This is an exciting time of year for hockey fans. It’s almost like Christmas eve.
Still more than two weeks away from the season opener, the exhibition schedule starts tomorrow as players continue their push for roster spots.
One of the more interesting aspects of training camp comes in the form of line combinations. New coaches, prized free-agents and promising rookies make for plenty of intrigue. Most teams opened camp by getting right down to business, testing out potential trios sooner rather than later in hopes of hitting the ground running on October 8.
Here are 10 initial line combinations that caught my attention, some of which were expected and others coming as a surprise.
1) Jeff Skinner-Eric Staal-Elias Lindholm
ANALYSIS: I really like what Bill Peters did here and I can’t wait to see how it works out. Staal struggled last season, so the new coach has come in and flanked him with two young guys full of skill and energy. If they develop chemistry, this could reinvigorate Staal and get him back to being an elite player. Most expected Staal to start with familiar linemates Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty, but Peters went against the grain and I applaud him for that. I hope it pays off, but Staal isn’t playing in Carolina’s pre-season opener (Riley Nash will take his place), so we’ll just have to wait and see.
2) Marcus Foligno-Sam Reinhart-Chris Stewart
ANALYSIS: Ted Nolan is putting Reinhart in a position to succeed right out of the gate. Buffalo’s second overall pick will be given every opportunity to crack the roster, but the pre-season will have ‘sink-or-swim’ overtones if he struggles. I think this trio could really click, with Reinhart being the set-up man for two finishers that have the size and physicality to create space for their young centre. Well played Ted Nolan.
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) September 19, 2014
3) Benoit Pouliot-Leon Draisaitl-David Perron
ANALYSIS: Likewise, the Oilers revealed their plans for Draisaitl on the opening day of training camp, slotting him in as the second-line centre. Initial reports were positive as this trio apparently had instant chemistry and was the best line in a scrimmage session, accounting for a couple goals in their first time skating together. That’s still a lot to ask of a kid who doesn’t turn 19 until Oct. 27, but if he’s ready, then all the power to him.
"I felt really good out there… We were developing some chemistry already." @Drat_29 playing on a line with Perron & Pouliot at camp.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 19, 2014
4) Craig Smith-Derek Roy-Colin Wilson
ANALYSIS: This line looks really good on paper, at least to me. Whether it becomes Nashville’s first or second line, this trio has potential to pile up a lot of points this season. Wilson is a playmaker, Smith is a scorer and Roy can do a little of both. Roy worked out with Gary Roberts in the off-season and came into camp in great shape, so if that translates onto the ice, these guys could all be fantasy sleepers.
If Craig Smith, Derek Roy and Colin Wilson stay a line; it'll very quickly become my favourite in the entire league.
— Tyson Hinschberger (@hinschcity) September 19, 2014
5) James van Riemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-Matt Frattin
ANALYSIS: Toronto started camp by breaking up JVR and Phil Kessel in an attempt to spread out the offence. Joffrey Lupul returns to the so-called first line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak, but this line could steal the spotlight. Frattin returns to Toronto where he had some past success playing alongside Kadri, and JVR gives them a bigger body with great scoring touch to work with. I can totally see this line working wonders.
James van Riemsdyk starts camp with Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 20, 2014
6) Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Ales Hemsky
ANALYSIS: When Dallas traded for Jason Spezza and then signed Hemsky, the assumption was that their chemistry from Ottawa would carry over. But the Stars announced that they plan to try Hemsky on the top line in training camp, even if he debuted as a pairing with Spezza. Assuming that experiment takes place in the pre-season, it will be a fun one to watch. Hemsky has elite skill and has flown under the radar in Edmonton over the years, but he could finally enjoy a breakout if he sticks with Benn and Seguin. If not, he should settle in nicely with Spezza in a secondary role.
7) Brandon Saad-Brad Richards-Patrick Kane
ANALYSIS: This was the plan right from the day Chicago signed the recently bought-out Richards, and it came to fruition on the opening day of camp. The trio drew rave reviews and more claims of “instant chemistry”, so it could be a great fit going forward. Richards could become fantasy relevant again, and he’s certainly an upgrade over Michal Handzus and Chicago’s other second-line centre options from last season.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) September 20, 2014
8) Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
ANALYSIS: This has the makings of a pretty dynamic and potentially dominant line. Scheifele is primed for a breakout, Kane is bound for a bounce-back and Wheeler is quietly coming off a career year that had him tied for 20th in league scoring. Add it all up and Winnipeg should reap the benefits.
— drMediaPro (@drMediaPro) September 20, 2014
9) Patrick Maroon-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
ANALYSIS: How will Kesler fare in Anaheim? That’s a million-dollar question, but at least now we know who his linemates appear to be. I’ll be honest, I don’t really like that trio, but I’ve been proven wrong before and Bruce Boudreau obviously has a better understanding of the talent he’s working with. There are more questions than answers with this line, but time will tell as always.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) September 19, 2014
10) Shawn Matthias-Bo Horvat-Derek Dorsett
ANALYSIS: Kesler’s former team is also shuffling the deck, and this new line really jumped out at me for some reason. It would technically be a “fourth” line, but it has a lot of upside. Horvat is one of those prospects that needs to go back to junior if he doesn’t make the cut in Vancouver, so the Canucks want to give him a good look. He’ll get a fair shake on this line and that type of role might be best suited for him to break into the league. Linden Vey is likely penciled in to replace Horvat if he can’t hack it, but either way, that’s a big improvement on fourth lines from years past in Vancouver.
Things already looking up for Bo Horvat. Actually Allowed to skate with NHL players this yr
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) September 19, 2014
Agree or disagree? What lines are you looking forward to seeing in the pre-season?
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.