Who says just because its summer that there is no hockey? I know for hockey parents all across North America as they find more and more of their summer absorbed by time spent by their kids at hockey camps all over the U.S. and Canada. This is where some say the most serious amount of development takes place, where players focus solely on their skills rather than being so wrapped up in games. Its not just confined to the ice; as off-ice training including skating-specific speed camps, hours spent in the weight room adding muscle and explosiveness. This level of rigorous off-season training could be true of even high school players these days, but what would that be like at the NHL level? That’s what these 42 players are going to experience from July 9th-July 14th in St. Paul as the team holds its annual Prospect Development Camp. For some guys like Zack Phillips, Mathew Dumba, Raphael Bussieres, Adam Gilmour and a few others they’ve been through this experience before while others like 2014 draft picks Alex Tuch, Louie Belpedio, Tanner Faith and Kaapo Kahkonen its probably their first dance at a camp at this level. The CBA only allows a player to attend 3 development camps over the course their career.
However, I must admit the players that often I find intriguing are the camp invitees. These are players who are often old enough to be drafted but went unselected in the NHL Entry Draft. Even in the Wild’s short existence, some of these invited players have went on to become solid players in the NHL. Matt Read, J.T. Brown, and 2014 Calder Trophy candidate Tyler Johnson were all camp attendees at one time. The Wild have not missed on all of these past invitees though; as Jared Palmer, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Fontaine were also past Development Camp-ers. Either way, it demonstrates that for these invitees that contracts in the future could be had by having an extended opportunity to perform in front of NHL brass, especially when you combine the experience of the Development Camp along with the Traverse City Tournament held later this summer.
The 42 camp attendees are listed here. The campers will be put through their paces by various members of the Iowa Wild coaching staff (Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst, Assistant Coach Steve Poapst) as well as Minnesota player development staff (Brad Bombardir), as well as power skating coaches Barry Karn and Andy Ness. Players in the past have often commented on how the valuable the power skating sessions have been in their own individual improvement. Then on Friday and Monday respectively they’ll have the eyes of thousands of Wild fans on them at their annual Team Green & Team White scrimmages. They’re free and open to the public and I’d highly recommend them to any fan. They’re a blast to be at; two 30-minute halves ending in an all player shootout. While the all-player shootout can get a little long in the tooth at times; it gives some players who normally don’t participate in them an opportunity to show off moves people never knew they had like this beauty by former Golden Gophers defenseman and camp invitee Sam Lofquist.
The scrimmages are fun, but its often not the best hockey since chemistry between players is often lacking and positional play can get a bit questionable at times. Also, don’t expect to see a lot of fireworks in regards to physicality. Yet you can see what players are assertive and have creativity with the puck. If I could talk to any of these attendees save the goaltenders, my advice would be to shoot and shoot often if you want to get noticed. When players try to be fancy and set up their teammates they rarely connect into a positive play. For defenseman its more about keeping things simple, but I always relish seeing a player dare to show a little flash and dash to their game.
Scrimmage #1: Friday, July 11th, 2PM @ Braemar Arena (Edina,MN)
Scrimmage #2: Monday, July 14th, 6:30PM @ Xcel Energy Center
So what players would I really try to watch closely as to how they play in the scrimmage?
#36 Michael Keranen (Ilves, Sm-Liiga) ~ The recently signed 24-year old Finnish phenom is said to be an offensive player who can dangle, set up teammates and score. Considering he’s thrived against men in Finland’s top league he should stand out among the crowd. While he does not have a lot of North American experience, he still should be noticeable (in a good way, hopefully) every shift he takes.
#40 Tyler Sheehy (Waterloo, USHL) ~ The future Golden Gopher went undrafted this summer, and I am hoping to see a skilled scorer with a determination to prove everyone wrong. Sheehy certainly knows how to finish and while not blessed with great size I think he is a player who might have a big camp.
#43 Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ Lucia has missed the last few Wild camps to attend additional classes at Notre Dame or being injured. He is a player who been a decent college scorer so far since the Wild drafted him and it will be interesting to see if he shines at camp since he’s a little older and seasoned than many of the other attendees.
#49 Raphael Bussieres (Iowa, AHL) ~ Bussieres certainly had a period of adjustment in his first professional season last year in Iowa. He was praised for his hard work and willingness to battle along the boards for loose pucks and while he showed a few flashes of offensive brilliance he should look a bit more polished than some of the other youngsters in attendance.
#52 Alex Tuch (USNDT, USHL) ~ Tuch was the team’s top pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft so he automatically will have a lot of eyes on him each and every shift he takes. We will be looking for a power forward who uses his frame to protect the puck and finish effectively from in close. I am hoping I see a beast of a player that looks like a bull in a china shop that is simply too strong for the defense to handle.
#62 Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS-MN) ~ Peterson was named 2014′s Mr. Hockey as the top high school player in the State of Hockey. He followed up a great high school season where he put up 67 points in 27 games; with a very strong performance in the USHL playoffs for the Sioux City Musketeers. Peterson combines size, skill and scoring ability and I hope to see him demonstrate that confidence at camp.
#63 Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The power forward looked very good in a late-season stint with Iowa at the conclusion of his OHL season. I am looking to see him more active on the forecheck than he was a season ago, and to be able to physically overpower defenseman that try to take him off the puck.
#78 Reid Duke (Lethbridge, WHL) ~ The smallish forward has been just ‘ok’ on a very bad Lethbridge team but is said to possess outstanding wheels and so far some undeveloped offensive skills which is why he was originally drafted 4th Overall in the WHL two seasons ago. I hope to see a player whose speed makes him stand out as well as some of the offensive skills that have been dormant for so long.
#5 Christian Folin (UMass-Lowell, H-East) ~ The Wild’s major college free agent signing should play as big as his 6’3″ frame would suggest. He should demonstrate solid ability at both ends of the ice because he may just have the best shot out of any player at the camp at making big club this season.
#55 Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ Dumba made the Wild out of training camp last fall, but he to me is a player that has to show me that he can play the bombastic style that caused him to be the Wild’s 1st round choice in 2012 where he can balance his high-risk, high-reward game by also demonstrating improvement in his own end. He had a roller coaster of a 2013-14 season, and hopefully he can demonstrate more consistency at camp.
#60 Carson Soucy (UMD, NCHC) ~ The big defenseman had a solid freshman season for the Bulldogs where he was often used on their top pairing. Soucy is more of a classic stay-at-home defenseman and will not be a big point producer but I hope to see the makings of a player who can shutdown smaller, skilled forwards with a good use of reach, mobility and physical play.
#72 Hunter Warner (Waterloo, USHL) ~ Warner is a physical presence and I hope to see him using that game in the scrimmages. While I realize scrimmages are often not all that physical I’d like to see how others respond to his hits as well as seeing the Eden Pairie-native do his best wrecking ball impression.
#75 Zach Palmquist (Minnesota State, WCHA) ~ I have watched Zach play since he was a Sophomore with the South St. Paul Packers. I do not expect him to ‘wow’ everyone with his skill level, but I do think his comfort level at the point with the puck on his stick might surprise some people.
#77 Guillaume Gelinas (Val ‘d Or, QMJHL) ~ The 2014 QMJHL Defenseman of the Year obviously is coming into camp with some raised expectations and I would admit I hope to see a player who is dynamic with the puck and can man the point with poise and get shots on goal.
#30 Kaapo Kahkonen (Espoo, Sm-Liiga) ~ The Finnish goaltender gets rave reviews for his athleticism, NHL-type size and ability to absorb rebounds. Yet I am interested to see how he responds to the fact plays will be developing that much faster on a smaller North American rink.