Tales from rookie camp

Prior to full NHL training camps, most organizations are involved in one or another rookie camp, where rosters full of prospects face off against one another, with many involved hoping against hope to use the event as a springboard to an AHL contract while others are hoping to gain enough attention to be considered for a regular NHL role over the next few weeks.

I had the privilege of attending one such camp last weekend, located at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario, home of the OHL London Knights and site of the 2014 Memorial Cup. Ironically enough, a number of players on display over the weekend had experience with the arena as they had played for one or another of the CHL clubs who had recently competed for the crown. Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar and Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry were key members of the champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Ben Harpur of Ottawa, Chadd Bauman of Chicago and Matt Finn of Toronto, played from the runners-up from Guelph. Toronto netminder Antoine Bibeau, and blueliner Jeremie Fraser, the latter in camp as an amateur tryout had played for the QMJHL champs from Val d’Or. The host city had provided the Rupert twins, Matt and Ryan, both with Toronto, and Brett Welychka of Chicago.

At an event like this, the most important thing to bear in mind is that the results do not matter in the least. Even the scouts in attendance were in full agreement on that point. The games were simply a means to familiarizing themselves with a plethora of players who had yet to undergo the rigors of a full professional season and gauging the physical readiness of those who had. Particularly for those coming from the amateur ranks and Europe, the question many sought to begin answering was who would prove up to the perils of the AHL?

Rust is everywhere, but if a player shows a skill, he owns that skill and it will be likely to show up again in games that matter. Considering the rust, this column will avoid knocking guys too much for poor plays, both mental and physical.

With the preamble out of the way, on to the talent

Pittsburgh Penguins

LW Anton Zlobin (6th round, 2012) – showed great hands coming in from corner to entrance the Ottawa goalie (Hammond) and score with his backhand in the first game. Good vision, passing, but lack of foot speed may hold him back. Scored PP goal in second game, but somewhat fluky as goalie stopped initial shot, but rebound went straight up and over his shoulder and over the line.

D Scott Harrington (2nd round, 2011) –Decent recovery speed. Was caught near offensive red line when Ottawa won the puck, but made it back to disrupt the scoring chance against.

D Brian Dumoulin (2nd round, 2009, Carolina, acquired in 2012 trade) – Good vision – deked pass, carried puck out of D-zone, drew O-zone penalty later in shift due to smart positioning. Plus puck possession skills.  Great player at this level and look forward to seeing him compete for a more prominent role. Got puck in O-zone near blueline, slowly shimmied his way forward to a spot below the faceoff dot and threaded a pass right into an open spot in the crease, but teammate was not prepared for it. Seems to be able to slow the game down at this level. Should push for an available spot on the Pittsburgh blueline. Best player of Pittsburgh-Ottawa game.

LW Conor Sheary (signed to AHL contract as NCAA free agent, 2014) – good work on a give-and-go in first game. In second game, good centering feed to Dea for game opening goal. Works well with others.

C Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed as undrafted free agent in 2013) – Strong solo effort to create a goal early in the third period of the first game. Curled around a defender up high, skated in and fired past the goalie from just inside the faceoff dot. Puck was deflected by Kuhnhackel. Scored his own goal on PP in final seconds during goal mouth scramble. Showing good offensive vision and creativity – undersized, but good sleeper prospect for system light on forwards. Scored on snap shot from close by to open scoring in game two.

RW Josh Archibald (6th round, 2011) – Speed to create equalizing goal in game one. Skated around defender to the outside, curled in and got puck past the goalie. While the goalie could have stopped it, the skating was impressive. In game two, on another pretty rush to net, got the puck on way in and slipped it past the goalie, although, once again, the puck may have been stoppable. Speed at work.

G Tristan Jarry (2nd round, 2013) – Looks very steady in net, with calm feet.

C Oskar Sundqvist (3rd round, 2012) – Has smart defensive game. Can play on an AHL PK as forward.

C Matia Marcantuoni (4th round, 2012) – showed very quick stick to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead in second game.

LW Tom Kuhnhackel (4th round, 2010) – great wrist shot over the shoulder of Chicago goalie and top shelf won the game in the shootout.


Ottawa Senators

D Ben Harpur (4th round, 2013) – Good shut-down play on a 2-on-2 rush against to annul the threat in an otherwise difficult opening match. Four assists in the second game, much better than in first game. Not just the assists, but in total – effective decisions with the puck, both skating with it and distributing. Good guy for making the first pass out of the zone and springing an attack.

C Curtis Lazar (1st round, 2013) – playing on the first PK unit. Avid forechecker, strong two-way game. Should be a candidate for a top-9 NHL role now. Late in a PK, he took a pass just inside the Pittsburgh blueline, outskated his covering D-man and deked out the goalie. In another play, he rushed the Pittsburgh end, taking on Dumoulin directly, but was forced to the outside. A good look at two of the standouts of this tournament going head to head.

LW Matt Puempel (1st round, 2011)– good breakout pass. Very strong wrist shot from top of circle off post and in net.

G Andrew Hammond (signed as an NCAA free agent, 2013)– Nice glove hand. Great save on short side rush 2-on-1. P36 with the shot. Steady under heavy fire after surrendering opening goal.

G Chris Driedger (3rd round, 2012) – In net for the 3rd after sitting out the first 40 minutes (first game), showed great lateral reaction/agility to stop the Penguins on a rebound attempt. Unfortunately, he was in net as Pittsburgh fought back from a three goal deficit to win in last minute.

D Fredrik Claesson (5th round, 2011) – Decisive defending against a 2-on-1 against. Shouted instruction to trailing backchecker, spread full out and nullified threat as teammate cleaned up the remaining spoils. Good on-ice communication – wore the ‘C’ for Ottawa.

LW Max McCormick (6th round, 2011) – equalized on rebound from point shot. Quite fast – has ability to blow by coverage. Good instincts and timing on O-zone allowed him to score again on nice feed from deeper in zone. Speed gives him plus two way game. Sleeper.

LW Alex Guptill (3rd round, 2010, Dallas, acquired in 2014 trade) – great timing on two-on-one rush to make pass as Toronto defender was going down to ensure teammate could go in all alone. Showed a physical side as well, which is important coming over from the NCAA ranks.


Chicago Blackhawks

LW Ryan Van Stralen (in camp as an amateur tryout) – Scored on goalmouth scramble in first game. Equalized again later in same game, streaking to the net and capitalizing on a great feed from C24.

C Phillip Danault (1st round, 2011) – great pass to streaking Van Stralen which led to equalizer. Avid forechecker on PK. Can kill precious seconds by playing keepaway when in all alone in the enemy corner. Showed great body control to maintain possession of puck after being upended in offensive end. Swept puck past the goalie to cut Pittsburgh lead to 1 in the second game.

D Stephen Johns (2nd round, 2010) – After some early questionable decisions, looking like game moving too fast for him, play picked up tremendously. Shows puck rushing ability. Can skate with puck and protect as well. Ranges deep into O-zone on rush going as far as behind the Pittsburgh redline, very dangerous. Helps that he has good wheels, to recover as needed. Still, needs to be coached out of extreme risk.

D Trevor van Riemsdyk (signed as an NCAA free agent, 2014)– Willing to wait for a better pass even if it means taking a hit. Impressively high panic threshold.

D Dillon Fournier (2nd round, 2012) – holds on to puck for too long. He can pass well, but not always quick enough on the trigger.

C Matt Carey (signed as an NCAA free agent, 2014) – Nice pivot and shot maneuver showing good balance. Shows soft hands to equalize with 1.5 seconds remaining in 3rd period of game two.

C Alex Broadhurst (7th round, 2011) – No specific play stood out, but overall game had scout specifically mention him as a future bottom 6 NHL player. Showed quick hands to score on shootout.


Toronto Maple Leafs

RW Josh Leivo (3rd round, 2011) – Good speed, beat defenseman to the outside. Plays on 1st PK. Skated into goalmouth area to tap in rebound in 3rd period to give Toronto a 3-2 lead in first game. Pro scout was very enthusiastic about his chances in the NHL.

C Frederik Gauthier (1st round, 2011) – plays first PK. Early in second game, before sustaining injury, passed up loose puck in neutral zone with open ice in front of him in order to complete a check. May be afraid to take a chance, or simply overly defensive instinctually.

C Ryan Rupert (6th round, 2012) – opened scoring in first game on a rebound. Part of a set of twin pests. Think a poor man’s Darcy Tucker. Very enthusiastic and exuberant. Needs to be curtailed as he will get whistled for no good hockey reason. Was penalized repeatedly in the two games. Brother, LW Matt Rupert, plays the exact same way.

D Tom Nilsson (4th round, 2011) – Great defensive recovery on opening right in front of goalmouth in game one. Can fill in his man along the boards.

C William Nylander (1st round, 2014) – Very aware offensively. Picked pocket of Blackhawks defender early in 2nd period of first game. Hangs back in O-zone after team lost puck, nearly stole the puck back with very quick, active stick. Made great pass to David Broll for 4th Toronto goal.

D Matt Finn (2nd round, 2012) –Gave Toronto a 2-1 lead in second game. Skated in from slot to wrist in a goal mouth feed. Has good own zone coverage ability. Played a two-on-one against well, selling out to stop puck. A few defensive miscues, but may have been due to partner as much as, if not more than, himself

LW Brett Findlay (signed as undrafted free agent to AHL contract, 2013) – nice goal mouth feed to a streaking Finn which led to second Toronto goal in first game. After fanning on open net opportunity in second game, pivoted nicely and stuck wrist shot in top corner to equalize.  Average speed, can be put to use on PK. Sleeper, low upside prospect.

LW David Broll (6th round, 2011) – strong, accurate hard angle shot to give Toronto a 4-2 lead, off amazing feed from Nylander.

D Viktor Loov (7th round, 2012) – thunderous –yet clean – open ice checker. One led to him being immediately jumped by big Buddy Robinson of Ottawa, which gave Toronto a man advantage. Followed up with another huge hit later in period. Pancake! In a later incident, couldn’t find puck at point, so took down his man to prevent a potential breakaway. Smart play, making the most of a bad situation. Later still, he recovered well after being beaten on breakaway pass and nullified the threat. Has a solid shot from point.

RW Connor Brown (6th round, 2012) – opened scoring within seconds of the beginning of a PP in game two, with nice tip of point shot from Matt Finn.

G Christopher Gibson (2nd round, 2011, Los Angeles. Unsigned. Signed as free agent, 2013) – quick reflexes prevented sure goal when defender gave puck away right in front of net. Read and react goalie can steal some “sure thing” pucks. Not at fault for many of Ottawa’s third period goals.

RW Tyler Biggs (1st round, 2011) – taking many own zone faceoffs and losing them cleanly. Is OK with gross motors skills, but sub-par with fine motor skills.


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