Apologies for the delayed observations but personal circumstances have necessitated a combined summary of impressions from several days I attended.
The bulk of the following observations stem from last Wednesday's 3-on-3 tournament action (I was unable to make it Tuesday) although some does come from the on-ice sessions last Sunday and Monday. Here are some thoughts on a limited number of camp participants, from those I went out of my way to watch and those my eyes kept being drawn to:
On the heels of a national holiday, 32 prospects--most drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, others signed as free agents and a handful of invitees--gathered on the ice Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon to begin several days of on-ice and off-ice conditioning as well as instruction in organizational values and the culture of professional hockey for both returning and first-time participants.
"Let's call this what it is: summer hockey," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told assembled media. "Part of what [the players] get out of this camp is the chance to get to know myself, Rob Zettler, the staff. Getting to know expectations and being a pro."
"A lot of these kids are coming from juniors programs, college, all these different walks of life, but here at the Tampa Bay Lightning we've got a certain code of conduct," Cooper noted. "This is where it starts."
Having concluded fitness testing and physicals, players hit the ice and rounded out their day with an hour-long practice spent completing basic drills as well as a forty-five minute power skating session.
"The first day is always kind of a feel out day," Cooper said. "Some of these guys, I'm sure, have been skating and some haven't been."
Keeping in mind that the 3-on-3 tournament scheduled to begin Tuesday and wrap-up on Wednesday, the final day of camp, will provide better opportunities to gauge player abilities and hockey sense, here are some brief and selected observations:
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed the third overall selection of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Jonathan Drouin, to a three-year, entry level contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. Drouin will be participating in the Lightning’s annual development camp which kicks off tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
Drouin, 18, skated in 49 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, registering 41 goals and 105 points to go along with 32 penalty minutes. He ranked first on the Mooseheads for goals, assists (64), points and shorthanded goals with four. The Ste-Agathe, Quebec native also led all Moosehead forwards with a plus-48 rating during the regular season. He ranked second in the QMJHL for points, third in assists and ranked tied for seventh for goals. Drouin also skated in 17 playoff games, recording 12 goals and 35 points with 14 penalty minutes. He helped the Mooseheads win the Memorial Cup, recording five assists in the championship game against the Portland Winterhawks.
Name: Jonathan Drouin
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 186 lbs
Club: Halifax (QMJHL)
Tampa Bay elects to forego selecting perhaps the best need pick in favor of the player who might be the best prospect in this draft in slick winger Jonathan Drouin out of Halifax. Drouin starred on a line with top overall pick Nathan MacKinnon as Halifax swarmed to QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles.
Drouin mixes some of the best hockey sense and passing ability to be seen in the draft in quite some time with world class stickhandling ability and lateral quickness and skating. He truly appears to have the puck tied to the blade of his stick with a string. Add to that a solid shot and you have a player who is equally adept at shooting, passing, or making you look foolish by carrying it past you in the offensive third. As an added intangible, Drouin might also be one of the fiercest competitors in the draft, and while he may not be a bone cruncher he will go to the high traffic areas to make plays.
Drouin is not the ideal NHL size and he doesn't have a top level gear in terms of straight line speed. Those knocks should be tempered by saying he does have excellent lower body strength and really just needs to get his upper body strength to the same point, and his straight line speed may be compensated for by his lateral agility and advanced ability to read the play. Also, like many young forwards, he needs to continue to work on his play in the defensive third.
Top Line Left Winger and Top-20 NHL Scorer
Names That Have Been Floated: Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, Denis Savard, Gilbert Perrault