2014 Development Camp - Day 4
I finally had the chance to make it out to the Ice Sports Forum to catch up with some of the attendees and observe a good chunk of the 3v3 action. Following are some brief impressions and takeaways from my time at the rink:
Let's start with goalie invitee Clay Witt, who is a local talent made good after an impressive senior campaign, his first in the starter's role, with Northeastern. Before hitting the ice, Witt spoke about how exciting it was to be participating in a professional team's program at the same facility he played in as a kid. It was also, he pointed out, fun to be experiencing this with a teammate (Cameron Darcy) and opponents (multiple) from time in NCAA competition, which he stressed has proven a great path for him as he has benefited from ample time in-season to train and prepare for opponents. He did acknowledge, however, looks forward to a more game-heavy schedule, if and when he makes the jump to the professional ranks. After all, "they're the fun part of the sport," he said through a steady grin.
I got a brief look at Witt in the first 3v3 scrimmage that was held at the west end of the rink. At 6'2" and 200 lbs, he's nearly as tall but a bit more compact than his lanky counterparts Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy. In such a wide-open format, goalies typically face a number of challenging looks; Witt was both stellar (he was at his best when upright and composed, taking calculated paths through the crease to deny several backdoor chances or angling off shooters without being too aggressive) and, of course, a bit lucky (he caught a couple breaks when the puck was misplayed or sent over the net when he was down-and-out and in desperation-mode) en route to shutting out both squads. I'm not sure explosiveness, improvisation and raw athleticism are his calling cards but I am very much inclined to think attention to detail (positioning/technique) and a keen sense of anticipation are.
At 6'2", 194 lbs, Dominik Masin, one of the club's 2nd-round selections in the recent draft, looked every bit as mature as his sturdy frame would suggest. In the limited viewing I had, Masin was keeping up with the pace and handled congestion along the boards very well whereas Ben Thomas, also drafted this summer (4th round), seemed to struggle in both aspects. Thomas did, while noticeably lagging in the second match at the west end, manage to work his way near the mid-slot to receive two feeds and beat Vasilevskiy both times, though only one attempt wound up in the net.
Saku Salminen, who towers over a number of attendees, managed to get the puck on his stick with enough time and space to show off a very heavy release on a couple of occasions. Salminen said he's ready to put the disappointment of last season, which he spent mostly sidelined by injury, behind him and hopes to stick with Jokerit, which is joining the KHL next season. Salminen also said that his shoulder, which he's still rehabilitating, is not fully-recovered but at least "feels much better than before".
Jonathan Drouin was everything those who've seen him before would have expected. Like a shark circling its prey, Drouin was seemingly everywhere, darting to and fro in vicinity of the cage, the puck on his stick in one instant and often gone in another to a teammate or towards the net by slightly unpredictable means. Last year, Nikita Kucherov stole some of the limelight with his own mesmerizing creativity. There is no such comparable this summer.
Cameron Darcy, another one of the recent draft picks (7th round), was plenty active but had a bit of a hard-luck time as none of his 15 credited shots found their way to twine. Tanner Richard seemed to be doing the heavy lifting for their team in the match I observed and so the thought I was mostly left with about Darcy was that he looked, on the ice, vaguely reminiscent of Cory Conacher. A bigger, right-shooting version.