Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
Tensions boiled over a bit at today's training camp scrimmage when a high stick from Ryan Carter drew a fierce response from Andy Sutton. The six-foot-six defenseman wiped gingerly at his eye after Carter skated past him. Sutton then composed himself, and after the play stopped, skated over to Carter to give the center, whom the Ducks waived in July, a hard shove. One shift later, Dan Sexton brought Corey Perry down on the half boards, and the Ducks' resident pest responded with a hard right hand to Sexton's head while both men were still on their backs. Still not satisfied, Perry slashed at Sexton's back as the 5'10" winger returned to his bench.
For the players fighting for a spot on the Ducks' roster, every second on the ice is beginning to count. And for those whose spots are safely secured, they're probably getting a little tired of playing against the same hungry players over and over again. Carter and Sexton will both be in the lineup for the Ducks' pre-season game tomorrow.
More on the final scrimmage day before the preseason after the jump...
Bobkov guarding the net on a shooting drill
I will post more grainy videos from today on the Anaheim Calling tumblr, but only the two above went to YouTube. As Earl Sleek and Jen will tell you, however, I did not get most of the highlights of the day on film. That includes Teemu Selanne scoring on TWO goaltenders when the Finnish Flash got the drop on Curtis McElhinney and Igor Bobkov as the pair attempted to swap places in net. I did catch Bobby going between his legs on a shooting drill in this video, but it happened in the background as I was trying to capture Perry and Getzlaf going head to head on a puck possession drill.
I won't hype or break down players; I'll save that for when I do my prospects ranking after the final preseason game. Instead, I'll use today's post as a teaser for tomorrow's game at Ponda Center, where OCR's Curtis Zupke has the depth chart currently pencilled thusly:
Matt Beleskey-Bobby Ryan-Devante Smith-Pelly
Trevor Smith-Peter Holland-Dan Sexton
Brandon McMillan-Ryan Carter-Kyle Palmieri
Aaron Voros-MacGregor Sharp-Emerson Etem
Luca Sbisa-Mat Clark
Paul Mara-Cam Fowler
Scott Valentine-Lubomir Visnovsky
Curtis McElhinney, J.P. Levasseur
I like this as a top line for the first game, as it gives Ryan practice at center, Beleskey some practice at top line duty (where he may find himself this season) and it rewards Smith-Pelly for having an impressive camp thus far. In the drills, Ryan seems a quick study at center, understanding his assignment entering the zone and harboring a competitive hunger in the faceoff circle. However, Ryan has been given strong forecheckers in Beleskey and Smith-Pelly, the former with a booming shot and the latter with a slick shot. This combination offers Ryan more defensive and forechecking assistance on his flank than he might see once the season starts, and that's a smart move in transitioning him to the position full-time.
Holland seems more confident at this year's camp, and I would expect to see plays like this if he can get going. He'll be flanked by two players happy to shoot and happy to get into the dirty areas in minor leaguer Trevor Smith and Ducks sophomore Dan Sexton. Holland brought a lot of fire into camp, sticking up for a teammate in the rookie tournament and skating hard on every shift. He still seems to think about pretty goals when he has the puck, but the Ducks have put him on a line where that won't undo him.
Sexton will be relying on Holland's set up. If there's any advantage to being on a line with a center who likes to make plays from the outside, it's the ability to score goals using just your speed and positioning. If the 6'2" Holland can thread the needle, the 5'10" Sexton won't have to handle the puck too much to find the back of the net.
Truthfully, Ryan Carter has never played his way onto the Ducks lineup. He's been an important player for Anaheim, make no mistake, but he's also 'made the team' only to see players like Petteri Nokelainen or Kyle Chipchura log more time in a Ducks uniform than he does. He's been consistent at camp, and he's been competitive enough to get on the wrong side of Andy Sutton, so I would be disappointed to see anything less than a charged-up Ryan Carter tomorrow.
Luckily, the Ducks center will be looking to facilitate two strong third line players looking for their first pro action in McMillan and Palmieri, and hopefully the trio can revisit the level of scoring chance production that Carter found with George Parros and Mike Brown last year. Palmieri has had plenty of attitude in camp, and McMillan has proven himself a stronger two way player than the one the Ducks drafted. With the help of a determined Carter, both will be looking to make an impression that will last come 'call-up time' in Syracuse.
It's strange to see Etem on what looks like a straightforward fourth line, but it's just months from the Draft, he probably wouldn't be as valuable to Bobby Ryan as Smith-Pelly, and Etem may still see some valuable power play minutes or a line shuffle coming from this group. His work in camp certainly validates additional looks at what he can do offensively, and those looks will be valuable in marking the areas of improvement before Etem returns to Medicine Hat.
Sharp hasn't looked great at camp. He's been a slow skater on the drills, and he hasn't created, or even stumbled upon, too many impact plays. On a line with Voros and Etem, he'll be the finesse player, and focusing on that and winning faceoffs should be good for him. Voros should be looking, primarily, to jar the puck loose and perhaps earn more than fourth-line time (in a three scoring line system) from a coach who has put hitters like Todd Fedoruk and Chris Kunitz on a line with Getzlaf and Perry.
Clark's shutdown style gives Sbisa the freedom to show off some offense, and with mostly defensive-defensemen standing between Sbisa and a Top 4 assignment this year, showing off some offense may be key.
For Clark, I'll be looking out for the big hit. At the end of the day, Valentine may drop the gloves, Fowler and Sbisa may score goals, but if Clark is going to make an eye-catching play, it will probably be a vicious open ice hit. He's played calm, steady time so far, and he hasn't put himself out of position, so I don't think he'll chase a hit. But if the urgency of making an impression in the preseason visits itself upon Matt Clark, I think it will come in the form of his shoulder buried into another player's chest.
This is Fowler's first shot at proving he can play at the next level for extended periods of time. Mara's job, by contrast, is to provide a physical presence and a steady well-positioned hand as a blank canvas for the rookie (even though the veteran is no doubt looking to make a mark on his new team as well). Also, if you're wondering if Mara's got enough left in the tank to be the physical presence in a pairing, check out this video from today.
If we are to compare Cam Fowler's path to the NHL to that of Drew Doughty, then it's a road paved with minutes, strong minutes where the player never looks out of his depth. To this point, I've been most impressed with how comfortable Fowler has looked, and a rookie comfortable in the role of an NHL defenseman is already an impact player. Translating his fantastic tools to the NHL as a sophomore then makes him a superstar. But first things first, if Cam has a legitimate shot at making this team, it starts with playing the minutes. After that, he has to play strong minutes, and then he has to play those minutes against Top 6 NHL lines in the first 9 games of the season. If he still looks comfortable then, you might have something. They still might send him down, but you might have something.
I'm not sure how often this pairing will be in position, but at the very least, an early pre-season warmup will be good for Visnovsky. Hopefully, the defenseman can get some in-game looks at the new power play scheme while logging sparing even strength minutes.
Valentine has had a great offseason, showing off the confidence in his shot that he had last year with the Generals as well as the tenacity and vicious hitting that got him drafted in the first place. A pre-season game is always a boon for an unsigned 6th rounder, and I expect Valentine to attempt to make an impression in whatever time they give him.