Early Exits: Five players trimmed from training camp earlier than expected

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Was Eeli Tolvanen a shoo-in to make the Nashville Predators out of training camp? Maybe not. But after a season spent scoring in the AHL and two seasons removed from a breakout KHL campaign that saw him arrive stateside to great fanfare, some were of the mind Tolvanen was a final-day decision who had a shot at earning middle-six NHL work to start the campaign.

Unfortunately for Tolvanen, that won’t be the case. The 20-year-old was among those trimmed from the Predators’ training camp Sunday.

The cut comes as somewhat of a surprise, particularly with a pair of games left on the pre-season slate for Nashville which would have brought with them a couple additional chances for coach Peter Laviolette to get a glimpse of what Tolvanen is capable. It’s also somewhat surprising that Tovlanen isn’t making the cut given his most obvious strength, his pure scoring ability, would have addressed a certain need in Nashville. Last season, the Predators finished 19th in goal scoring and Nashville’s power play ranked dead-last in the league, and Tolvanen has potential to aid in those areas.

Of course, Tolvanen’s cut didn’t come in a vacuum and it’s not exactly an indictment of his play. Young players need time to mature and more time in the AHL can help Tolvanen further round out his game, and chances are that if there was no every-game spot for Tolvanen that his waiver eligibility was likely going to result in his demotion at one time or another. He can move freely between the NHL and AHL, while the likes of Rocco Grimaldi, Miikka Salomaki and Frederick Gaudreau cannot. 

Still, that Tolvanen was demoted now and not later in camp is somewhat surprising. But he isn’t the only player whose demotion comes as a surprise. Here are four others who have left training camp with the big club earlier than expected:

Dylan Sikura, Chicago Blackhawks
Most, if not all, of the pre-season projections of the Blackhawks’ roster had Sikura making the cut. His 33-game stay with the club last season seemed to make it clear enough that he was being groomed for a spot in Chicago, even if his eight-point production and 11-minute average ice time didn’t scream lineup regular. Turns out that if he’s going to be skating with the Blackhawks again this season, though, it’s going to have to come by way of an impressive performance down in Rockford as Sikura was trimmed from the roster well before the final round of cuts.

The biggest issue for Sikura, 24, has been translating his production from one step to the next. He was a college standout, but he hasn’t yet shown the same level of offensive consistency in the NHL. However, he produced well in the AHL last season – 17 goals and 35 points in 46 games – and if he starts the campaign with a similar output, he’s going to be front of mind as a call-up for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.

Caleb Jones, Edmonton Oilers
Much like Sikura, Jones was pencilled into the Oilers’ lineup in large part because it was believed his time spent in the NHL last season was indicative of what was to come in the 2019-20 campaign. To wit, Jones, 22, skated in 17 games with Edmonton last season, averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice time per outing and skated upwards of 21 minutes in a single contest on seven occasions. Tallying one goal and six points during his stay seemed to increase the likelihood he’d have a roster spot this season, as well.

But here we are, little more than one week away from the start of the season, and Jones is heading to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. And that he’s doing so while veteran Brandon Manning, who was demoted almost immediately upon his acquisition by the Oilers last season, remains in Edmonton is stunning. When or if a spot opens up on the blueline, expect Jones to get a call. But that it’s come to that is surprising, to say the least.

Kale Clague, Los Angeles Kings
Clague’s stock has gone up and down over the past few seasons. Ranked 94th in The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2017, the defenseman rose to 58th in 2018 before dipping back down to 79th in the latest edition. That said, on a rebuilding and retooling Los Angeles blueline, there was some reason to believe he could sneak onto the roster and fight tooth-and-nail for one of the final spots on the back end
. Instead, with three games remaining on the pre-season slate for the Kings, he’s heading back to the AHL’s Ontario Reign to begin his second professional campaign.

Of course, it’s not without reason. There’s a roadblock facing Clague’s on the left side, particularly following the late-summer signing of free agent blueliner Ben Hutton. Chances are Clague, 21, will be a first-choice recall for the Kings, though, especially if there’s a need for more offensive from the blueline. He notched seven goals and 29 points in 52 games in the AHL last season.

Alex Formenton, Ottawa Senators
The prevailing belief was the youth movement would take full effect in Ottawa the moment the puck dropped on this season. And to a certain extent, that still holds true, but one of the key pieces of that future, Alex Formenton, is heading to the AHL for the time being.

Surprising about his trip to the minors is that Formenton, 20, actually cracked the Senators’ roster out of training camp last season and earned himself a nine-game tryout before he was shipped back to the OHL’s London Knights. Despite a knee injury that cost him time – not to mention a trip to the World Junior Championship – he was a standout, notching 17 goals and 52 points in a combined 42 games across the regular season and playoffs.

Formenton can wheel, and if he plays anything like Drake Batherson did during his time in the minors last season, there’s little doubt the speedy winger is going to find himself back up in the NHL before long.

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