It's a week before the Quad-City Mallards open their season but head coach Phil Axtell likes what he's seeing.
The Mallards held an intrasquad scrimmage Friday, a culmination of a first week of training camp full of players looking to make an impression.
"I feel a little bit more confident now that I’m seeing them on the ice," Axtell said. "There’s a lot of guys out here so next week will be a big week of teaching and learning as a team. I feel good where we are right now."
It's the first training camp Axtell has held as head coach, and he's been more than happy with the returns from the team he's assembled.
"Just the compete level here," he said. "We’ve got 30 guys here, and everyone seems to be in shape, everyone’s listening, working hard and performing at the level I expected. It’s good to see that."
The biggest issue facing the Mallards in camp is the absence of captain and last year's leading scorer Chris Francis. Francis has been at camp all week but has yet to skate with the team, and the Mallards did not comment on his status.
Even without Francis, there's plenty to like on the roster. Along with the return of key forwards such as Sam Warning, Justin Kovacs, Josh MacDonald and goaltender C.J. Motte, the Mallards also added Jamie Tardif, a veteran with two games of NHL experience, and Tristan King, who won a championship with Allen in 2016.
There have also been camp standouts from the first week, including Brayden Low, Ryan McGrath and Ales Sova.
Sova's emergence helps solidify a defensive corps that was a big question mark with just two returning players from last year's blue line in Alexander Kuqali and Chris Leibinger.
"There are guys we brought in that are getting better every day," Axtell said. "I think next week with the systems and getting to know one another and having consistent D-partners will only increase their abilities."
The Mallards are expected to make some initial cuts today before another day of camp Sunday. After another off day Monday, the team returns to the TaxSlayer Center to prepare for the season opener Friday against Toledo.
"Hopefully," Axtell said, "we play big, play fast and hopefully bring a good mix of everything and they’ll play well with each other."