Development Camp: Saturday Practice & Drills Evaluation
Today's practice had the forwards in one rink focusing on puck protection drills, while the defensemen and goalies were in the other rink getting some individualized instruction.
The forwards started with a drill where they had to skate with the puck in a figure 8 around 2 other players standing in the faceoff circle. The standing players would take a couple pokes at the puck and the skater had to keep possession while executing tight turns, then get a shot off on net. Puck protection and skating/edge work was the predominant focus. The defensemen worked on 1 on 1 puck possession battles in the other rink while the goalies got the opportunity to work with the goalies coaches at the other end of the rink. With both the defensemen and goalies there was a lot of individual instruction
While a mixed group of players practiced in one rink, I watched some of the conditioning exercises on the other sheet of ice.
Here's how Jiri Fischer set up the first drill. You can't see it very clearly in the picture, but there is rope strung up between each of the nets at the top. The skaters had to zigzag through the nets, executing the turns on one foot, while staying bent over enough to clear underneath the ropes. I chuckled as Joe Hicketts went through the drill, because the clearing the rope portion didn't look difficult at all for him, but when 6'5" Julius Vahatalo went through, it looked like he was folding himself in half.
Once they did a few laps through this contraption, Fischer moved the nets around and made this fun course. This time the ropes were attached to each net and then to the glass. The skaters has to weave through this course, again turning on one skate while staying low enough to get under the ropes. This drill was more challenging, and more skaters struggled with this one than the first. The standouts in this drill were David Pope, Kyle Criscuolo, and Julius Vahatalo. Mike McKee did pretty well too, and I'm often amazed that a man who's 6'5" and 250 pounds moves as well as he does. Joe Hicketts has been working on his skating, and It's improved somewhat, however he struggled a bit on this second drill. The edgework is difficult, and he fell down a couple times. Though at this point in the day it could have been some combination of fatigue and possible skate wear that contributed as well. It's hard to tell given the limited viewing.
While these guys were busy having fun with Jiri Fischer's challenges, the rest of the skaters were in the other rink and had moved on to some 2 on 2 cross ice scrimmages. I only got to watch a few minutes of this drill, but there were two players who grabbed my attention, and it was two defensemen I've talked quite a bit about already. James deHaas is big (6'03" 213#), smooth in his skating and movements, and has learned to use his size and strength to his advantage. He used his reach to poke the puck away from other players, and his body to separate them from the puck. In the last couple years he's really filled out and blossomed in college and his physical maturation along with his technical improvements are evident in camp. The other player I noticed right away was none other than Vili Saarijarvi. He's so energetic and shifty that he can skate circles around other players, dart around them, and his superb skating allows him to often beat them to the puck. For a little guy (5'10" 165#) he's impressively effective and I love watching the enthusiasm and creativity he brings.
Back on the conditioning rink, Jiri Fischer conducted a skating test for first one group of players and then the other. This was an intense test designed to push the players to go as hard as they can, then give them a short recovery time before doing more laps. Even the goalies had to do this test. Hey, it's not easy to skate fast while wearing big bulky pads and heavy gear. Goalies aren't natural born sprinters you know.
"Don't worry guys, I'll catch up...eventually"
There was a group of players stationed at each of the ice. The first group had to skate end to end four times, as fast and hard as they could, before getting a designated recovery period. The coaches were verbally pushing the players to go hard throughout the test, then timed out a recovery period before sending the players down the ice and back again. The players are all wearing electronic heart monitors this year so the team can track and monitor their "inner" performance as well. This skating test was timed, and they wanted to get the first and last player to cross the line to establish a "normal" window of time to complete the laps.
Over the past few years, the Wings have increasingly focused on fast paced, high intensity training rather than lower intensity longer lasting drills and practices. This is better for the players because it more closely mimics an atmosphere and conditions they'll encounter in games. Shorter shifts of high intensity action. By the time the skating test was done, the players were all pooped out. And I don't blame them one bit. It was very intense.
I got to take a closer look at the goalies today, not in a game setting, but on an individual bases as they received instruction from Red Wings goalie coach Jeff Salajko. The overarching goalie theme this year is young, inexperienced, and a lot of work to be done. Which is an ok thing, because... Well, the goalies are young, relatively inexperienced, and have a lot of learning and developing to do. With Jared Coreau and Jake Paterson having graduated from this camp already, those are the qualities I expect from the next crop of goalies. That's just the stage they're at in their journey.
Chase Perry- Perry went from Colorado College in 14-15 to the BCHL's Wenatchee Wild in 15-16 and is now headed to RPI this upcoming season. He's loose in his movement and active;moving his arms and legs quite a bit looking for rebounds. Sometimes that opens up holes and makes him look sloppy, and soft goals get by him. He needs to work on both rebound control and solid positioning so he's not scrambling to make small adjustments at the last second. He also needs to tighten up coverage of the post to eliminate some holes from the corners as well. The 6'3" 195# goalie has a lot of traits that I like, and I think his looseness and activeness will be good assets for him, once he learns a little more control and better positioning. He's kind of fun to watch, and while I think going back to college will be a challenge for him, it's one I think he's ready for this time around.
Filip Larsson- Larsson is 17 years old, and both his conditioning and skill (positioning , anticipation etc) reflect that. But it's nothing less than what I'd typically expect from a kid his age. While I described Perry as loose and active, Larsson is stiffer and will probably be a goalie who plays a more technical positioning game, rather than an active athletic style.
Joren van Pottelberghe- JvP is an interesting goalie to me, because I see flashes of really good, usually followed by flashes of really not so good. LIke many goalies his age, he needs to improve a lot on his rebound control, and covering the posts and tightening up his positioning so he's not leaving holes for scorers to beat him. In the scrimmage he made a couple really impressive save that drew reactions from the crowd, but then let in a soft goal, and the puck got behind him a couple times when his defensemen bailed him out. It's common for young goalies to have issues with consistency. Heck, a lot of NHL goalies struggle with this as well, but the Swiss netminder has plenty of time to work on his weaknesses. Hopefully playing with HC Davos next year will afford him more playing time and an opportunity to really improve in the coming season.
Goalies are difficult to evaluate accurately, and the younger they are, the tougher it is to see through their inexperience and weaknesses and accurately judge how good they're going to be. With these goalies, there's a lot of work yet to be done and they're all pretty raw. But, that's why the Wings have this camp and I'm happy to see the goalies are getting a bit of individual instruction time with the goalie coaches. There's some talent here, it's raw, but it's there. To those scouts who are good at goalie scouting, I salute you. It's not a job I'd want the pressure of having, that's for sure.
There's one day of camp left, and tomorrow (Sunday) will be another scrimmage; one final look at these guys before some of them return for the Prospect Tournament in September. For the European and College players, this will be the last we'll see them in TC until next development camp.
Note: The Red Wings streamed the first scrimmage live on facebook, so if you're near your computer tomorrow at 11AM, check to see if they stream that scrimmage as well. And keep the full roster handy so you can see who's who. Even many of the returning players got new numbers this year, so picking out players on the fly is challenging even if you're familiar with their usual numbers.