It’s almost that time of year again! We’re nearing the beginning of the 2023-24 NHL season, which means one thing: NHL training camp and preseason games. Here is your guide to what to expect for the rest of September and early October, and what you as fans should be paying close attention to during the coming weeks.
What is training camp?
NHL training camp takes place two to three weeks prior to the start of the regular season, and is held at teams’ practice facilities, which are usually very close to their home arenas. Some NHL teams will allow fans to watch their camps at these facilities, so be sure to check your specific team’s socials and websites for details.
During the camp there is a variety of on-ice and off-ice training, but the day-to-day schedules differ from team to team. Players will participate in team-led workouts and off-ice exercises, and then will transition to the ice to practice and run drills with their team in order to get the dynamics set in time for the regular season to start.
Training camp is not to be mistaken for a “get in shape” type program. Players are encouraged to arrive at camp already in shape and ready to go full speed from the start. Coaches will be using these camps to determine who is on the roster for the start of the season and who should be on what line, so there is a lot riding on these camps for the players.
What is the purpose of training camp?
For the players, training camp has many different purposes depending on their position on the team. Players use this time to showcase the work they did over the summer to their coaches and use the drills and ice time with teammates to further develop and refine their skills. Players will run several different drills with their teammates, and will skate on a variety of different line combinations to further understand how their teammates view the game so that they can play as effectively as possible together. Because NHL rosters are constantly changing, players also use this time to get to know their new teammates and build those connections that are so important to the game.
Coaches use training camp to finalize their roster and lineup. The players arrive at camp and are competing for a spot on the team as soon as they step on the ice, and it is the coaches’ job to determine who deserves a spot on their roster. While finalizing the roster, coaches aren’t just looking at individual players’ skills, but also how certain players are working together. Players’ ability to work well with their linemates is one of the keys to a team’s success; if two players have the right on-ice chemistry, they can understand what they need to do in order to set up a goal. Some duos that have great on-ice chemistry are McDavid and Draisaitl, Hischier and J. Hughes, Marchand and Pastrnak, Crosby and Guentzel, and MacKinnon and Rantanen. These duos have set each other up for game-winning and go-ahead goals multiple times, and their ability to work together has no doubt had a huge impact on their teams’ success. Coaches are well aware of the impact linemates make on a season and will be using their camps to try to find the next dynamic duo for their team.
New members of teams will benefit the most from their time in training camp, as it gives them the opportunity to thoroughly understand how the team functions overall. For teams that have new coaches and general managers, it is even more important for the players to showcase what they can do, as they have a new set of eyes in charge of the team and will bring a different coaching perspective and are likely unfamiliar with most of the players.
For the new players, the veterans on the team will be a great resource for them to better understand what they need to do to be a beneficial member of that team. Several teams with a younger core are starting to bring in some older veteran players, as they can be important mentors for the rookies and younger members in terms of how to deal with life in the NHL. Management staff is careful to make sure that they have a good balance of smart veteran players and young talent on their teams, as this balance is extremely beneficial in having a well rounded team.
What should I pay attention to?
During training camp, whether you are watching in person or through social media, pay close attention to how your team is practicing. This is the time to take a closer look at each of the players on your team. Who is standing out? Who is making those shots that no one else can make? Who looks the most improved? Training camp is a great resource for meeting the new talent on your team and taking a closer look at players whom you might not have noticed last season. Take a look at who is skating well together and who looks like they have that on-ice dynamic with certain teammates. You might be surprised at some of the things you notice during these next few weeks.
Once training camp concludes, the NHL preseason starts. The preseason is the time for the coaches and players to see how well their team competes against other teams in the NHL. Unlike the regular season, coaches will set up two different teams and will play with multiple different line combinations throughout the preseason.
Each team plays about six games during the preseason, and the games are played between teams that are close together in location. Each team plays the same team twice in a row, with each of the different rosters that the coaches select. Although these games don’t count for the regular season, they are just as important for players who are trying to secure spots on the roster to show their coaches and management staff that they deserve a spot on their team.