It’s a tale as old as time: a camp invitee scores an impressive breakaway goal during the Future Stars Game and Preds Twitter goes wild demanding an entry-level contract be sent his way immediately. It often doesn’t work like that (Zach Magwood being a good exception), and it shouldn’t, but Development Camp is still an important week for the organization and fans.
The opposite phenomenon happens often, too: a highly-touted prospect in the organization comes to camp and looks out of place to fans or doesn’t score two highlight-reel goals on Saturday. The result? Everyone freaks out.
Earlier this week, Justin Bourne penned an excellent piece for The Athletic that detailed the point of this week in an anecdote about Mitch Marner, stating, “It was at that camp where I truly began to appreciate the difference between assessing raw tools and a player’s actual ability to have success within a hockey game.”
As boring as it is to say, the point of Development Camp is to be boring. At the very most, for younger prospects, it’s an opportunity to get acclimated to the organization and staff. And at the most for older prospects, it’s a chance to focus on individual skills and techniques that the coaching staff deem important.
With that said, there are players and tendencies that I think are important to observe this week. I’ve detailed those below.
1. Consistency During Drills
I want to touch on this briefly. I know everyone watches Development Camp looking for the players with the slickest hands or the fastest strides, but Saturday is a better opportunity for that.
In the meantime, keep an eye on the players who are consistently hitting the right notes during drills. These practices won’t always replicate game situations, but they’re important to development good habits that lead to better separation gears, improved offensive awareness, and top-notch timing on defense.
2. The Camp Invitees
There are a few different tiers of invitees that come to Development Camp each year. Everyone is excited to learn who will earn their next entry-level contract; it’s not a guarantee, but it does happen (see: Zach Magwood).
Good players to keep tabs on are NCAA and CHL players that might become free agents in the next couple years. Once upon a time, Andrew Shortridge was a camp invitee by Nashville, and this spring he was the most sought-after NCAA goalie on the market. These players include:
- Ross Armour - F - Bemidji State University: 38 GP / 0 G / 12 PTS
- Bobby McMann - C - Colgate University: 36 GP / 8 G / 23 PTS (McMann has previously attended Nashville’s Development Camp)
- Andrew Coxhead - C - Quebec Remparts: 68 GP / 19 G / 47 PTS
- Spenser Young - D - Providence College: 42 GP / 8 G / 21 PTS
- Adam Karashik - D - University of Connecticut: 34 GP / 0 G / 4 PTS
McMann is a player I could see generating some interest next summer; Coxhead might as well, depending on how his final QMJHL season goes.
3. The New Draft Class
Seven of Nashville’s eight selections at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft are Development this year (excluding Semyon Chistyakov). It’s an exciting opportunity to see the latest haul of talent in the organization.
But, most importantly, this camp isn’t the end-all be-all. This isn’t where entry-level contracts are decided and this doesn’t determine when these kids are coming to Nashville. For some of these players, it’s their first time skating this seriously in months. They’re bound to be imperfect. Again, it’s about their commitment to technique and how well they repeat it.
4. The Cohort of Minor League Deals
There are four players in attendance at this year’s camp that are currently signed to AHL contracts: Hugo Roy, Thomas Novak, Hunter Garlent, and Adam Smith.
Three of those four had brief experiences with Milwaukee and Atlanta last season and are looking to establish their role on a team that currently enlists 15 forwards and eight defenders. The caveat here is that Nashville now has their own ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, so there is more thought that will go into placing extra forwards and defenders in the AHL and ECHL.
Depending on the injury timeline for Brandon Fortunato, Adam Smith could have an opening night spot in Milwaukee. But the three forwards will be battling out for serious playing time; this camp is a good opportunity to deliver good impressions.
5. The Under-the-Radar Invitee
Of the several invitees to camp this year, one has stood out to me: defender Jeremie Bucheler.
Bucheler is a 19-year-old who has gone undrafted twice and stands at 6’4”. He spent his 2017-18 season with Chicago of the USHL only totaling six points. However, he made the jump to the BCHL last year playing with Predators prospect Alex Campbell and totaled eight goals and 45 points in 54 games.
Once a first-round pick in the QMJHL, Bucheler is a fluid skater (though not incredibly fast) who plays a quiet game but skates with good awareness and has a good shot that can be kept low to the ice for rebounds and deflections. He’s a project who needs work on his gap control, but I think there’s upside (Bucheler is #4 in black below):
6. Older Prospects & Those Playing for Entry-Level Contracts
There are four prospects whose reserve rights expire after this season and three of them are in camp: Patrick Harper, Milan Kloucek, and Vladislav Yeryomenko. All three have something to prove and are at somewhat of a crossroads. At the very least, this camp is good for building confidence necessary for a good season ahead.
Additionally, there are a few older players who have been around or are newer that you want to see at least something from. Eeli Tolvanen, Rem Pitlick, Josh Wilkins, and Lukas Craggs come to mind. For the new prospects signed out of college (although two of them are hurt), this is a good opportunity to get a taste of how Milwaukee’s forward units could shake out.
Here’s Rem Pitlick looking tenacious on defense. He clears a loose puck from Hugo Roy, follows him around the board and then deflects the other forward’s shot (which went out of play and was collected by my daughter) giving Vomacka a break at #PredsDevCamp today. pic.twitter.com/3xyCSDUBdk— SCSOTF (@SCSOTF) June 27, 2019
For players like Tolvanen and Pitlick, practices this week and the game on Saturday aren’t necessarily for them to look like regular NHL players dancing around kids; there will still be growing pains. But one thing to look for, especially on Saturday, is that you want to get some sense that their awareness is a step ahead—that they’re anticipating plays well and stepping into lanes and into passes and scoring chances.