BROSSARD, Que. - It is high summer and the hockey season is nearly three months away, but young players looking for NHL careers are in full equipment on the ice at rookie camps around league this week.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' summer orientation camp opened on Sunday, the early bird Ottawa Senators' camp was finished by Monday, while the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks all opened their camps on Tuesday. The Calgary Flames camp opens July 25.
''It's a great opportunity to get to know our young players better and for them to know us better,'' Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said as 22 prospects took to the ice at the team's suburban practice rink.
''It's not an evaluation camp in terms of who they are as a complete player, or as far as making the team this season, but just to evaluate certain areas of them as hockey players ... It's also the off-ice stuff, strength training, fitness, etc. There's a lot of teaching going on. It's a very important week for the players.''
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHL Players' Association allows a team to bring any player to its summer camp who has not yet completed his first, or ''entry level'' NHL contract.
That means that 21-year-old P.K. Subban, a solid player in Montreal's march to the Eastern Conference final, is in camp along with 18-year-olds picked only two weeks ago in the NHL draft.
A key figure at the Oilers camp is first overall draft pick Taylor Hall.
Subban is at his third rookie camp since he was drafted in 2007 and said he has found them all useful.
''You get to know guys who are part of the organization,'' he said. ''You build friendships and you learn a lot.
''The thing that's amazing about this organization is that there's so many resources, so many people you can learn from. Hockey's a repetitive thing. You have to keep working on your skating, your shot, the mental part of the game, your body. You have to work on them all to keep getting better.''
The Canadiens opted to hold two camps, one a month ago that included many of their junior and U.S university prospects, and the current one, which has an entirely different group of players from Hamilton of the American Hockey League as well as those acquired from the 2010 draft or through trades and free agent signings.
Under the CBA, a player can only attend only one camp per summer, so Gauthier called it one camp in two sessions. Both the Canadiens and the AHL affiliate reached conference finals, and the players would not have been available to attend the first camp.
''You like to start early because you want to the kids to go home and train, but you wind up not being able to get everybody in on time,'' he said. ''This is a new way of doing things.''
The Senators had 31 players at their camp. Toronto also has 31, while Edmonton's has 28 and Vancouver has 36. The Flames have yet to release their camp roster.
The Canadiens camp includes their first round pick, six-foot-six defenceman Jarred Tinordi, as well as Alexander Avtsin, selected 109th overall last year. Lars Eller and Ian Schultz—the two prospects Montreal acquired from St. Louis in exchange for playoff goaltending hero Jaroslav Halak—are also in attendance.
Absent was 2006 first-round pick David Fischer, whose days as a Canadiens prospect look to be done.
Gauthier said the team does not expect to make an offer to the University of Minnesota defencemen. They will get a compensatory draft pick if they let Fischer go. The pick should be 50th overall in 2011, or the 20th pick of the second round, as Fischer was selected 20th overall in his draft year.
''We've advised his representative that we probably won't make him an offer and he'll become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15,'' Gauthier said. ''We reserve the right to change our mind on that, but it looks like that's what's going to happen.''
He said the team hopes to sign Avtsin, although it was uncertain whether they would like him to play junior hockey or go to Hamilton of the American Hockey League.
Gauthier also confirmed that players who became unrestricted free agents on July 1, including Dominic Moore and Glen Metropolit, would not be offered contracts.
''It's unfortunate because a lot of these guys contributed to our team, but between the young players moving up and the acquisitions we made in the off-season, and of course the game that we all play with the (salary) cap, we came to those decisions,'' he said.
He said talks were on-going to sign goaltender Carey Price and forward Maxim Lapierre, both restricted freeagents.
''We'll see how it evolves (with Price),'' he said. ''Sometimes it takes longer than other cases, but we'll come to a conclusion some time before training camp, I'm confident of that.''
Gauthier said he had no worries about keeping his job after it was announced on Monday that Geoff Molson, who headed the group that bought the Canadiens from George Gillett last fall, would take over as team president from Pierre Boivin in 2011.
''I have a very good relationship with him and we're going forward as it is,'' Gauthier said.