fact our back end is going to have the ability to move pucks better than maybe we have in the past," DeBoer said. "The key for us is being able to move pucks and create more offense from our back end without jeopardizing our foundation, which has always been our defensive game."

The foundation supporting that will be goaltender Cory Schneider, who signed a seven-year contract extension in July reportedly worth $42 million. It will mark the first time in his seven seasons in the League that he enters a training camp (his second with the Devils) knowing he will be the No. 1 goalie. In five seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, he was behind Roberto Luongo. In his first with the Devils last season, it was Martin Brodeur.

"I may have to create a controversy on my own just to feel comfortable," Schneider told TSN Radio, tongue in cheek. "Seriously though, I'm flattered that Lou chose me to carry on the legacy that Marty established; that couldn't have been an easy decision for him.

"The thing is, I won't be Marty Brodeur because he's a unique player, but he's created a tradition of excellence in goal in New Jersey and that's the tradition I want to continue."

DeBoer acknowledged two areas he isn't concerned with entering 2014-15. The first is Schneider taking the reins as the starter for the Devils, and the second is Jagr having another productive season. The 42-year-old was re-signed to a one-year contract in April after playing all 82 games in 2013-14. He had 24 goals, 67 points and a plus-16 rating.

"There's not a day that goes by in the summer that I wonder whether we have a starting goalie or not; that's so far down my list of things I'm worried about that I can't even see it from here," DeBoer said. "Prior to signing Jagr last summer, I had some doubts as to how much this guy had left. But after working with him and seeing his passion for the game and how he worked, I don't have any doubts about it anymore."

Forward depth a question for Hurricanes lineup

The Carolina Hurricanes made three deep playoff runs in a span of eight years, including a championship in 2006, but they have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for five straight seasons.

PNC Arena boasts one of the League's best playoff atmospheres, but it has been too long since the building has been full of standing, screaming fans in the spring. The Hurricanes have a new general manager and a new coach, but they don't have a lot of new players.

Two seasons ago the Hurricanes scored enough to be a playoff team, but their goaltending failed them. Carolina prevented goals better in 2013-14 only to have the offense disappear. Depth up front remains a problem, though the defense corps could be improved.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Hurricanes:

FORWARDS

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin

Jeff Skinner - Jordan Staal - Elias Lindholm

Nathan Gerbe - Jay McClement - Patrick Dwyer

Zach Boychuk - Riley Nash - Brad Malone

Chris Terry

The top line was great in 2012-13, but Semin missed 17 games (he's long had durability issues) and Tlusty's shooting percentage predictably fell back from an unsustainable 19.7 percent in 2012-13 to 12.2 percent last season. Jordan Staal had a really strong season, but the team shot 5.1 percent when he was on the ice at even strength.

There is a lot of high-end talent and Lindholm could make this group look even better with a strong second season, but forward depth was a problem last season, and unless some of the younger players in the organization take big steps forward, it looks like a potentially serious flaw again.

Lindholm's long-term place likely is at center, but he spent most of his rookie season on the wing. If he could handle playing in the middle in 2014-15 it might give the Hurricanes a little more balance. Gerbe could earn a top-six role in that scenario.

DEFENSEMEN

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk

Ron Hainsey - Ryan Murphy

John-Michael Liles - Jay Harrison

Tim Gleason

Faulk has developed into one of the best young defensemen in the League, and Sekera had a breakout season next to him in 2013-14. Hainsey is an underrated player who had a strong first season with Carolina, and the Hurricanes made one of the best July 1 moves by signing him for three years and $8.5 million.

If Murphy can follow Faulk's path, the Hurricanes might turn a weakness into a strength. That also would allow them to not have to rely on the other older players in important roles, and to possibly have their deepest group on the blue line in several seasons.

The Hurricanes traded Gleason for Liles and then brought him back at a much lower rate. Liles played pretty well for Carolina after being exiled in Toronto.

GOALTENDERS

Cam Ward

Anton Khudobin

After playing at least 60 games in five of six seasons, Ward has played a total of 47 the past two seasons and it hasn't been pretty. The list of goalies who saw at least as many shots at even strength last season (693) and had a worse save percentage (.909) than Ward is: Ondrej Pavelec, Martin Brodeur, Kevin Poulin, Devan Dubnyk, Reto Berra.

Khudobin had very nice numbers in 36 games (34 starts), and it's conceivable that he could take the No. 1 job from Ward this season. Ward has the big contract (two years left at $6.3 million per season), but a new regime could mean a chance for Khudobin to play more if he is performing better.

If both play well it could be enough to keep the Hurricanes in postseason contention. If there are more injuries or ineffectiveness, it will be another spring without playoff tailgating in Raleigh.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Brock McGinn, F Victor Rask, D Brett Bellemore, D Michal Jordan, G Drew MacIntyre

McGinn, Fleury among Hurricanes' top 10 prospects

The Carolina Hurricanes have shown a willingness the past few seasons to give significant roles to players just a few months after they were drafted. Since the 2008-09 season Zach Boychuk, Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm all saw action as 18-year-olds, with varying levels of success.

But with Ron Francis taking over as general manager, the club could start preaching a bit more patience with its younger players in allowing them to develop physically into NHL players.

"Everybody needs to get stronger," Hurricanes director of defense development Glen Wesley said. "That's one of the things if the guy is coming from junior or college he has to get better at, if it's the American Hockey League or the National Hockey League. You're playing against grown men and it's a completely different game. That's one of the things you have to be prepared for when you take the next step in your development."

Here's a look at the Hurricanes' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Brock McGinn, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 47), 2012 draft

Last season: 58 GP, 43-42-85, plus-46, Guelph, OHL

The 20-year-old forward raised his key offensive numbers for a third straight season, and helped Guelph win the Ontario Hockey League title and advance to the championship game of the Memorial Cup. After four junior seasons, McGinn (6-foot, 185 pounds) make the move to professional hockey this season. Whether that's with the Hurricanes or in the AHL will be determined at training camp.

"I think the biggest thing with Brock is his maturation with his offensive game," Wesley said. "He took it to a completely different level from where it was in the past. … He can surprise a lot of people coming out of training camp. There's been many surprises that people have witnessed. I would never count that out for him. I'm sure he's going to get an opportunity [to play in the NHL]. It's up to him to take the bull by the horns, and if it's available for him that's great. If not, it's not a bad thing for him to continue to make progress with his game and start in the American league and continue to work his way."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Haydn Fleury, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 7), 2014 draft

Last season: 70 GP, 8-38-46, Red Deer, WHL

The second defenseman chosen at the 2014 NHL Draft earned recognition from scouts for his big body (6-2, 203) and strong play in all three zones. Though the Carolina defense corps could use a player with Fleury's skill set, Wesley said the organizational opinion with Fleury is there's no need to rush the talented 18-year-old into the NHL.

"I think there certainly is room for improvement with his [offensive] numbers," Wesley said. "He sees the ice real well, he can slow the play down. He skates well. That's only going to get better, which is the scary part about that with the whole package with him. I think the biggest thing for him as a defenseman is continuing to learn to read plays, understand plays, his gap control, that good first pass coming out of the zone. All those things are not easy adjustments to make. I think over time he's going to learn to get better and better throughout the season and he's going to be an important part of our future for a long, long time.

"For him to develop and to make progress and be able to continue to learn and get better at his own game, it's not going to be a terrible thing for him to go back to junior for another year and continue to make progress."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Phillip Di Giuseppe, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 38), 2012 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 13-11-24, Michigan, BIG 10

Di Giuseppe, 20, had his best collegiate season in 2013-14 and it earned him a contract with the Hurricanes and the chance to start his professional career this season.

"He's got a great skill set," Wesley said. "He's got a great set of hands. He sees the ice well. He's got a real good first three steps. He's going to be a type of guy that's going to have to give and go. He will continue to grow into his body (6-0, 197), get bigger and stronger, but he's a guy that obviously can skate and that's one of his assets with his speed. Speed intimidates, and that's one of the things he has to do consistently in order to have success. That's one of the things that we're going to preach to him, to hammer across, to get better and better at. That's going to open up other areas for his linemates."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16
4. Victor Rask, C

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 42), 2011 draft

Last season: 76 GP, 16-23-39, Charlotte, AHL

In his first full professional season, Rask, 21 (6-2, 200) started slow but finished strong with seven goals and 15 points in his final 23 games.

"I think the second-half progression for him, I thought he took some major steps," Wesley said. "He's got a very good shot, he's got good vision, and for him, his size, his speed is something that can be improved on and be able to work on. He's another guy that we have high hopes for and hope he'll be able to continue to be a major contributor in the future for us."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Jaccob Slavin, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 120), 2012 draft

Last season: 32 GP, 5-20-25, Colorado College, NCHC

The 20-year-old (6-1, 180) had a solid freshman season at Colorado College, making the conference's All-Rookie team and earning a spot with the United States at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"He has great offensive tools," Wesley said. "He sees the ice well. He's got great playmaking abilities. One of the biggest things for him is to continue to establish his two-way game and just continue to get better at that. … I think it's instilling that confidence in him that he can be a major contributor to the program."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. Brett Pesce, D

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 66), 2013 draft

Last season: 41 GP, 7-14-21, New Hampshire, Hockey East

The 19-year-old stepped up his play in a big way in his second season at New Hampshire. At 6-3, 190, he learned to use his size to his advantage, which helped him mostly in the defensive zone.

"One of the things that stood out to me and impressed is the way he battles and his work ethic, especially away from the puck," Wesley said, "Being able to box out, and when he's going into a corner and battling for pucks he's winning those battles and moving those pucks out. For him, being able to work, especially with his gap control, his strength, his conditioning, it's all those things that are combined to be a real solid defenseman. He could be a guy that certainly could play on the power play. I think it's up to him to see where that future for him is going to be at. He can certainly fire the puck. He's got a great shot. That's up to him to continue to develop that at UNH."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Trevor Carrick, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 115), 2012 draft

Last season: 70 GP, 22-29-51, Mississauga/Sudbury, OHL

An offensive-minded defenseman, Carrick, 20 (6-2, 180) continued his upward trajectory, raising his totals in goals, assists and points once again. He still needs to get better in the defensive zone; that growth will come in the American Hockey League this season.

"One of the biggest things for him is taking advantage of utilizing his speed, making sure he's got a good first pass coming out of his own end," Wesley said. "He's obviously got a very good shot and he can get it off in a hurry. That’s one of his strengths, being able to play on the power play. The other part of that is for him continuing to develop and work on his game in his own end. Part of that is being able to get bigger and stronger off ice and that commitment that it takes. I think he understands that. Having discussions with him and what it takes on a day-to-day basis for him to be a pro, I think he's learning that and we're excited to see where his future is going to evolve. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he's got a very bright future."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Erik Karlsson, LW

How acquired: 4th round (No. 99), 2012 draft

Last season: 41 GP, 5-1-6, Frolunda, SWE

The 19-year-old took advantage of his first extended ice time in the Swedish Hockey League last season, and also helped Sweden win a silver medal with a good effort at the 2014 Word Junior Championship. It was impressive enough that the Hurricanes signed Karlsson (6-0, 170) to an entry-level contract in March and hope to have him in North America this season.

"Erik played well at the World Juniors and has shown improvement each year since he was drafted," Francis said. "He has good speed and adds to our team's organizational depth at forward."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

9. Alex Nedeljkovic, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 37), 2014 draft

Last season: 61 GP, 26-27-7, 2.88 GAA, .925 save percentage, Plymouth, OHL

His win/loss record might not stand out, but the team in front of him didn't do him many favors, scoring the second-fewest goals in the Ontario Hockey League, and Plymouth lost in the first round of the playoffs despite the 18-year-old having a 1.84 goals-against average in six games. Nedeljkovic (6-0, 190) will have a chance to play for the United States at the 2015 World Junior Championship.

"He's got great puck control," Wesley said. "He's almost to me like a vacuum cleaner when pucks come in around him. He controls his rebounds well. He fights to see pucks that are coming in from the point. He handles the puck pretty decent. He's a guy that we're very excited for, especially with where we got him in the draft."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

10. Collin Olson, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 159), 2012 draft

Last season: 20 GP, 12-3-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 save percentage, Sioux City, USHL

It was an odd season for Olson, who left Ohio State University after two games looking for more playing time. An NCAA rule forced him to return to the United States National Team Development Program in the middle of the season before he finally found a spot with Sioux City.

The move to Sioux City was a good one and he'll likely be back there in the fall. Olson, 20 (6-3, 205) will need another strong season to remain a key piece of the Hurricanes moving forward.

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

Power-play potency among Hurricanes' five questions

With a new general manager and coach but an almost identical roster to the one that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, the Carolina Hurricanes enter the 2014-15 season with questions up and down the lineup. General manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters will have their work cut out for them, on offense, defense and special teams, if they hope to end Carolina's five-season Stanley Cup Playoff drought.

Here are five questions facing the Hurricanes:

1. Does Carolina have the weapons to improve the power play? -- For the past two seasons the Hurricanes have had an identical 14.6 percent power-play conversion rate, good for 27th in 2012-13 and 28th in 2013-14. At times last season Carolina appeared more dangerous in 5-on-5 situations than it did on the man advantage.

Explaining the lack of movement on the free-agent market, Francis told NHL.com that when healthy the Hurricanes still pose a serious power-play threat. The team backed that up over the final 14 games of last season when it converted 11 of 46 chances (26.2 percent). Jeff Skinner matched Sidney Crosby and Patrick Marleau with 11 power-play goals. Justin Faulk will continue to move the puck from the blue line and another young defenseman, Ryan Murphy, finally could realize his power-play quarterback potential.
Francis said the unit also will rely heavily on the savvy of assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour, the only holdover from former coach Kirk Muller's staff. He will be charged with leading the special teams.

"Obviously Roddy has a ton of experience at playing both power play and penalty killing," Francis said. "He's got a vast knowledge on that and a ton of respect in the locker room from those players."

2. Can Peters inject life into an aging defense? -- When Francis hired Peters from the Detroit Red Wings on June 19, he knew he was getting a defense-first coach. Carolina needs one; the Hurricanes finished 19th in goals-against per game (2.76) and 21st in shots-against per game (30.9) in 2013-14. This season four of the seven defensemen on the roster are 30 or older.

Though Faulk and Andrej Sekera constituted an effective top tandem, there is not much behind them. Ron Hainsey is the best of a group consisting of Jay Harrison, Brett Bellemore, John-Michael Liles and Tim Gleason.

Francis argued for the decision to sign Gleason back from the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he was traded at midseason for Liles, and adds some physicality that was lacking during the second half of last season. Francis and Peters each emphasized the importance of Murphy, the Hurricanes' top pick (No. 12) at the 2011 NHL Draft who has thus far failed to realize his potential at the highest level.

3. Can Carolina reverse its slow starts? -- Last season the Hurricanes often appeared listless at puck drop and trailed after the first period in 29 games. When he was hired, Peters told reporters that starting faster and playing a 60-minute, 200-foot game would be a major priority moving forward.

"I fully expect [Peters] and his coaching staff to have our guys ready to play from the puck drop," Francis said. "Whether that comes down to the goaltender making a big save, somebody blocking a big shot, somebody scoring a goal on the power play or generating offense early in the game somehow, there's a lot of different ways you can turn that around."

4. Will Peters find the right mix of veterans and youth on the top lines? -- On paper Carolina should have one of the most exciting top-six forward groups in the NHL. From veterans Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty to exciting young players like Skinner and Elias Lindholm, the Hurricanes feature some explosive ability.

Unfortunately, nearly all of them took a step back in 2013-14.

Semin and Tlusty are recovered from injuries that handicapped them last season. The pair should flank captain Eric Staal on a formidable top line. Second center Jordan Staal should see more time in an offensive set-up. Lindholm, the fifth pick of the 2013 draft, and Skinner, who had a career-high 33 goals last season, could join him on the second line. New signings Brad Malone and Jay McClement add an element of physicality.

5. Can the goaltending be better? -- Last season injury and inconsistency doomed Carolina's goaltenders and maybe its season. Starter Cam Ward endured his worst statistical campaign in nine seasons. Add a persistent groin injury, Ward's second major injury in two seasons, and the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner looked in danger of a career decline. Anton Khudobin missed 32 games with an ankle sprain.
Despite last season's disappointing performances, this season could signal a return to form. Khudobin was fifth in the league in save percentage (.926) in 36 games. His statistics combined with his age (28), and the fact that he has faced far fewer shots in his NHL career, mean Ward will face a legitimate challenge for the starting role for the first time since his rookie season. The Hurricanes are hoping that competition elicits the best from both goaltenders.

Hurricanes need bounce-back season from Staal

When Eric Staal is on his game, he is one of the NHL's best offensive players and the man who makes the Carolina Hurricanes go. When he's less than his best, as he was for much of 2013-14, Staal's lack of productivity puts Carolina's attack on life support.

Staal was the fifth-highest paid player in the League last season with a salary of $9.25 million; his cap charge was $8.25 million, according to CapGeek. But he had his worst full-season offensive totals (20 goals, 41 assists and a minus-13 rating in 79 games) since 2003-04, his rookie season. For a player on whom the Hurricanes rely in nearly every on-ice situation, those numbers translated into a 36-35-11 record and a 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference, their fifth straight non-playoff season.

New coach Bill Peters expects his captain to bounce back this season.

"He's huge," Peters said. "He's a guy I'm going to lean on in a big way. We're going to use him on the power play, obviously, and we talked about how he will lead offensively, and on the penalty kill and 5-on-5. He's a leading player in our game and he's a guy we're going to count on in all different areas."
One key to a revival by Staal is a faster start; he scored three goals in his first 18 games in 2013-14. General manager Ron Francis blamed the sluggish start on an injury sustained during the 2013 World Championships and the Hurricanes are hoping the core muscle surgery Staal underwent in late July will not hinder his preparations for the upcoming season.

At 29 and with two years left on his contract, this season could be a crossroads for Staal. Since being named captain in January 2010, the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native has seen his production diminish and the Hurricanes fail to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though he's a member of the Triple Gold Club, his last championship came with Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The good news for Staal is that the Hurricanes remain committed to the player who was so instrumental in their 2006 Stanley Cup triumph. He is still with the team despite trade rumors, still wears the "C" despite demotion rumors and will still lead the power play despite scoring one man-advantage goal last season.

Perhaps the organization's confidence in him will help Staal restore his own. Staal can still be a world-class center, as he showed when he scored 18 goals and had 53 points in 48 games in 2012-13 while playing with current linemates Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty. Staal also led the Hurricanes with four game-winning goals, maybe the most important stat for a player who is still the heartbeat of the team.

Most important for the Hurricanes as they try to end their playoff drought is for Staal to be a difference maker again.

"We've got to find a way to grind out points even on nights we don't have our A-game," Peters said. "In those situations when the game's on the line, [Staal] is going to be a guy who can make the difference for us."

New coach, GM tasked with reviving Hurricanes

In some ways, this offseason has been an overhaul for the Carolina Hurricanes organization; in others, it has been a doubling down on the status quo.

On April 28, Jim Rutherford stepped down from the general manager post he had held since 1994, when the organization was still known as the Hartford Whalers. Taking his place is Ron Francis, who has held multiple positions with the Hurricanes, including vice president of hockey operations for the past three seasons, since retiring as a player in 2004.

Nine days later, Francis fired coach Kirk Muller and his staff after a second consecutive 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference and an 80-80-27 overall record. The Hurricanes were unable to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during Muller's three seasons at the helm, and their current five-season playoff drought is the longest in the conference.
Replacing Muller behind the bench is former Detroit Red Wings assistant Bill Peters. Francis told NHL.com that Peters, a defense and penalty-kill specialist with Detroit, brought an effort-based mentality the Hurricanes needed.

"Part of what we were looking for in a new coach is somebody who could come in and change the culture a bit -- hold guys accountable, demand our guys are playing hard every night, playing a 200-foot game," Francis said. "[Bill has] worked in some very successful organizations and for some very successful people, and at the end of the day we felt he was the right fit for what we're trying to do here in Carolina."

After hiring Peters in mid-June, however, Francis has remained quiet through free agency. That means despite Carolina's shake-ups behind the bench and in the front office, the team that takes the ice Oct. 10 against the New York Islanders will be largely identical to the one which finished last season 10 points out of a postseason spot.

During free agency, the Hurricanes acted only to re-sign Jiri Tlusty, Nathan Gerbe, Ron Hainsey and Brett Bellemore and sign two depth forwards in Colorado Avalanche bruiser Brad Malone and Toronto Maple Leafs veteran Jay McClement. Carolina also re-acquired defenseman Tim Gleason, who had been traded at midseason to the Maple Leafs.

Asked about the lack of summer splashes, Francis noted the Hurricanes had "good pieces in place" and pointed to recent roster additions as a sign they are not content with another early summer.

"It wasn't that we were opposed to making a deal, we just needed a deal that would make us better," Francis said. "You look at what we've done … last year, we brought in a lot of new faces at the beginning of the season, and a lot of those guys had pretty good years. [Anton] Khudobin, [Andrej] Sekera, Gerbe, Hainsey played well for us.

"It's not like we've been standing pat with the same lineup the past five or six years."

While he refused to make excuses for the team's often-stagnant performances in 2013-14, Francis could not avoid the injuries that lay like a dark cloud over PNC Arena from training camp on through the regular season.

The Hurricanes finished tied for eighth in the NHL in man-games lost. None of the top line that was so lethal during the 2012-2013 season -- Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin -- started 2013-14 at 100 percent. Possibly most devastating, though, were injuries to the goaltending tandem of Khudobin and Cam Ward that caused them to miss a combined 55 games.

"I've been in this game a long time and I've rarely seen a team that loses its No. 1 and No. 2 goaltender for extended periods in the same season, let alone consecutive years," Francis said.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Hurricanes were still responsible for some major lapses in concentration. Carolina finished 28th on the power play (14.6 percent) and was 22nd in scoring (2.50 goals per game). The Hurricanes struggled to score early (27th in first-period goals) and trailed after the first period in 29 games, including 12 at home. At his introductory press conference, Peters told reporters competing from puck drop and improving the home record were major priorities.

"When you look at all sports now, the team that gets off to a good start is the team that wins the game," Peters told NHL.com. "The best way to get off to a good start is to get your best players engaged in the game early and let them go from there."

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be positive heading into training camp.

The Hurricanes didn't add many new pieces, but they also held on to nearly all of their old ones, with only veteran forward Manny Malhotra and third-string goaltender Justin Peters departing. Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm, three players all 22 or younger who are quickly becoming the new core of this team, will be another year older and wiser. Khudobin and Ward are back to full health and could provide an imposing one-two punch in the crease, and the top line of Tlusty, Staal and Semin can still be one of the NHL's most dangerous when healthy and motivated.

All of which leaves first-time GM Francis hoping his first-time NHL coach, Peters, can guide a familiar Hurricanes roster back to the playoffs in 2014-15.

"We're hoping that with a healthy lineup and the changes we made from players to coaches to management, we're going to field the team we want on a night-in, night-out basis to give us the opportunity to be successful," he said.

Islanders' top 10 prospects led by Reinhart, defense

The New York Islanders have quietly assembled one of the finer pipeline pools of defensive prospects in the NHL, and there's a good chance one of them will help fortify the back end this season.

Griffin Reinhart, a 2012 first-round selection (No. 4), provides the organization with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound shutdown defenseman mature beyond his years. But Reinhart is one of several top defenders in the system, leaving general manager Garth Snow and his staff with some tough decisions to make in September.

The Islanders already have Calvin de Haan, 23; Travis Hamonic, 23; Thomas Hickey, 25; Kevin Czuczman, 23; and TJ Brennan, 25; also in the hunt for positions along the blue line this season. Lubomir Visnovsky is expected to serve as the veteran presence on defense.

"There's a lot of competition from within and these players will push each other," Islanders director of player development Eric Cairns said. "There are different types of defensemen here too, with different body types, strengths and areas they all need to improve. We're happy to have them in the prospect pool."

One thing is certain: training camp is going to be competitive since there will be several spots up for grabs as the Islanders look to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in nine seasons.

Here's a look at the Islanders' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Griffin Reinhart, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 4), 2012 draft

Last season: 45 GP, 4-17-21, Edmonton, WHL

After four full seasons in the Western Hockey League that culminated with him helping the Oil Kings win the 2014 Memorial Cup, Reinhart, 20, appears ready to begin his professional career. Serving as captain last season, Reinhart had four goals and 13 points in 21 playoff games and was named Most Valuable Player of the WHL playoffs. In 209 regular-season games with the Oil Kings, Reinhart had 30 goals, 111 points and 164 penalty minutes.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano feels winning the Memorial Cup in his final junior season will provide Reinhart (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) the boost of confidence he needs entering training camp.

"He was a horse for [Edmonton] and gained a great deal of experience, and most importantly winning a championship and how hard it is and how tough it is," Capuano said. "The fact that he was able to do that, we're proud of him, and now he's going to get an opportunity come September."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Ryan Pulock, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 15), 2013 draft

Last season: 66 GP, 23-40-63, Brandon, WHL

The Wheat Kings captain closed out his fourth full season in the WHL as the leading goal-scorer among defensemen in the history of the franchise. He had 64 goals and 146 assists in 261 games and became the fifth defenseman in team history to score 200 points in a career. The 19-year-old (6-2, 212) likely will begin the 2014-15 season in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

"He's an offensive defenseman and has a big body (6-1, 218), is mobile and has a cannon for a shot," Cairns said. "That shot is a dangerous weapon and he likes to use it a lot. He scored a bunch of goals and is a good leader."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Anders Lee, C
How acquired: 6th round (No. 152), 2009 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 22-19-41, Bridgeport, AHL; 22 GP, 9-5-14, N.Y. Islanders

A power forward (6-3, 227), Lee spent the majority of last season in Bridgeport, but did play 22 games for the Islanders and impressed during his stint with the big club. Capuano even gave Lee an opportunity on the top line late last season when John Tavares and Kyle Okposo were out with injuries. The belief is Lee, 24, has a very good chance to earn a role with the Islanders right out of training camp, but only if he can perfect his game in the defensive zone.

"Offense is pretty natural for almost anybody who's played this game," Lee said. "You roam around, cycle, support one another, look for openings. Defense is where you have to learn technique, structure, systems. Guys jump behind you all the time at this level."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

4. Ville Pokka, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 34), 2012 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 6-21-27, Karpat, FIN

Earning major minutes against men for Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, Pokka earned the Matti Keinonen Trophy for leading the league in plus/minus rating (plus-32). The 20-year-old (6-0, 214) also manned the blue line for Finland at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, and had one goal and four points winning a gold medal.

"That plus/minus rating tells us he was doing the right things with the puck while playing a solid defensive game," Cairns said. "He played top-four minutes for Karpat and was on the power play and penalty kill."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Michael Dal Colle, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 5), 2014 draft

Last season: 67 GP, 39-56-95, Oshawa, OHL

After a strong regular season, Dal Colle had eight goals and 20 points in 12 OHL playoff games and was named to the OHL Second All-Star Team. He played a majority of his career at center before moving to left wing as a rookie with the Generals in 2012-13 when he had 15 goals and 48 points in 63 games. Dal Colle, 18, might spend two more seasons in the OHL before turning pro in 2016-17.

"I watched a lot of video on Michael and he's got tremendous size (6-3, 184) and is really a well-rounded individual," Capuano said. "He's faced a lot of adversity in his life and is a solid citizen. Any time you build a team you want size and skill but also character players."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. Scott Mayfield, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 34), 2011 draft

Last season: 71 GP, 3-15-18, Bridgeport, AHL

He made the jump to the AHL in 2013-14 after two successful seasons at the University of Denver. Mayfield, 21, is known to be a physically intimidating presence along the blue line, as evidenced by his 129 penalty minutes in 71 games for the Sound Tigers last season. He earned himself a call-up to the Islanders for five games, but likely will spend his second full season in the AHL to shore up his game. The 6-5, 218-pound defenseman is an exceptional skater, a trait unusual for a physically intimidating, stay-at-home type.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

7. Sebastian Collberg, RW

How acquired: Trade (Montreal Canadiens), March 5, 2014

Last season: 40 GP, 3-6-9, Frolunda, SWE

Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the Thomas Vanek trade in March, Collberg has a hard, accurate wrist shot with a quick release, in addition to good speed and acceleration. He has succeeded on the international stage, with nine goals and 10 assists in 19 games for Sweden in three World Junior Championship tournaments; he won gold in 2012 and silver in 2013 and 2014. The 20-year-old (5-11, 181) ended his third season playing for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14 with three goals and nine points in 40 games. Snow predicts Collberg, who underwent shoulder surgery in April, could be a future top-six forward.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Joshua Ho-Sang, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 28), 2014 draft

Last season: 67 GP, 32-53-85, Windsor, OHL

Islanders head amateur scout Trent Klatt acknowledged the organization never likes to leave the draft floor without attempting to acquire players they like, so moving up to select Ho-Sang in the first round in June was an easy decision. Snow traded two second-round picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning to get back into the first round and choose the 5-11, 169-pound forward. Ho-Sang, 18, led the team last season in assists and points and tied for the lead in goals. The son of a Jamaican-born father and Chilean-born mother, he has 46 goals and 129 points in 130 OHL games.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

9. Johan Sundstrom, C

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 50), 2011 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 8-10-18, Bridgeport, AHL

The 6-3, 201-pound Swede spent his second full season in the AHL. He earned 11 games with the Islanders but likely will remain in Bridgeport this season. Sundstrom, 22 in September, is a prototypical agitator in the AHL, but proved his offensive ability as well by chipping in when called upon. He has 19 goals and 50 points in 99 games with the Islanders' minor-league affiliate.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Adam Pelech, D

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 65), 2012 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 9-45-54, Erie, OHL

The third-round pick (No. 65) in the 2012 NHL Draft was named to the OHL Second All-Star Team in 2013-14 after he had 54 points in 60 games in his fourth season with Erie. Pelech, 19 (6-3, 220) logged key minutes and was a major contributor as an alternate captain with two goals and seven points in 14 playoff games. He had 20 goals and 107 assists in 228 career games and likely will begin the season in Bridgeport to work on his all-around game.

"Moving forward he'll focus on what he needs to do to make himself a pro hockey player," Cairns said. "A lot of people have said they see Adam in a defensive shutdown role, but he put up a lot of goals from the blue line. We don't want to stereotype him as a defensive defenseman; we'll explore his offensive side."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Veteran additions strengthen Islanders lineup

This has been the best offseason for the New York Islanders since they chose John Tavares with the top pick of the 2009 NHL Draft.

The Islanders filled major needs, improved their NHL-quality depth and still possess an assortment of prospects that could help fetch the last piece or two needed to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Goaltending has been an issue for years. If newcomers Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson provide nothing more than League-average work it would be an enormous upgrade. Frans Nielsen has been solid behind Tavares in the middle, but adding Mikhail Grabovski (and his pal Nikolai Kulemin) should make this the deepest group of forwards Tavares has been given the chance to play with.

The defense corps remains a potential trouble area, but there are lots of young players who could seize larger roles, and adding another veteran or two on the blue line looks like an obvious move to complete a great summer for general manager Garth Snow.

This looks like a potential playoff team, and if things break right with the defense corps second place in the Metropolitan Division is a conceivable goal.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Islanders:

FORWARDS

Brock Nelson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Michael Grabner - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Colin McDonald - Eric Boulton

Nelson seems like the most likely candidate to fit next to Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The Islanders have seven or eight players for the six spots on the second and third lines; where they all fit remains to be seen.

It makes sense to start with Grabovski and Kulemin together, and any one of Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, Cory Conacher or Anders Lee could end up next to them. In this scenario Nielsen becomes one of the best third-line centers in the East.

Coach Jack Capuano gave the Tavares line a ton of offensive zone starts last season, while the other groups were all about equal.

DEFENSEMEN

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Lubomir Visnovsky - Thomas Hickey

Matt Donovan - Matt Carkner

Brian Strait

The Islanders finished last season 22nd in the NHL in Corsi for percentage at even strength (49.1%), but there was an uptick near the end of the season. A big reason for that was the trade of Andrew MacDonald to the Philadelphia Flyers in early March. MacDonald logged a ton of minutes for the Islanders, but he was also one of the worst possession anchors in the League and has been for a few seasons.

Fourteen Islanders skated at least 200 minutes with MacDonald at even strength last season. All 14 saw significant boosts in their CF% when apart from MacDonald. This group of defensemen might not be ready for a deep playoff run, but a full season without MacDonald (and Capuano's overreliance on him) is already an upgrade.

There are other options, including 2012 first-round pick Griffin Reinhart, though the Islanders have been extra patient with their high-end prospects for the past few years.
GOALTENDERS

Jaroslav Halak

Chad Johnson

The Islanders finished last in the League last season with a save percentage of .894. That was the third straight season of sub-.900 goaltending on Long Island, and the franchise hasn't finished a season at better than .904 since 2006-07.

Halak has finished with a .910 save percentage or better in each of the five NHL seasons in which he's played more than 16 games. He's never played more than 57, and durability has been an issue. Johnson had a nice season as Tuukka Rask's backup in Boston, and Anton Khudobin proved in Carolina last season that goalies can leave Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara and still have success.

The NHL average save percentage last season was .914. The Islanders would be thrilled to be average in net. Had the Islanders finished with a .914 save percentage in 2013-14, they would have allowed 49 or 50 fewer goals.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Cory Conacher, F Anders Lee, D T.J. Brennan, D Kevin Czuczman, G Kevin Poulin

Islanders could entrust Nelson with top-line role

Heading into training camp last September, forward Brock Nelson was simply trying to earn a spot with the New York Islanders. Twelve months later, he'll have an opportunity to play a prominent role.

As a 22-year-old, Nelson played 72 games for the Islanders last season and got better as it progressed. After fighting to crack the lineup early in the season, the rookie ended up with 14 goals and 12 assists, and showed the ability to be a responsible player in both ends of the ice.

"It was maybe tough here and there, but I think I had a good support system around me," Nelson said. "Everyone just kept telling me to work hard and just keep doing the right things and you'll get your time and you'll get your opportunity. You've just got to be ready for when that moment came and I think I was able to do that, and I think the coaching staff did a great job of keeping me prepared for when that time came."

The Islanders have a vacancy on the top line alongside center John Tavares and right wing Kyle Okposo after Thomas Vanek declined to sign a long-term contract with New York. Islanders coach Jack Capuano won't decide who will fill that void until the end of training camp, but Nelson's size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds) and soft hands could make him a fit.

"It's a long ways away yet, but time goes fast and you just gotta work hard," said Nelson, whom the Islanders traded up to grab at No. 30 at the 2010 NHL Draft. "If I'm given that opportunity, [then I need] to be ready and take advantage of it. [I have to] be as ready and prepared and be ready to play at a high level because they're great players and they make a lot of plays offensively. If I end up there, it definitely wouldn't be a bad thing. But I've got to be ready and there's a lot of guys that could fill in that spot."

Nelson thrived as a center at the University of North Dakota and for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League, a big reason why Capuano is hesitant to shift him to left wing. But it's easy to see why he thinks Nelson, Tavares and Okposo could form a very productive top line.

"It's always tough for me to take a 6-foot-3 guy like Brock Nelson out of the middle," Capuano said. "He really established himself as one of the top young centermen in the League for me. He's so smart, he's got great intelligence of the game. But if we have to do that and try him on the wing on Johnny's line to see how that goes, we're open to do that as well.

"The good thing is that we have options and we've got some healthy competition, which is great."

As for Nelson, he said he doesn't have a preference between center and wing. He simply wants to be in the lineup, continue to improve in his own end of the ice and help the Islanders get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division last season.

"That's been a popular question, but I feel pretty confident and comfortable at both positions," Nelson said. "I think the only thing you think a little differently is maybe [at] center you're a little more responsible defensively, but I think that's something that I've tried to incorporate into my game no matter where I'm at."

Regardless of where he ends up this season, it's a safe bet Nelson has landed himself a full-time role in the NHL. He admitted he's a bit more relaxed at this time compared to a year ago, but knows he must continue to work in order to become the player he and the Islanders envision him becoming. He realizes he can't take anything for granted.

"Maybe a little bit, but I think the focus is the same," Nelson said. "I'm trying to get better and bigger, faster, stronger. You try to take advantage of the opportunities you're given. You never know what could happen at the beginning of the year."

Islanders' five questions include Reinhart's readiness

The New York Islanders failed to build off their appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2013 and finished in the bottom five of the NHL standings last season. General manager Garth Snow has spent this offseason working diligently to add depth and fill the holes that were visible in 2013-14, particularly in goal.

With the additions of goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson and forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, the Islanders are deeper -- at least on paper -- than they have been in years. Now it's up to them to find a way back to the playoffs.

This season will be the Islanders' last at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum before they move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the start of the 2015-16 season. Coach Jack Capuano, who returns for a fourth full season in New York, would obviously like to make the Islanders' final season in Nassau County a memorable one.

Here are five questions facing the Islanders:
1. Is Griffin Reinhart ready to play in the NHL? -- The Islanders' first-round pick (No. 4) at the 2012 NHL Draft won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season and will begin playing professionally this fall. Capuano said the 6-foot-4, 217-pound defenseman will be provided the chance to make the Islanders straight out of training camp.

"Anytime you can put a player in that situation … he played a lot of minutes," Capuano said of Reinhart, who had 21 points and a plus-20 rating in 45 games for the Oil Kings last season. "He was a horse for those guys and gained a great deal of experience, and most importantly winning a championship and how hard it is and how tough it is. The fact that he was able to do that, we're proud of him, and now he's going to get an opportunity come September.

"If he can help us win hockey games, there's no question he's gonna play, and he can play some big minutes. But you never wanna go out and say that somebody's gonna step right in, because it is a big jump for a young player. [But] I'm excited to see him in preseason."

2. What do the signings of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin mean for young players including Ryan Strome and Anders Lee? -- Prior to July 2, many were under the impression that Strome would be the Islanders' No. 2 center this season. New York's first-round pick (No. 5) in 2011 had 18 points in 37 games for the Islanders last season and showed flashes of the player they envision him being. More importantly, New York went 21-11-5 with Strome in the lineup.

Lee, a sixth-round pick (No. 152) in 2009, had 41 points in 54 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League last season and had nine goals and 14 points in 22 games for New York.

Strome and Lee have the potential to be top-six forwards in the NHL, but they find themselves facing some stiff competition following the free-agent signings of Grabovski and Kulemin. But Capuano said it's a signal every forward should come to camp ready to battle for a roster spot.

"I think it's everybody," Capuano said. "I don't think you can look at any two guys in particular and point guys out. When training camp rolls around, for the first time if we're healthy with the competition that we have, the guys that come in with the habits that we want, the work ethic that we want, the discipline that we want are the guys that are gonna be in the lineup. It's our time now. We have to win hockey games. We've developed along the way, we'll continue to teach and communicate with our players, but it comes from the desperation.

"You hear me talk about battle level, but when the game is on the line, that's what it's about. It's about the structure and the framework we need to play, but at the end of the day, we want to be a tough team to play against and those 12 [forwards] that are in the lineup opening night, those will be the guys that we feel comfortable with moving forward as a coaching staff on that particular night."

3. Can Greg Cronin fix the penalty kill? -- One of the biggest reasons for the Islanders' demise last season was their inability to kill penalties. New York finished 29th out of 30 teams in the NHL (78.1 percent), a statistic they're hoping will improve with the additions of Halak and Johnson. But the Islanders also sent Brent Thompson back to coach Bridgeport and hired Greg Cronin to be an assistant coach on Capuano's staff. Cronin, who spent the past three seasons with the Maple Leafs, returns to New York for a second stint; he was an Islanders assistant from 1999-2003.

"We went through the process and I thought he's a guy that would best fit our D," Capuano said of Cronin. "We share some similar views on our penalty kill and he's gonna help with that. I think he'll be a big part of our staff. I know he was in Toronto the last few years, but I've known him for a while now. I think that when you have good people around you, people that believe in what you're trying to do and people that you trust, I always think that it's a good fit.

"Our penalty kill wasn't very good last year. It was almost dead last in the League, and that's something we've gotta improve on."

4. Who plays left wing on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo? -- The Islanders were unable to convince Thomas Vanek to sign a long-term contract, and he was ultimately moved to the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline. Snow tried one more time to sign Vanek when the free agency period began, but the skilled left wing opted for the Minnesota Wild.

That leaves a vacancy on the top line alongside Tavares and Okposo. The belief is it will be occupied by 22-year-old Brock Nelson, who had 14 goals and 12 assists in 72 games as a rookie last season. Capuano told NHL.com he's hesitant to make Nelson a full-time left wing, but believes the three can produce together. Still, he's going to wait until the end of training camp before making a decision.

"I think it's more of an open competition right now," Capuano said. "If you look at our team and you look at the intelligence of having [Nelson] with Johnny and Kyle, there's a distinct possibility of that happening. I know all three of those guys have got great chemistry on and off the ice, and that can lead to success on the ice as well. But I don't want to set in stone what I think that line is gonna be right now until we try a few things in camp."

5. Can Calvin de Haan build off his successful rookie season? -- The Islanders struggled after defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky went down with a concussion early in the season, but the injury created an opportunity for Calvin de Haan to show what he can do at the NHL level. A first-round draft pick (No. 12) in 2009, de Haan made his season debut on Nov. 30 and stayed with New York for good. His responsibilities grew along the way; de Haan ended up averaging 21:01 of ice time per game. It was quite impressive considering shoulder injuries limited the 23-year-old to 60 games (59 in the AHL) from 2011-13.

"If you had asked me about one guy, he's a guy that didn't play much hockey," Capuano said. "It just goes to show you how relentless he is to get in shape and prove to everybody that he deserves to play in the National Hockey League. He came in and he established himself as a top-four defenseman on our hockey club. He played some big minutes. He was well-rounded for us. He's a guy that has great intelligence for the game. He's very elusive on our breakout to beat their forecheck. He was huge on the second-unit power play as well. I was real pleased for him for the adversity that he's faced to come in and help us to win hockey games. He's got a bright future."

Islanders stock up for last season at Nassau Coliseum

The New York Islanders will be the first to tell you their 2013-14 season was a massive disappointment.

After giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a scare in the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Islanders were expected to build off their first postseason appearance in six years. They didn't come close to meeting those expectations.
Instead, the Islanders won 13 games at home and finished in the bottom five of the NHL standings for the sixth time in seven seasons. They lost starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to a groin injury on Nov. 16 and went into a tailspin, going 0-8-2 over their next 10 games. This came after veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky sustained a concussion on Oct. 19, an injury that kept him sidelined for three months.

"It's disappointing, for sure," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We have passionate fans and to me that's what it's all about, giving them that same excitement that we gave them in that Pittsburgh series, so from that standpoint it was disappointing.

"November was a tough month for us again. Hopefully that's gonna change. Not to say anything about the goaltenders that stepped in (Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson) or the injuries that we had, but when Nabokov went down, obviously our record wasn't too good for a while. I thought looking at this summer, [general manager] Garth [Snow] obviously targeted that position. As a former goalie, he knows how important it is to have depth."

Snow wasted little time after the season to address the Islanders' biggest need. He acquired the rights to impending free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals on May 1 and signed the 29-year-old to a four-year, $18 million contract three weeks later. Halak played 52 games between the St. Louis Blues and Capitals last season and went 29-13-7 with a 2.25 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts.

When the free agency period began on July 1, Snow shored up New York's backup goalie position as well with the signing of Chad Johnson to a two-year contract worth $2.6 million. Johnson, 28, went 17-4-3 with a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage for the Boston Bruins last season.

For a team that lost 13 games in which it possessed a two-goal lead, the Islanders should be better suited to protect leads this time around.

"I would say out of those dozen games, there was two or three that I thought we were still in good position, even structurally," Capuano said. "The puck had eyes. We have to make sure that our guys, and we will as a staff, that we perform under pressure. It's crucial.

"You talk about the playoffs and you talk about championships where in baseball and football it's pitching and quarterbacks, [in hockey] you build from your net out. They are the last line of defense and they get criticized quite a bit. At the end of the day, we try to play as a unit of five. But I think with those additions, we kind of secured a position that Garth obviously felt was needed. We've got Johnson, we've got Halak and we've got some young goalies, so we have some depth at that position."

Snow also added depth up front and on the blue line. He signed gritty wing Cory Conacher on July 1, as well as TJ Brennan, who last season won the Eddie Shore Award, which is given to the top defenseman in the American Hockey League. Brennan, 25, had 25 goals, 47 assists and 115 penalty minutes in 76 games for the Toronto Marlies.

One day later, Snow made his biggest splash when he signed forwards Mikhail Grabovski (four years, $20 million) and Nikolai Kulemin (four years, $16.75 million). Grabovski had 13 goals in 58 games for the Capitals last season, but was a three-time 20-goal scorer during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kulemin had nine goals last season for Toronto, but scored 30 in 2010-11 while skating alongside Grabovski.

Capuano said he hasn't decided yet if the two will skate on the same line for the Islanders, but he's excited that Grabovski's arrival should help ease the burden on center Frans Nielsen, who plays in all situations for New York.

"To me, it can alleviate some of the minutes that Frans plays," Capuano said. "He's a guy that plays our first-unit power play, he's on first-unit penalty kill. He logs a lot of minutes and a lot of crucial minutes. That's not gonna change to a certain point, but Grabovski's a guy Garth and I talked about two years ago. He's got a dimension to his game with speed and changing direction. He's got a great pace to the game and good hockey sense. With [Kulemin] on the left, you've got a big body guy that is gonna crash and bang and has proven he can score some big goals. They're two real good acquisitions for our hockey club."

Grabovski and Kulemin also provide the Islanders with more scoring balance, which should help John Tavares. New York's captain missed the final 22 games of the season after sustaining a partially torn MCL while playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The face of the Islanders franchise had 24 goals and 42 assists in 59 games.

"When he went down, it's a situation where Canadian-born players love to represent their country, and I don't blame them," said Capuano, who added that Tavares, who did not require surgery, will be ready for training camp. "He wasn't playing for us so it hurt a little bit, but I understand. Obviously when you lose a guy like that, it's a big blow to your hockey club.

"Other guys got a chance to step up and we learned a little bit about the eight or nine or I don't even know how many guys we had up from Bridgeport … I thought we played pretty good down the stretch the last 12 or 15 games. It was a chance for Garth to take a look at some of the younger prospects. But obviously you don't wanna see that happen to your captain."

It will be up to Tavares and the rest of the Islanders to give Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum a proper sendoff. The 2014-15 season will be New York's last in the building where it raised four consecutive Stanley Cup banners (1980-83) before the Islanders move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the fall of 2015.

"For me, every year is important," Capuano said. "I know how passionate the fans are. With this being the last year [at the Coliseum], we'd love to try to get back to the dance like we did against Pittsburgh and prove ourselves and go even further. It's an important year. Obviously the team is moving, but at the same time you can't forget what that fan base and what that building means to the organization. We'll go in with a singular focus. I know there will be a lot of talk about [the building], but for our staff and our players, it's just one goal and that's to get back to the dance."

Chargers Overcome Cowboys in Preseason Opener

The San Diego Chargers made quite an impression to kick off the 2014 preseason, routing the Dallas Cowboys 27-7.

The Chargers won the opening coin toss and opted to defer, bringing Defensive Coordinator John Pagano’s defense up first. Brandon Weeden quarterbacked the Cowboys, and the visitors picked up a pair of third downs to move Dallas into San Diego territory. Fortunately, on consecutive plays Jerry Attaochu and Melvin Ingram brought tremendous pressure forcing a punt. Philip Riversand company took over at their own 17. A strong run by Ryan Mathews and quick strike to Ladarius Green gave San Diego their initial first down of the preseason. Two plays later, Rivers hit Danny Woodhead out of the backfield and number 39 made a number of Cowboys miss for a 25-yard gain. On a 3rd-and-5 from the 35-yard line, Rivers bought time with his feet, allowing Green to get open up the right sideline to the Dallas 15. A strong Woodhead run and a pass interference call on Dallas’ Terrance Mitchell against Malcom Floyd made it 1st-and –goal on the one. Unfortunately, Justin Durant forced a Mathews’ fumble as he soared toward the goal line, and Dallas recovered the ball for a touchback.

Tied 0-0 to open the second quarter, Weeden connected with tight end Gavin Escobar to the Chargers 20-yard line. It appeared Richard Marshall came up with a clutch interception, however a holding call negated the turnover. Three plays later Weeden escaped pressure from Attaochu, Lawrence Guy and Tourek Williams, hitting James Hanna in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Kellen Clemens relieved Rivers, and behind strong running by Donald Brown and a quick strike to Seyi Ajirotutu moved the ball into Dallas territory. On 3rd-and-4, Clemens found Tevin Reese over the middle, and the seventh-round pick turned on the jets for a 17-yard gain. A few plays later, undrafted rookie Branden Oliver took a handoff and grinded out a punishing 16-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7. The Bolts’ defense responded with a three-and-out, highlighted by Jahleel Addae’s break up on 3rd-and-1. Back with the ball, Dontrelle Inman hauled in a 22-yard pass down to Dallas’ 37-yard line. Set up by a nice block by David Johnson, Oliver churned his legs for 27 yards. One play after the two-minute warning, the Chargers had 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line. Clemens attempted a QB draw, but was brought down for a three yard loss and the Bolts settled for a 24-yard Nick Novak field goal and a 10-7 lead. The Cowboys moved the ball to the 49-yard line, but the defense stood tall and the Chargers entered halftime with the lead.

The Bolts went three-and-out to start the second half, and Caleb Hanie entered to quarterback the visitors. A Reggie Walker/Cordarro Law sack forced a punt, giving the ball back to the Chargers, who took a 17-7 lead when Clemens hit Inman perfectly in stride for a 70-yard strike. On the Cowboys first snap from scrimmage, Thomas Keiser flew in for a strip sack of Hanie, and Damik Scafe recovered the ball to make it first-and-goal for the Bolts. Two plays later, Kerwynn Williams powered off a tackle for a 24-7 lead. Keiser’s pressure on the next drive forced a three-and-out, setting up Brad Sorensen at the San Diego 19-yard line. Big catches by Javontee Herndon and Michael Flacco moved the ball to the Dallas 40-yard line. Marion Grice hauled in a five yard gain on 3rd-and-4 to end the third quarter.

The drive stalled to begin the fourth quarter as the Chargers threw their first incompletion of the game, settling for a 34-yard field goal and 27-7 lead. Once again, the Chargers defense forced a punt as Greg Ducre had blanket coverage deep downfield. A 15-yard pass to Ryan Otten and an 18-yard sprint by Grice pushed the ball to midfield. However, the drive stalled and Chase Tenpenny punted back to the Cowboys. Faced with 3rd-and-7, Cowboys QB Dustin Vaughan connected with Jamar Newsome for a 27-yard pick up and a first down. Marching into Chargers territory, Vaughan scrambled on third and short to pick up another first down. The two minute warning struck as the Cowboys inched their way inside the five yard line. Stopped short on third down, the Cowboys decided to give it one more shot on fourth down only to be shut out once more as with a Bolts sack on Vaughan. The Chargers took over on downs and Brad Sorensen took a knee to end the game in a 27-7 Chargers victory.

Turning Point

Up by a field goal early in the third quarter, the Chargers took a 10 point lead and never looked back when Kellen Clemens placed a perfect throw up the right sideline to a streaking Dontrelle Inman. The wide receiver blew past the corner, caught the ball in stride and showed off his speed as he burst 70 yards into the end zone.

It was Over When…

Less than a minute after Inman’s touchdown the Bolts staked themselves to a 17-point advantage. On the Cowboys’ first offensive snap, Thomas Keiser came in for a strip-sack, and two plays later Kerwynn Williams bulldozed into the end zone to pretty much put the game out of reach.

Play of the Game

Brandon Oliver’s sprint up the gut for the Chargers’ first TD of the preseason made national headlines. Showing strong burst and power, the rookie showed off his speed before displaying power by carrying defenders into the end zone.

Stat of the Game

The Chargers' quarterbacks started the game a perfect 12-12, and didn’t throw an incomplete pass until the fourth quarter. Overall they finished 14-16 for 243 yards.

Bolt Quotebook

"We wanted the young players to step up and do good things, and I think there were a number of guys. Obviously there was Oliver. Reese made some plays, Inman. There were a lot o fplayers defensively, a lot of younger players who made some big plays and got some pressure on the quarterback." - Head Coach Mike McCoy

“Anytime you’re in a no-huddle deal, you can go fast like we did tonight or you can go slow. You can slow it down and stop it with two seconds on the play clock. So, we’ll mix it up, we’re going to huddle. It’s not like we’re going to be exclusive no-huddle. We’ll huddle. We’ll go fast. We’ll go slow. We’re going to mix it up. I don’t think that first drive is exactly who we’re going to be four quarters of every game, but we certainly want that to be a part of the year.” –Quarterback Philip Rivers

“It felt great to be out there again. I made some good contact to know where I’m at. This is live contact, and that was important. So I’m even more confident now moving on.” –Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd

“It’s always good to display a little bit of something. It’s not just about me. I’ve never been the type of guy who always took all the credit. My teammates, I work with Eddie Royal every day, on and off practice, in the meeting rooms and everything. It’s not about me.” – Wide Receiver Dontrelle Inman

“This is just only one game and you can’t get complacent. So (there’s) more to come and I’ve got a group of great veterans in the running back room that I’m going to keep learning from, and coach Ollie Wilson. So it’s not the end of it.” – Running Back Branden Oliver

Odds and Ends

The Chargers outgained Dallas with 395 yards to 274. San Diego had an advantage through the air (243 to 182) and on the ground (152 to 92).

San Diego converted 50% on third down (5-for-10).

The Bolts ran a total of 58 offensive plays while the Cowboys ran 61.

The Chargers averaged 6.8 yards per play while limiting Dallas to just 92.

Kellen Clemens had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, completing all five of his attempts for 134 yards and one touchdown.

Branden Oliver led all rushers with 64 yards on seven carries, averaging 9.1 yards per carry with one touchdown.

Dontrelle Inman led all receivers with three catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Reggie Walker paced the defense with five tackles.

Thomas Keiser and Colton Underwood each had a sack, while Reggie Walker and Cordarro Law had 0.5 a piece.

Weeden Solid, Defense Struggles In Chargers Loss

Take the good with the bad after four quarters of preseason football – there was a decent amount of both.

Tony Romo didn’t play a snap, but backup Brandon Weeden played admirably in his absence. The Cowboys’ injured and inexperienced defense gave up a 395 yards, but produced two goal-line stands against the Chargers.

The culmination of that was a 10-7 halftime deficit. When the Cowboys’ reserves took the field for the second half, San Diego took control to grab a 27-7 win.

"I thought there were some good things, and still a lot of areas that we need to improve,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “I thought we drove the ball fairly well on offense a couple of different times. I think penalties hurt us both offensively and defensively. I thought they drove the ball well against us, for the most part ­– running it and throwing it.”

The expectations were already low, given that most of the Cowboys’ biggest names – Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Henry Melton and more – were held out of the game altogether. Despite those limitations, Weeden put in a solid performance in his first appearance as a Cowboy.

Weeden, a free agency acquisition in March after a disappointing stint as Cleveland’s starter, completed 13-of-17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass was the highlight, as he scrambled to his right, away from pressure and delivered a bullet to James Hanna just before taking a big hit.

"It was good. We made some good plays. The offensive line played well, and we were able to run the ball effectively, which gives us an opportunity to throw effectively,” Weeden said. “We had some good plays and were able to finish it off."

The start wasn’t the same for the first-string defense, which sat as many as seven potential starters for a variety of reasons, mainly injury. The Chargers’ quarterbacks, led by Philip Rivers, didn’t throw an incompletion until early in the fourth quarter. The group of Rivers, Kellen Clemens and Brad Sorensen combined to complete 14-of-16 passes for 243 total yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers running game did its own damage, as seven different ball carriers combined for 152 yards and two scores on 42 carries.

Despite a forgettable performance for much of the opening periods, the much-maligned defense did conjure up two highlights of its own. Early in the first quarter, the Cowboys produced a goal-line turnover when Justin Durant forced a diving Ryan Matthews to fumble into the end zone, where rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell recovered for a touchback.

“We had a lot of guys that did not play, but next week we will get a better feel. With the guys we had out there, it felt good, it felt fast,” Garrett said. “They put a drive on us, but that's going to happen. I felt like we dealt with it great and came up with a turnover at the end."

The defense perked up once again late into the second quarter, when they forced the Chargers into a short-yardage field goal on the strength of a tackle for loss from fellow rookie Anthony Hitchens.

The stops didn’t come as easily in the second half, as Clemens connected with Dontrelle Inman for a 70-yard score. The Chargers effectively sealed the game on the Cowboys’ ensuing possession, when Thomas Keiser strip-sacked Caleb Hanie and San Diego recovered.

Chargers running back Kerwynn Williams found the end zone for a 24-7 lead just two plays later.

Rookie quarterback Dustin Vaughan led the Cowboys to their longest possession of the second half – a 13-play, 73-yard march to the San Diego 3-yard line. It ended without points, however, as Vaughan took a sack on a 4th and 3 with less than two minutes remaining in the game.