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Masked men ready for practice

9/10/2013

NHL camps open around the league this week, an annual event that was possibly taken for granted by some players before last season’s truncated season when the puck dropped in a hurry after a five-day camp and no preseason.

And no one missed the normal schedule more than the goalies.

"It took me three weeks last season to get into the swing of things,” Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith said last week at the NHL's player tour. "It’s exciting for me to have camp now. ... Camp is going to be huge, it’s a way to tip toe into the season. It was tough on the goalies last season; you look around the league, there were a lot of goalies that weren’t themselves last year. It wasn’t a coincidence that happened. I remember talking to Pekka [Rinne] after a game in Phoenix and we talked about just how different the season was.

"It was just the nature of the beast, it affected us more than players."

For teams that made coaching changes, such as the New York Rangers, camp is also critical.

"It’s going to be really important to have a real training camp," said Rangers star netminder Henrik Lundqvist. "This camp we’re going to go over a lot of new things and it’s going to be a learning curve for everyone with a new coaching staff. I’m excited when I look at our team and see what we have here. I think we have some real interesting pieces."

New kid on the block

No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon will have all eyes on him when he hits the ice with the Colorado Avalanche, but sniper Matt Duchene believes the rookie will be well protected.

Duchene got to know MacKinnon this summer while training together; they’re part of the group of CAA clients (Sidney Crosby among them) that work out with trainer Andy O’Brien.

"We spent time together, and it’s been fun getting to know him," Duchene said of MacKinnon. "He’s a funny kid and he’s going to have a lot of success and a lot of fun. I think he’s a guy that can be a good winger at some point, too, if we needed that. That’s the good thing about centermen -- you can always convert them. You can’t always convert a winger to center, but you can usually convert a center to wing.

"I think he’s going to have a great year with us. He’s going to be well supported and well insulated. There’s not going to be too much pressure on him, because we have so many other weapons up front. He’ll be under the radar a little bit. There will be expectations, but I think he’s going to meet all of them."

Life without Alfie

The Senators open camp without the one face that’s been there for so, so long.

Life truly begins in Ottawa without Daniel Alfredsson, who moved to Detroit on July 5 in a decision that still stuns.

"For sure I was, everybody was surprised," said Senators captain Jason Spezza. "We expected him to be back with us when we heard he was playing again. The one thing that kind of works in our favor moving forward is that we knew that the day was coming he was going to retire; it just turns out he’s moving on to another team. So we’re comfortable with the fact that he’s gone just because we have enough guys that have taken things over and have been involved in the leadership process. But it was a surprise, no doubt about it."

Fellow Swedish star Henrik Lundqvist laughed when asked about Alfredsson’s surprising exit from Ottawa, because he said he spoke with the former Senator just a few days before free agency.

"I was really surprised, and shocked,” said the Rangers goalie. "I saw him four or five days earlier in the gym in Goteborg, we were joking about it, about New York and a lot of different places. But I still got the sense he would stay in Ottawa. It was very shocking to see."

Paging Tyler Seguin?

Tyler Seguin might have been the last guy to know he had been traded to Dallas on July 4.

Hanging out with buddies near the ocean, his cell phone barely had any reception, he recounted last week.

"There were 106 text messages on my phone," Seguin said with a laugh. "So I got in my buddy’s car and drove to the city 15 minutes away to get cell service. I called my agent who said he left me 43 messages. He said 'yeah, you got traded.'"

His time in Boston was over. But it’s crossed his mind he’s not the first young Bruins star to get shipped off, starting with Joe Thornton.

"I’ve thought about him, I’ve thought about [Phil] Kessel," said Seguin. "I’ve thought about how young, single guys in Boston sometimes get shipped out. I knew all along, when I had discussions with people in Boston, I had that in back of my head, but I really wanted to stay in Boston. I love the city. But at times it’s overwhelming, people videotaping me while I’m driving and I’m listening to my music on my phone, but they tweet saying, 'Tyler Seguin is texting and driving.' There were things like that, but in the end, Boston is a great city and a great hockey town. I have friends from there that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this report.