It's already the third day of the Red Wings 2016 Development Camp, though it's the first day for me. Each year is a little bit different, and this year the theme is more is less. There's less on ice practice time, and the prospects are split into two groups and practice at the same time on different rinks. As an observer it's a little hard to keep up with the amount of action packed into a short time period, and I'm not able to watch everyone as much as I'd like. That being said, there was plenty to take in during this morning's practice; in preparation for tonight's scrimmage. I had eyes on each group for about 15-20 minutes, here's what jumped out to me in that time.
I did take note that all of the puck retrieval & rush drills that started with the puck being dumped in, also started with the goalie being the first one to go behind the net and get the puck, then pass it to his defenseman. I love this strategy because it gets the goalies more involved and practiced with not only handling the puck, but using them as an asset to start a rush up ice. In today's NHL that's becoming more of the norm for goalies, and goalies who can do this well are a huge asset to their team.
Fresh Faces And New Talent
The first thing that struck me about this group of young men, is how many guys are attending this camp for the first time. There are 18 returning players, and 22 who are here for the first time. This year there's no Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, or Dylan Larkin who are looked at to be leaders. Instead it's Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Hicketts, and Vili Saarijarvi who are the "veterans" on the squad. There are 19 guys at camp this year between the ages of 17 and 19 and their youth is both invigorating, and a reminder that the Wings organization as a whole is going through a youth movement, and that's the case all the way down the ranks.
Tyler Bertuzzi Is A Character
Not only is he a character, and I mean that in a good way, but his enthusiasm is contagious. Lil' Bert has a confidence and swagger about him that seems to rub off on his teammates, but this year in camp he's very noticeably taken another step in his development, and become a veteran leader among a young crop of prospects. A full season in Grand Rapids has obviously and clearly upped his skill and experience level. This year he's also bringing levity, laughter, and camaraderie to camp, and those are qualities the Wings organization is working hard to incorporate in their development process. Towards the end of practice, while the players were all still on the ice, most of the guys gathered around goalie Connor Hicks to engage in the traditional warm up game of "gang up on the goalie and see who can put the puck in first". Multiple times Bertuzzi's shenanigans made me laugh out loud as I observed. He was goofing around with sometimes exaggerated movements, exclaiming loudly when the puck did (or didn't) go into the net, and having a particularly good time razzing Svechnikov; those two seem to have a budding friendship going on. Very quickly the rest of the players seemed to relax more and join in the exclamations and celebrations. When Bertuzzi passed the puck across the front of the crease to Svechnikov to swat it into the net, the Chevy missed the puck as it went right between his feet. Chevy groaned and bent over, while the rest of the players all threw their hands up, yelled loudly, and Bertuzzi and a couple others dog piled on Chevy to tease him. It's great to see Bertuzzi stepping into his new elevated role, enjoying it, and bringing enjoyment and levity to his teammates. Bertuzzi is a character and that's a great thing.
The 2016 Draft Class
It was difficult to get any significant impressions from the new prospects, due to limited viewing time and the fact that the drills were basic and simple, with not much there to judge. I'll have a little better understanding of their skills after tonight's scrimmage, but for now here's my first take on a few of the newbies.
Dennis Cholowski (D)- has smarts, poise, maturity, and from the little I've seen so far, I think he's as advertised. I'm really looking forward to seeing him in scrimmage action. The technical portion of his game and the way he thinks and interprets the game is what I want to see in action right now. He's headed off to college next year (St. Cloud State) so the physical maturity will come with time (he's 6'1" 176# right now).
Alfons Malmstrom (D)- The first thing through my head when I watched the 4th round pick defenseman, is that he has quick feet. Not speed, I didn't get to see him skate enough to judge his speed, but he's comfortable and competent enough on his skates that his lateral mobility (walking the blue line, for example) is dominated by quick feet steps, and his edge work looked good. I'm always interested in the skating style and skill of defensemen in particular, because so much of their jobs revolve around needing to be quick, mobile, and the ability to adjust quickly when defending in order to not get beat. He didn't look nervous at all and looked comfortable and competent, despite it being his first development camp.
Jordan Sambrook (D)- His 6'2" frame only has to contend with 187# and he looks slender and a bit gangling, but he has a wicked hard shot that seems surprising coming from someone his size. He has a lot of filling out to do but I think there's some good potential there for the Wings' 5th round pick.
Filip Larsson (G)- I only got to see him practice a very little bit, but he's raw, young, and has a lot of learning and developing to do. None of that should be surprising given that he's a 17 year old goalie. One of the cool things about this year's camp is that there is dedicated goalie practice/warm up time before the group practice, so all six goalies in camp will get more position specific instruction.
There's a scrimmage tonight at 6 PM and it will be a chance to see these kids in action, even if it is "friendly" action. I'm curious to see how the new draftees do, as well as how the camp invites perform and if any of then stand out. Stay tuned for more Development Camp coverage through Sunday. If you have questions or things you'd like to find out about, let me know; and if you're in TC at the rink, don't be shy, come say hi!