Players who don't have an NHL job inspect a training camp roster differently than those who do. They look for openings.
"They're always sizing up the competition, looking at the writing on the wall, so to speak," Mighty Duck assistant coach Tim Army said. "It makes for a healthy training camp. That's what you want. They're competing for jobs. That's a blunt way of putting it, but that's what it is."
The best competition on the Duck roster is on defense, where as many as seven players are scrambling for no more than three or four spots--perhaps only one or two.
Bobby Dollas and Fredrik Olausson are the only established NHL defensemen on the ice for the Ducks right now. However, Jason Marshall and Darren Van Impe were regulars at the end of last season, and General Manager Jack Ferreira says they'll have to be clearly outplayed to get pushed aside.
But Randy Ladouceur, who was losing his legs at 35, is a new assistant coach for the Hartford Whalers. David Karpa is unsigned and out of sight if not out of mind. And Jason York isn't skating because of a groin strain.
All that leaves No. 1 draft pick Ruslan Salei, free agent Adrien Plavsic, 1993 second-round pick Nikolai Tsulygin, 32-year-old Oleg Mikulchik and University of Minnesota product Dan Trebil with big eyes. They sense an opening.
"Professional athletes are aware of what they're competing against," Army said. "If they're playing another team, they know what that team does. And if it's in training camp, they see the lineup, they see certain people aren't here. They're aware of that."
York's job is safe, and Karpa's probably will be if he and the Ducks reach a deal soon. But the Duck defense is still being rebuilt after unexpectedly losing Milos Holan, who underwent a bone marrow transplant last season to treat his leukemia, and Don McSween, who came back from a gruesome skate blade accident but is playing in the International Hockey League after the Ducks bought out his contract.
"Technically, there are two spots open," Army said. "Obviously, Ruslan Salei is a talented player and a lot of people have been impressed. Nikolai Tsulygin has been in the organization a couple of years now and he's continued to develop. Adrian Plavsic has played in the NHL before.
"Trebil played quite well in the scrimmage. But he's young, and you can't make an evaluation on one scrimmage. You have to wait for the exhibition games."
Marshall and Van Impe have a certain comfort level after coming up from minor league Baltimore and finishing the year in the NHL last season. For one thing, their lockers are in the main dressing room with the returning players and a few select new ones.
"I was down the hall before," Marshall said, nodding toward an auxiliary dressing room. "I feel really good this year, now that I kind of have some experience. I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed."
Plavsic, 26, is easily the most experienced of the group, with more than 200 NHL games to his name, mostly with Vancouver, where he played when Duck Coach Ron Wilson was an assistant there.
Traded to Tampa Bay in 1995, he separated his shoulder in training camp and ended up spending most of the season in the minors, playing only seven games in the NHL.
"I've played in the NHL before, so I think it's up to me to show them what I can do," said Plavsic, a Montreal native of Croatian descent. "I've had good games in the NHL and some not so good games. I want to forget everything around me and concentrate on my game. I have the skill. You can think about a million things going on around you. I want to concentrate on what I do on the ice."
The Ducks were ready for one of their top prospects, center Johan Davidsson, to play in North America this year.
But Davidsson, 20, will return to Sweden for another season with the professional team HV-71.
"I didn't feel I'm really ready. I want to play for the Swedish national team a couple more years, get more experience, get more size," said Davidsson, who is 6 feet and 180 pounds. "I want to have the feeling I'm really going to make it when I come here. You can't be sure, but you want to feel confident."
Davidsson will be in camp only a week before returning to Sweden, and isn't likely to appear in any exhibition games.
"The important thing is to get him over here to meet the guys in the organization and get comfortable with everybody and understand what training camp is like," said Ferreira, who had hoped to sign Davidsson this summer.
"We never negotiated at all. It was more his decision. He felt he wanted to stay another year."
The Ducks will be under pressure to sign him next summer because their rights expire and he would be eligible for the 1997 draft.
Center J.F. Jomphe said he was "surprised and disappointed" when the Ducks retracted his invitation to training camp because he remained unsigned.