How World Cup of Hockey made impact on NHL training camps

Kenny Agostino, left, who is fighting for a roster spot with the Blues, has benefited from the absence of teammates who have been away at the World Cup of Hockey. Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

The World Cup of Hockey did more than just give the NHL a chance to showcase some its best players. It also created a significant window of opportunity for players trying to make NHL teams, and it brought about some roster challenges for squads left short-handed.

Take, for example, forward Kenny Agostino, who signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues in July after playing in just 10 NHL games for the Calgary Flames over the past two seasons.

With seven Blues, including five forwards, participating in the World Cup, Agostino, 24, has taken full advantage of the ice time he has been given by coach Ken Hitchcock. In the Blues' preseason opener on Sunday, Agostino recorded his first five-point game since his days at Yale, where he won an NCAA championship in 2013.

"He's a smart player. He knows how to play the game properly," Hitchcock told reporters afterward. "Obviously, this is a big start for him."

Once the World Cup was whittled to its two finalists, Team Canada and Team Europe, 19 NHL teams were left waiting for 44 players to arrive at training camp. Five teams -- the Toronto Maple Leafs (Mike Babcock), Chicago Blackhawks (Joel Quenneville), Washington Capitals (Barry Trotz), Boston Bruins (Claude Julien) and Winnipeg Jets (Paul Maurice) -- were missing their head coaches.

"We're all enjoying different roles," said Capitals associate coach Todd Reirden, who a month ago was promoted from his assistant coach's role and is running training camp in Trotz's absence. "And for the organizations, it's great because they get to see what's in the cupboard in terms of players they wouldn't normally get a chance to focus on."

Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol began training camp without eight World Cup players. All but forwards Claude Giroux (Canada) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Europe) have reported.

"It provides extra opportunities for guys, whether it's in practice or certainly it carries over in some of the exhibition games," Hakstol said. "It's an opportunity to be in the lineup one or two extra times for some of the young guys that are close and battling for a spot."

Unlike previous preseasons, when NHL teams were required to dress a minimum of eight NHL veterans for exhibition games, there have been no roster restrictions this year, turning exhibition games into exercises of numerical scrabble.

On Tuesday night, for example, the New York Islanders had split-squad games on the road against the Rangers and Flyers and dressed just five NHL players in their 4-0 loss in Philadelphia. The Capitals were in Montreal the same night and dressed six NHL regulars in the second end of a back-to-back. Goaltending prospect Vitek Vanecek was given both starts for Washington, because its top goalies, Braden Holtby (Canada) and Philipp Grubauer (Europe), are serving as backups in the World Cup.

"It was a tough situation to go into Montreal like that, and we struggled at times," Reirden said of the 5-2 loss. "But I was proud of the way the guys played and grew as a team."

Like many teams, the Capitals have taken an entirely different approach to this year's training camp. Instead of focusing on last season's second-round playoff defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the eventual Stanley Cup champions -- Reirden said he has been keying on establishing a culture for the prospects attending camp.

"With so many new faces and draft picks and young players coming in on tryouts, to me it was more about setting a standard of what being a Washington Capital is, instead of showing a lot of stuff that your own personal team went through last year, because you're missing nine core guys," Reirden said.

Many of the World Cup players have joined to their teams and will be integrated into NHL lineups this weekend. With Team Canada closing out Team Europe on Thursday night to claim the championship, the remaining absent players and coaches will arrive at camps over the next few days. The Capitals gave their World Cup players one travel day and two days off before requiring they report for conditioning tests.

The World Cup players who failed to advance from the preliminary round didn't miss out on much. For example, T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen, who played for the U.S. team that went 0-3, each missed just two days of ice time with the Capitals.

As for his interaction with Trotz, Reirden said he has received daily phone calls from Toronto and has provided his head coach with detailed updates on his players.

As you might imagine, NHL locker rooms were divided in their rooting interests for the World Cup final.

"It's human nature if you've got one or two of your guys that are playing, you want to see them do well," Hakstol said before Canada beat Europe 2-1 in Game 2 to sweep championship series. "But you're always still rooted in your country. That's where your roots lie when push comes to shove. I'm a Canadian citizen."