With over 50 players in training camp this season, Predators head coach Barry Trotz made a change to his normal training camp schedule and figured the best way to give everyone a fair shot to make an impression on the coaching staff was to place an emphasis on scrimmages over drills. To that end the roster was divided into three teams and each team got one day of drills and two days of full-contact scrimmages under their belt.
For a rundown of the happenings around camp the past two days, please feel free to check out my Twitter account (@SLakePreds) where I've done my best to provide those of you that were unable to make it down to Centennial Sportsplex the opportunity to follow the action, but after the jump I take the opportunity to expand on my thoughts from the first couple days of camp and break things down using more than 140 characters at a time...
In the interest of time and space and because I honestly haven't had enough time to form an opinion on everyone in camp yet, I'm going to hit on only the players that have left me with an impression (good and sometimes bad) the past couple of days. If there is a particular player I don't touch on, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer everyone.
It's the harsh reality of sports. If you play, you will likely get injured at some point in time. It's never fair and always seems to come at an inopportune moment. Thankfully, the Predators have made it through the first few days of camp with few injuries of significance which is a far cry from last season when groin injuries were the news throughout camp and even well into the NHL regular season...
Since being drafted this past July, Aronson has not been able to participate either the Predators summer development camp, last week's rookie training camp, or this week's NHL training camp due to a shoulder injury suffered during the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) playoff run last season. Aronson has attended all three camps, but this week was the first time I saw him on the ice skating during the goalie sessions at the end of each day. Despite not playing in the Winterhawks preseason schedule before coming to Nashville, Aronson appeared to be in good spirits and well on his way to recovery yesterday firing slap shots without an issue and also encouraging Colin Wilson to check him into the boards several times. Taylor is eligible to play in the AHL starting next season, but for now he'll continue his development back in Portland where he was assigned today.
After an impressive debut at the summer development camp, Klasen was injured last week in the first of two rookie camp exhibition games against the Florida Panthers when Chris Clackson (who was subsequently released the next day) concussed Klasen with a blindside shot to the head. Owning arguably the most dynamic set of hands in franchise history it was disappointing to see Klasen only in street clothes this week as he recovers. The hope is for Klasen to return to camp next week if he is able to pass baseline testing, but without the ability to play his way onto the roster thus far, he's going to have a big task ahead of him to make the opening night roster in Nashville.
One of the best defensemen this summer at development camp, Josi started camp off last week with a strong performance in the pair of rookie games before joining the veterans for main camp. In the first two days of camp Josi really started turning heads and making a name for himself, but all momentum was lost Monday morning when he was diagnosed with a broken wrist from a collision in Sunday's scrimmage and it was announced he will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks as he recovers. Josi will likely start the season in Milwaukee, but I still wouldn't count him out as a candidate to make his NHL debut at some point later this year.
I got the opportunity to see Team Blue in scrimmages on both days. Team Blue was the only squad to win both of their games (8-1 win over Silver on Monday and 6-5 victory over White today) and the following are those players that left me with a distinct impression.
Johnson has always been a guy that has left a memory in my mind whenever I've had the opportunity to watch him play in the past and he hasn't disappointed in camp thus far. Very active at both ends of the rink, Johnson had several great keep-ins at the offensive blue line to keep an attack going for Team Blue on both days of scrimmages. Johnson was physical at the defensive end of the ice and held his ground well in the corners and at the net front. An efficient puck mover, Johnson is my early candidate for the last spot on defense for opening night, but a lot can still change. Johnson should see a good amount of action in the preseason beginning this week.
How can you not watch Shea Weber and come away with an impression? In his first camp after being named team captain in July, Weber found instant chemistry with Ryan Ellis and played an intense game on both days while also showing his ability to have a lot of fun in the process. Totally in sync with Ellis from the drop of the puck, it's scary to watch the two of them move in unison around the rink as if they were connected. With a cannon for a shot, Weber was nice to his fellow campers and used his wrister/snap shot almost exclusively.
Love him or hate him, Legwand was the best player in camp the past two days. Appears to have found instant chemistry with Jonas Andersson and has simply been the most active player at either end of the rink. Driving the net consistently on the rush, strong along the wall and in the corners working the cycle, and never letting his man off the hook at the other end of the rink. If he can keep this up, David Legwand might meet everyone's expectations at both ends of the rink. A very solid start to camp.
After making a very impressive NHL debut last season, Thuresson slid down the lineup and eventually back to Milwaukee due to a lack of refined offensive talent. While he has shown glimpses of it, I haven't yet seen enough yet to warrant a legitimate shot at making the NHL roster for opening night. Still playing with a ton of energy and being physical at every opportunity, Thuresson must improve his consistency at the offensive end of the rink to make it as a full time NHL player.
The way I look at it, it may have taken eleven years to see a return on our 1999 2nd round pick, but it appears to be well worth the wait and we can chalk that up to development time. Back in North America and healthy, Andersson has paired with Legwand to be a force at both ends of the rink. Very strong on the puck, Andersson uses his size well to shield the puck from defenders and has excellent hands. Andersson's speed, size, and style are the perfect compliment to Legwand and it's going to take a lot to stop Andersson from making the opening night roster at this point.
Healthy again after battling injuries all of last season, Ward is back to that energetic, gritty two-way player that we saw at camp two seasons ago when he surprised everyone and made the opening night roster. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Ward has redemption on his mind and is playing a very determined style of hockey thus far in camp. One thing I haven't liked though is that Ward is laying flat out on the ice in an attempt to block shots. By doing this he is taking himself out of the play and if he continues, players will begin to catch on and fake a shot to get him to go down before walking right around him. I'd like to see that practice end, but applaud the courage.
Ellis has nothing to lose and is playing like it. Being born three days past the cutoff date to be eligible to play in the AHL this season, Ellis has two options to start the year - go back to juniors where he has won the Memorial Cup in back-to-back years with Windsor (OHL) or make the Nashville Predators roster. Thus far he's making that decision very difficult on the coaching staff with his play. Paired with Weber, Ellis is playing with confidence at both ends of the rink and really making smart decisions with and without the puck. He will see preseason action and will continue trying to force his way onto the NHL roster.
A fan favorite for his agitating style, Tootoo isn't going to show that off in camp, but he did put Kelsey Wilson in his place on Monday when Wilson seemed to have a penchant for running the goalies and doing his best to put his fellow campers through the glass with every hit. Still featuring the huge slap shot, Tootoo is flying around the rink and being active on every shift, although I didn't particularly care for his run at one of the White team defensemen today that launched him three feet in the air after contact. Save that for the other 29 teams in the NHL.
WOW! After being among the first cut last year despite his solid performance in rookie camp, Beck has earned his way into some NHL preseason action through his first week of camp. While I'm not noticing him much at the defensive end of the ice (not necessarily a bad thing), Beck is always a threat to score at the offensive end of the rink. Armed with a great snap/wrist shot and very good playmaking skills, Beck has used his body to drive the net and create offense as often as he created offense by drawing the defense and passing to open teammates. Will be very interesting to watch him play in the preseason. A real longshot, but still a darkhorse candidate to make this season's roster. Too young to play in the AHL this season, Beck would have to go back to Guelph (OHL) if he doesn't make the final cut.
Good first camp for the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Displayed good instincts at the defensive end of the rink and a ton of raw talent at the offensive end. Has two seasons of junior hockey left to fill out his lanky 6'3" frame and will be a featured offensive player for Peterborough (OHL) this year. Best part about Watson's camp was that he appeared to get better with each shift and every drill - a real positive for any coaching staff evaluating talent.
Finally healthy and back with the organization that drafted him. Parent is skating very well and using that skill to take away room from his opponents quickly and consistently. Through two days of scrimmages, I never saw Parent lose position on his man along the wall no matter how many dekes they tried and also was quite impressed with his physicality. A guy you're not going to notice at the offensive end of the rink, if you didn't notice him in either exhibition it's because he's doing his job very well.
Got the opportunity to watch Team White go through a drill oriented practice on Monday and scrimmage this afternoon where they put up a valiant effort, but lost by a 6-5 final score.
The veteran enforcer showed some real good sniping skills in yesterday's practice before drawing Coach Trotz's ire for failing to drive the middle lane multiple times in a 3 on 2 drill (driving the middle lane is important because it forces the weakside defenseman to turn to play him going to the net and creates a passing lane to the 3rd attacker coming free into the high slot for a shot) and really didn't fit in today playing on a line with Lombardi and Sullivan on most shifts. Very limited in his role. Belak can't be upsetting the coach if he wants to keep one of the 23 spots on the opening night roster with the amount of talent in his season's camp.
Had an excellent performance yesterday working primarily with Colin Wilson throughout the drills, but faded quietly into the background this afternoon in the scrimmage. Will likely see some preseason action which will present him another opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff in a game situation, but after today's action I can't help but think Geoffrion is heading to Milwaukee and there's no problem with that.
Dinged up a little today, but didn't miss a shift and continued flying around the rink thereafter. Erat has found a connection with Matthew Lombardi and is one of a couple of players that seem to be rejuvenated due to the speedy center's arrival. Very active on the offensive side of the rink, we know Marty will be in Nashville this season, but it'll be interesting to watch who his linemates are on opening night.
Spaling made his way to the NHL last season on the basis of his skills as a detailed, defensively responsible forward with the ability to play both wing and center. One of my biggest criticisms of Spaling last season though was his lack of confidence with the puck. After two days I'm impressed with his improvement in that area and believe he could potentially force his way onto the roster again this season, likely at the expense of Jerred Smithson.
Speediest player on the ice by far. Lombardi has found instant chemistry with both Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan who seem to have an extra step to their stride with the speedy center on the ice. Surprisingly good finisher, Lombardi has scored several goals the past two days on nice feeds from his linemates both on straight shots and also with several nifty dekes. Defensively responsible, Lombardi is clearly making his case for the No. 1 center spot on the opening night roster with his performance thus far. I look forward to watching him in the preseason to see if he can elevate the game of his linemates and create a speedy and dangerous top line on a nightly basis.
Acquired as part of the Jason Arnott trade, I've been looking for Halischuk to make an impression on me for two days now and he simply hasn't done so. Halischuk played in a fair share of NHL games last season with the New Jersey Devils and is known for playing a speedy, two-way game with a fair amount of skill, but thus far he simply hasn't done anything to separate himself from the pack of forwards in camp.
Sullivan has had two summers of health now to work on getting back to the form he displayed prior to his career-threatening back injury, and his hard work is showing on each shift thus far in camp. Sullivan appears to have found his lost step and is flying around the rink with Matthew Lombardi at center creating offense and having a fun time. Named an alternate captain on Monday, Sullivan is poised to take the next step in his recovery this year.
A healthy Colin Wilson is a dangerous Colin Wilson. Wilson was very impressive in drills on Monday teaming with Blake Geoffrion to seemingly score at will. Scored a beautiful goal during today's scrimmage snapping the puck by Dekanich from the left faceoff circle to start a 3 goal burst for Team White. Wilson has shown a youthful enthuiasm in camp and is playing very confident hockey right now. Still don't know if he'll play center or wing this year, but we should all be excited to see his development.
One of my biggest surprises in camp so far. After a disappointing senior season at the University of Minnesota last year, I seriously was questioning his odds of starting the season in Cincinnati (ECHL) instead of Milwaukee (AHL). Shame on me. Flynn has used his big body to create space for his linemates, make life difficult for the goalies, and get a few checks in there along the way. Very impressive in both practice and the exhibition, Flynn might just earn his way into some NHL preseason action yet.
The leading candidate to succeed Nolan Yonkman as team captain in Milwaukee this season, Ford has played a very physical brand of defense and worked very well with Cameron Wind today talking constantly to the young rookie to keep him calm and informed throughout the scrimmage. I've liked what i've seen thus far from Ford and give him my vote for captain if that means anything. I think Ford will be an excellent veteran for our talented youngsters to learn under this season.
Honestly, I haven't noticed him that much. He seems to be playing a simple game and not drawing attention to himself regularly. Active at the blueline keeping pucks alive and making good outlet passes in transition. Sulzer's in an absolute dogfight for the final spot on the roster and his performance in the preseason will make or break his camp.
Bouillon is playing with a lot of veteran savy right now. Keeping things simple and efficient in his own end, I think Bouillon has been a calming influence for his young partner Jonathon Blum and seems to keep things under control when he's out there.
Last year's surprise player throughout camp, Goc earned a contract extension and has come to camp with a much more refined offensive game and the same desire to make the roster that got him a spot last year. Involved in every play at both ends of the rink, Goc has been especially strong creating offense on the cycle and has caught several goalies off guard with a nice wrist shot. Was the best player in Monday's scrimmage. I don't know yet where he fits in the lineup, but could see him pushing Colin Wilson to the wing again this year with a solid performance at camp.
Named as an alternate captain for the team on Monday, Suter is having a solid camp this week reminding us how effortless he makes the game look all the while playing with extreme intensity and a smile on his face. Suter's in great shape and looks like he's ready for the season to start.
A former first round pick of the New York Rangers, Lundmark has carved out an NHL career as a defensively responsible two-way forward and that's the game he's brought to camp. Playing a very detailed game, Lundmark always appears to be around the puck, but has left me wanting to see more finish in both Monday's scrimmage and today's practice session. A skilled, two-way center the opportunity is there for Lundmark to make the roster, but we'll need to see more throughout the rest of camp to move him from the darkhorse list to a player in consideration for the opening night roster.
Smithson is playing a very physical game in camp, but that's about all I can say about him. Honestly, he's on the final year of his contract and I think Nick Spaling is really going to make the decision difficult for the coaching staff at the end of training camp. Smithson is gonna need a solid performance in the preseason to avoid getting displaced by the youth coming up the ranks.
If there were any doubts about whether or not Patric Hornqvist would sit back after getting a three-year contract extension this summer, Hornqvist is doing everything in his power to put those doubts to rest. The most intense player in camp on both days, Hornqvist appears to not be satisfied with his 31 goal output last year and is likely harder on himself than any player in camp thus far. Don't get me wrong though, he's having a blast. He loves to play hockey for a living and shows that every day. He's just playing with so much intensity right now that you have to love him.
Playing as an energy guy, signed to be the enforcer in Milwaukee this year, but was playing very recklessly in Monday's scrimmage trying to put people through the boards with every hit, viciously boarding one of the defensemen on the forecheck, and running the goalie twice. Exchanged words and several jabs with Jordin Tootoo on Monday after running Jeremy Smith, but couldn't bait Tootoo into a fight. Sorry, but not leaving me with a good impression. There's a difference in a guy trying to make an impression by playing tough and a guy simply playing recklessly with little care for the welfare of his opponent. I think Wilson's pushing that line too far right now for my tastes. Save it for the preseason. Surely he'll get the opportunity to throw some knuckles in the preseason and save the wear and tear on Tootoo and Belak.
Very impressed by the rookie forward. Involved at both ends of the rink, Bourque plays much bigger than his 5'9" frame and is fearless going to all the hard areas on the ice. Worked very well with Goc and Thang in Monday's scrimmage. Looking forward to seeing what he does the rest of camp and think he's well on his way to earn a spot in Milwaukee for this season.
Another guy that was surprisingly good in Monday's scrimmage. Thang is playing a very detailed two-way game paying extra attention to all the small details of the game, while also being involved on virtually every shift. Owns a quick, hard snap shot that he loves to fire off the cycle. Thang is another collegiate player coming off a disappointing senior season and looking to make up for it this year with a solid camp.
After finding himself on the fourth line by season's end, the veteran winger spent the entire summer in Nashville training hard to rebound this year and put himself into position for a scoring role assignment this season. Thus far, it looks like the hard work is paying off. Dumont left me confused after Monday's scrimmage knowing that he was noticable on every shift, but not quite knowing why. Today I saw a man with a new powerful skating stride who wasn't shy about going to the net or battling in the corners and I've got to say, it reminded me of the Dumont we saw pre-Burrows headshot two seasons ago. Still a lot to prove, but I'd love to see Dumont surprise this year and find himself among the team's leading scorers again at season's end.
Arguably the most controversal player in camp, I've seen opinions all over the place on the kid and I think I can see arguments for both sides, but overall I think he's having a good camp that could be better. That's the problem right there, there is something being held in reserve. No one argues that Kostitsyn is a talented playmaking winger. Some of his passes in Monday's scrimmage had me dropping my jaw a little, but while he's never beat up the ice, he's never the first player back either and that concerns me. Kostitsyn goes to the hard areas in the corners and at the net and battles with the best of them, but I want to see more away from the puck. I know it's there. I think Trotz knows it's there. The question moving forward is when will we see it? Definitely a candidate for the opening night roster, I'm very anxious to see him in the preseason.
Guys I didn't mention and the goalies
With over 50 guys in camp the past two days, it has been impossible to form an opinion on everyone and it would be unfair and dishonest to try to form an opinion when I don't have one. Anyone you don't see mentioned is someone that I haven't seen enough of and will be continuing to watch throughout the week. If you have someone you particularly want to hear about, please mention them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer your questions.
As for the goalies, again with so many players in camp right now my focus has mainly been on the skaters. We know Pekka Rinne will be our starter, but going through a practice session with little defensive support in the drills and rotating every ten minutes through the scrimmage it's just been too hard to keep track of so far. Will be something I continue to watch and will be including in my future updates.
Thanks for reading and make sure to stay up to date on all the action from training camp via my Twitter account at @SLakePreds.
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