TORONTO - Dozens of NHL players and prospects descended upon St. Michael's College School Arena this week for BioSteel Camp.
The annual late-August gathering, headlined once again by Connor McDavid and Tyler Seguin, included an emotional gesture this time around: The BioSteel Cup was renamed the Ray Emery Cup in honor of the former NHL goalie. Emery, 35, died July 15.
Team Seguin won the trophy Thursday for its four-on-four tournament victory. Meanwhile, various players' media availabilities throughout the week produced plenty of news. Here are four bigger-picture takeaways from the event.
Simmonds ready to shut up critics
Wayne Simmonds, general manager Ron Hextall, and Philadelphia Flyers fans all know it: This coming season is gigantic for Simmonds. He's not young anymore, his underlying numbers have dipped, and his body is breaking down. He can sign a new contract with Philadelphia at any time, or he can wait and sign with another NHL team next July 1.
On Wednesday, Simmonds - who says his reps and the team have held "preliminary talks" about an extension - was asked if he had something to prove in 2018-19.
"To prove?" he replied, seeming bothered by the question. "I don't know, I've played 10 years in this league. I've put together some pretty good years, so I don't think I have much to prove other than just being the player that I am."
It's a fair response. If Simmonds can recapture the 30-and-30 form from his finest stretch of hockey - bookended by a 29-goal, 31-assist '13-14, and a 32-goal, 28-assist '15-16 - more power to him.
However, the likelihood of him turning back the clock is, well, slim.
For starters, he's not dealing with a single-season downturn. His worst year since '13-14 was arguably '16-17, when his five-on-five numbers started to slump.
|SEASON||5v5 G/60||5v5 PTS/60||PP G/60||PP PTS/60|
(G/60 = Goals per 60 minutes; PTS/60 = Points per 60 minutes)
Rate stats may look complicated, but they're quite simple. Essentially, the table suggests Simmonds, once a highly efficient five-on-five and power-play producer, is not aging gracefully from a statistical standpoint.
The late-season development of Nolan Patrick (who scored 12 of his 30 points in his final 19 games) and the summer signing of 36-goal scorer James van Riemsdyk are boons for both the Flyers and, by extension, Simmonds. Yet they also jeopardized the former L.A. King's trademark net-front superiority.
Making matters worse, Simmonds is still rebounding from last year's absurd list of injuries - broken teeth, a broken ankle, a torn ligament in his thumb, and a torn pelvic ligament. The 30-year-old underwent surgery on his pelvis this spring and is feeling fine overall, but notes he's battling to regain game speed.
"I'm going to come in, I'm going to work hard," Simmonds said of Flyers training camp, "and you'll see what you usually see from me - which was obviously not last year, I don't think I had my best year - but I'm going to get better, I'm going to be healthy, and things are going to be good."
Unpredictability makes for great theater, and Simmonds - a fearless competitor who's been criminally underpaid for the duration of his six-year, $23.85-million contract - is clearly ready to face the challenge head-on.
Montour, Ducks' D just getting started
Brandon Montour is betting on himself.
Unable to "figure out a longer-term deal that made sense," the 24-year-old defenseman settled for a two-year, $6.775-million bridge contract with the Anaheim Ducks in late July.
"I'm still growing as a player, and both sides were happy with doing something like this and we'll move forward from it," Montour told theScore on Tuesday. "I tell people all the time - I want to be there for a long time, they want me there as well."
With Montour, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, and no-frills anchor Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim's top four is a perfect blend of handedness (two lefties, two righties), youth (ages range from 24 to 26), mobility (they can all wheel and transport the puck), and offensive prowess (all four picked up at least 30 points last year).
"We have all the confidence in the world," Montour, who is entering his second full NHL season, said of the Ducks' defense corps. "Being from where we are, being in California, we don't get seen or watched as much, (but) the four of us are very strong players and we feed off each other. Having duos like that - me and Cam, and Hampus and Manson - it's definitely huge for us as a team, and I feel like when we're out there we dictate the play and we take pride in that."
Heading into training camp, the forward group is more uncertain. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler are 33, 33, and 34, respectively. There's speculation Kesler could sit out the entire season to rehab a hip injury. Is Montour concerned about his teammate's health?
"A little bit. He's looking to start the year," he said. "It's one of those things where we obviously didn't want the result we had in the playoffs but, for his sake and a couple of guys with key injuries, it's definitely allowed for a lot more time to rest and get prepared for the year. As far as I know, we should have a healthy team."
Strome determined to take final step
Addressing the idea that the 2017-18 Oilers lost their "hunger" after making the playoffs the year prior, Nurse said Monday that "you can't believe your own hype."
Dylan Strome, however, would be best served by doing the opposite. The third pick in the 2015 draft - sandwiched between McDavid/Jack Eichel and Mitch Marner/Noah Hanifin - needs to believe in his own pre-draft hype at this point.
In his age-20 season, Strome recorded 53 points in 50 AHL games, indicating he has outgrown the feeder system. After plenty of junior and minor-league marination and 27 NHL games, he is ready for a full-time role with an up-and-coming Arizona Coyotes squad.
"It felt like I did what I was asked to do and I felt a lot better throughout the year," Strome said Monday. "I put up some good numbers, so hopefully I can continue that next year at the NHL level."
The knock on Strome has always been his skating, even though he checks off several other scouting boxes - hockey sense, shooting ability, vision, puck protection, reach, playmaking ability.
And because the modern NHL rewards speed over anything else, he won't be able to shake off the stigma until he can display significant improvement. The 6-foot-3, 183-pounder has been working tirelessly with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid this summer and in past offseasons.
"I feel a lot stronger, a lot faster," Strome said, explaining that his current sessions with Braid focus on improving his posture, positioning, and first few steps. "It's hard to tell when you're not in the game, but I'm excited for the year."
Fortnite still making waves
Erik Gudbranson is right in that sweet spot. He's 26, making him a millennial who's young enough to understand video game culture. But he's not so young compared to some of his fellow players.
"The kids are too good on this game," Gudbranson said Wednesday with a hearty laugh. "I go on there, I get roasted, and you just get sick of it."
The Vancouver Canucks defenseman is referring to the "definitely addictive" Fortnite, the outrageously popular third-person survival game that has taken the hockey world (and beyond) by storm.
The hoopla began in May, when Sportsnet's Jeff Marek told a story on a podcast about a top prospect whose video game addiction was ruining a promising career. It continued in June at the NHL scouting combine, where participants were grilled about their relationship with Fortnite. And it got a third life Tuesday when TSN's Rick Westhead reported some junior teams have advised players to "scrub Fortnite references from social media accounts" to avoid presenting themselves poorly to NHL clubs.
"It's been pretty big," Jordan Subban, a 23-year-old Maple Leafs prospect, said of the video game craze. "Even when I was in California last year (playing for the AHL's Ontario Reign), with the sun all year round, a lot of guys would still go home and just play video games. I try and not play it as much, but it's hard."
A common response on social media in the wake of Westhead's report: At least these kids aren't out drinking or causing trouble. But given the attention that Fortnite continues to receive and the timing - rookie tournaments are just around the corner - don't expect this topic to die anytime soon.
John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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