I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Prospect Camp's scrimmage on Saturday morning and I'm glad I did.
Despite the fact that my alarm went off to wake me up way too damn early (I live about an hour's drive away from Anaheim) I made it to Anaheim Ice and got to see a pretty good show from the 26 skaters and 3 goalies that were dressed.
The great thing about a bunch of kids playing each other is all of them have an attitude that screams they have something to prove, thus you see some very exciting hockey and pretty creative plays (some of which work, many of which don't).
Here were a few things I noticed from the hour-ish scrimmage the teams played.
- Nic Kerdiles stood out to me as the best player by a country mile. He was everywhere. Kerdiles is no small fry standing at 6'2" but he skates extremely well and is very deceptive in his movement off the puck. Several times he managed to get just a few inches of space from his marking defenseman and he turned it into a scoring chance, even banging home the Black team's lone goal in the game. (I'm pretty sure the Ducks tweeted out it was someone else but I believe it was his goal.) His skating talent is spectacular and he managed to put himself in the right place on the ice nearly every single shift he was out there for.
The other great thing was his confidence and he was practically oozing with it. He went in hard for every battle, regardless of the physical consequences (which he received in full several times) but made the play. He also was completely unafraid to go to the net and it created a ton of chances both early in the game and late as Black scrambled to eek out a tie.
It's kind of hard to believe how far he's come in his development after just one year at Wisconsin. However he played a pivotal role with the Badgers in just his freshman season. If he keeps up this pace I can't see him spending more than another year or two there max before being given a roster spot in Anaheim.
Hampus Lindholm made it quite clear why we went all in and snagged him first round. Lindholm's hockey sense is spectacular and his passing skill is second to none. He's extremely confident on the puck and isn't afraid to skate himself out of danger, which he's quite adept at (*cough*Cam Fowler*cough*). And when he didn't want to skate away, Lindholm simply passed it away and he's pretty good at that too. Several times he'd throw an extremely clever pass through one or two opponents toward a teammate that many people would believe it had no chance of getting to.
Unfortunately many of those people were his teammates, who often times failed to receive the pass, either by it bouncing off their stick, or their failing to skate for it. It kind of made Lindholm's passing appear reckless and by all means a lot of the stuff he was trying is not going to work in the big league against NHL forecheckers and defenses, but with a little practice and experience this kid's ice vision is going to be a spectacular asset.
- Stefan Noesen has to feel like he's got a huge weight on his shoulders coming into Anaheim and knowing he was a piece in the already-infamous deal that sent Bobby Ryan away. No doubt he wants to prove himself to his new fan base and boy did he make a solid first effort.
For starters, he's wicked fast. He's got an explosive first step that gives him a huge advantage when it comes to burning defenses. Likewise he's got a solid shot and looks very mature on the ice
But perhaps my favorite part about Noesen is that he isn't fancy with what he does. Nothing risky or dangerous with the puck, just the prudent play at the right time and it paid dividends as he contributed to both white goals. And on a Ducks team that so many times has failed on golden scoring opportunities because of being too fancy or trying for that one last unnecessary pass, a bit of solidity and poise to make the proper play is a wonderful characteristic.
- Rickard Rakell is also oozing confidence. This kid got a taste of the NHL last season and he really looks like he wants it back. Nifty stickwork, great speed, wonderful ice vision, and so many other excellent characteristics were on full display. It's no wonder he's being lauded as one of the top prospects in the NHL, and a key part of what many are calling one of the most stacked development systems of any squad. Expect him to get a very long and hard look at this year's training camp.
- Our 2013 draft picks were all present except Miro Aaltonen. Shea Theodore looked a little nervous but is exactly as advertised: a smooth-skating creative defenseman who can turn the puck up ice in a flash (Anaheim seems to have a lot of those). Nick Sorensen played a pretty good game and showed a good amount of grit and tenacity. Keaton Thompson played with a very physical edge and was unafraid to take the body on guys who in some cases were a bit bigger than him. And Grant Besse, despite being only 5'9", used his speed to his advantage and often caught defenses sleeping.
- I have no idea who this Etienne Marcoux guy is that we have playing goalie, but he was rock solid. I actually mistook him for John Gibson early on (before I saw his nameplate on his jersey) after he made a spectacular sliding-splits pad save to rob the white team of an early tying goal. I'm not expecting him to play even in Norfolk next season (hello Fort Wayne!) but Anaheim's goalie gluttony goes remarkably deep.
- A lot of people are making a huge schtick over Peter Holland being at this year's prospect conditioning camp. After making his NHL debut last season, Holland has often been thought of as the next center for Anaheim, however his maturity has been slightly... well, slow.
I personally don't think it's terrible though. He's on the verge. He scored a filthy game-winning goal short-side for the White squad, and everywhere on the ice you could just see the experience and maturity of his game. Much like Stefan Noesen, Holland just appeared to be more poised throughout the game than many of the young rookies did and overall I was pleasantly surprised.
Is it disappointing to see him at this rookie camp? I mean I guess to some people it is but I'm still holding onto the belief that he might still yet be our imminent center of the future. His presence at the camp does nothing to deter my confidence in that.
- Remember how I said Shea Theodore is exactly as advertised? Yeah his positioning definitely needs work.
- John Gibson was not on the ice. I'm not sure if he was held out for an injury or for some other reason (perhaps the four goalies are in a rotation where one gets to sit every scrimmage) but I was really looking forward to seeing Johnny Hockey in net and he didn't play.
- I personally was hoping to see Max Friberg and Joseph Cramarossa a little further along in their development than they are at this point. Friberg is clearly the better of the two but I have this sinking feeling in my gut that Cramarossa is going to go the way of Brandon McMillan: his slow development will see his role be overtaken by a different prospect in the system and we're going to have to ship him away. He rather quietly had a pretty great year for Belleville in the OHL with 63 points in 68 games, however he did very little to grab my attention today. I still have hope for him as a dark-horse candidate for a solid depth forward but we'll see how he fares when he makes the jump to the AHL.
- I know Bob Murray is all about his mobile, puck-moving defensemen who can lead the rush as well as play their own zone (saying that's "The way the game is played now,") but Anaheim still appears to be rather short on a truly gritty, big-bodied defenseman who will punish opposing forwards for daring to cross his blue line. Several times in the game it appeared as though forwards were just given a little too much room and the defense was left scrambling.
Lindholm is 6'3" but doesn't appear to be overly-physical and likewise will need to bulk up a bit before he's ready for full-time NHL duty. The big-bodies, Jaycob Megna and Josh Manson, honestly don't look like they'll be ready for the big club anytime soon (if ever). Six-foot-three Kevin Lind is probably the closest to NHL-ready out of our gritty defensemen, and while he's got the bulk, he's still at Notre Dame. He's got some time before he's ready.
In short, the Ducks defense looks like it still hasn't entirely solved its issue of lacking grit and physical edginess in its NHL caliber players to really leave me confident about our defensive future.
- The scrimmage was only an hour-ish long. Two periods of 20 running-time minutes. Just when it felt like we were starting to see some good hockey it was suddenly over.
- The roster sheets that were available for fans had Stefan Noesen's birthdate listed as February 12, 2012 (which would make him a whopping one year old). I know they start young these days but that's just ridiculous.
- The entire roster of prospects came out and did a skills-competition shootout for the fans after the scrimmage. This in itself is not a bad thing as we got some entertainment out of it and didn't have to leave after such a small amount of hockey.
The shooters were the ugly part. Granted while some guys just tried moves solely for the purpose of entertainment (Holland tried the ever-elusive Hurricane move), many of the players took it seriously and were nothing short of lackluster. In total 26 penalty shots were taken. Three went in. Three. Of twenty six. That's eleven percent.
Let's just hope our future ducklings win their games in regulation because God help their goaltenders if they ever get thrown into a shootout.