4 top candidates for NHL's vacant captaincies
With training camp slowly but surely approaching, four NHL teams remain without captains.
Here's a look at the top candidate to lead each team:
Arizona Coyotes - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Enter Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was drafted sixth overall in 2009 and now stands as the team's longest-serving player.
He also happens to be an elite defenseman, and general manager John Chayka has touted Ekman-Larsson as the one who will carry the team moving forward.
The decision will ultimately be up to new head coach Rick Tocchet and his staff, but Ekman-Larsson was reported to be in line for the captaincy prior to his hiring.
Carolina Hurricanes - Jordan Staal
The latter, of course, is the brother of former Carolina captain Eric Staal, and is best suited to take up that mantle beginning this season.
The 27-year-old, two-way center is under contract through to the end of the 2022-23 season, boasts a wealth of knowledge and experience, and has won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009).
The Hurricanes are an up-and-coming team, and, if all goes according to plan for GM Ron Francis, Jordan could be the second Staal to accept the Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman.
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews
The Maple Leafs have been without a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa in 2016. Like the Hurricanes, Toronto assigned an "A" to four players last season: forwards Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov, and defensemen Matt Hunwick and Morgan Rielly.
Rielly may have had the inside track on being named captain of the historic franchise were it not for Toronto's good fortune of winning the 2016 NHL Draft lottery and laying claim to Auston Matthews.
The Scottsdale, Ariz., native dominated in his rookie season, scoring 40 goals and winning the Calder Trophy. Matthews has also been embraced by the fan base, and - with all due respect to fellow rookie phenoms William Nylander and Mitch Marner - it is he for whom the team will be built around.
Matthews will turn 20 prior to the start of the regular season, but he'd still be one of the youngest captains in NHL history. His cool demeanor and ability to get the job done suggests he's up to the task.
Vegas Golden Knights - James Neal
Marc-Andre Fleury is being marketed hard by the expansion Golden Knights, but goalies are prohibited from serving as official captains during games, so he can be scratched from the list of candidates.
According to team insider Gary Lawless, GM George McPhee may have selected the future captain with the 34th pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, namely defenseman Nic Hague.
"I think Hague is going to be the Captain of the Vegas Golden Knights at some point in time," Lawless said on the SinBin.vegas podcast. "The way he talks, the way he commands the players around him, his stature. He was the OHL Scholastic Player of the Year last year. He is a really impressive young man."
Hague is a few years away yet, and Vegas could choose to rotate alternates until a clear leader emerges, but they'll probably want to sell some jerseys with the "C" right off the bat.
He's also one of Vegas' top offensive options, helped the Preds reach the 2017 Cup Final, and is the top candidate on a roster that will remain very much in flux over the next few years.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)