Observations from Day 5 of Tampa Bayâ€™s prospect development camp
The final day of camp was comprised entirely of half-ice, 3-on-3 tournament action between six groups:
Team Brewer - Devos, Milan, Mullin, Witkowski
Team Hedman - Koekkoek, Namestnikov, Nesterov, Paquette
Team Lecavalier - Bradley, Brown, Gotovets, Landry
Team Malone - Clarke, Gauthier, McNally, Peca
Team St. Louis - Blujus, Czarnik, Dotchin, Richard
Team Stamkos - Hart, Langelier-Parent, Sergeev, Sustr
Following are the takeaways from watching as much as Day 5's scrimmages as I could individually focus on:
- I didn't see as much of the tournament champions as I would have liked, but it's no surprise Team Hedman won. They dictated much of the play in the first several matches I saw them in beforeÂ Team St. Louis gave them a run for their money in the final game. Slater Koekkoek, already having drawn plenty of positive attention this week, scored the lone shootout goal by going five-hole on Pat Nagle. I hope somebody snapped a shot of him mid-celebration; it was that good. Team Hedman was a cohesive unit, though, that relied as much on the strong two-way play of Vladimir Namestnikov and Nikita Nesterov, and the timely offensive contributions of Cedric Paquette, as it did Koekkoek. Nesterov, in particular, was often relied upon, or decided himself, to carry and distribute the puck, a task he did efficiently.
- I think it's safe to say J.T. Brown's performance today and, really, throughout camp, made the positive impression he was trying to make, regardless of GM Steve Yzerman's insistence that the organization was exclusively using the camp for instruction and not evaluative purposes. Brown dazzled the crowd early by using his speed while protecting the puck to beat a defender as he took a sharp angle to the net, scoring by going from his forehand to his backhand at the last second and tucking the puck under the crossbar. But it was a play in a subsequent scrimmage that really moved me. With a defender pressing, Brown caught a pass on his forehand below the circle, immediately completed a spin-o-rama during which he switched the puck to his backhand, then drove to the net, pulling the puck back to his forehand for a shot-on-goal and rebound opportunity while cutting across the crease. So beautiful and so sudden; it happened in a flash and that's what I mulled over, that Brown can do things that other players might try but not in that same space and certainly at a speed few can match. If he can survive in the NHL doing this, he'll put up his fair share of highlight-reel material.
- Tanner Richard was nothing short of, well, electric in the scrimmage action yesterday. He put on a show with the puck yesterday, shifty and nimble and incredibly creative in tight and along the boards to maintain possession. His is an intriguing blend of size (not so much height, but a sturdy frame with room to add bulk), power and skill with the puck that gave his opposition fits trying to cover him and was simply fun to watch. Austin Czarnik also deserves credit, however, for helping Richard carry the play for their team. I counted at least three instances where Czarnik's speed allowed him to blow through an attempted stick-check and cause the opponent to lose their grips on their sticks, which went flying to the ice. Their combined efforts freed up Dotchin and Blujus to play a simple game and, while on the attack, work their way into prime scoring positions. Dotchin, in particular, had plenty of chances and buried several as a result of their playmaking.
- Cody Bradley was impressive throughout the week but was especially entertaining on Saturday, displaying plenty of confidence and skill with the puck and a high motor. As a result of efforts, he managed toÂ notch several goals, one of which in particularly impressive fashion by first forcing a turnover that led his being in alone on Nagle, whom he beat low to the blocker side after a slight hesitation. As I've said before, it's easy to see he needs to physically mature, but he looks to have plenty of ambition and instincts. It will be fun to keep tabs on the kid while he's off at Colorado State and see, if he's back at the development camp again next summer, to see how he's progressed.
- Jimmy Mullin is good at hockey. No slight to Philip-Michael Devos, but Mullin did what he could to carry his squad. He's strong with and without the puck. He's got a hell of a shot and he showed a gear that I hadn't seen before yesterday, beating out the speedy and pesky Matthew Peca to a puck that, unless my angle deceived me, one might have expected Peca to get to first, then out-dueling Peca in a wall battle, freeing himself up to walk in for an unsuccessful but quality scoring chance.
- Andrei Vasilevski had, statistically, a hell of a tournament (1.00 GAA, .903 SV%) but, unfortunately, I'm not able to comment on his play because I was positioned at the other end of the rink and focused my attention to the play on that side. Mea culpa.
- Cedric Paquette put up seven goals. Think he has a knack for scoring?
This past week has been thoroughly enjoyable. I had great funÂ live-tweetingÂ and blogging,Â as much as possible,Â my impressions as well as interacting online and in person with fellow fans and, in a few instances, with family of attendees. In particular, it was a real treat getting to spend, off and on, a couple hours with the proud grandfather of invitee G Clarke Saunders, who made the trek all the way from Ontario. I look forward to a little bit of rest and recuperation but hope to see and similarly cover many of these prospects in just a few short months at the Lightning's training camp. There's plenty of action I probably missed and would have been worth commenting on, but I hope those of you who couldn't be there felt well-served. Thanks, as always, for reading, folks.