Well, it's been a rough week for us as Avs fans with the Smyth trade and Sakic's retirement, so I'm more than glad to kind of turn the page a little bit with a report on the future of the franchise. We could use some good news, and I'm here to tell you it looks good. Let me preface this little report with a couple things about me: I don't play hockey, never have, and I am very far from a scout. Don't take what I say as hockey gospel. That said, I do watch a lot of hockey and I'm pretty analytical, so hopefully those things will help.
I did not remember my camera, but Jibble did, so I expect him to edit this post with his thoughts and some pictures.
The very first thing that was apparent when you walked in was the increased talent level on the ice. Last year, a very large percentage of the drills and such ended in failure -- missed passes, fanned shots, etc. Many players looked slow and unready. Not this year. Passes were by and large crisp, skating was faster, and everyone was simply better overall. It was pretty stunning and encouraging.
The turnout was surprising -- I was there on Saturdays the last 2 years, and there were maybe 20 people there between the 2 practice rinks at the most. This year, there had to be 3 or 4 times that just watching the one rink of players -- on a work day! Everyone was there to see Duchene, for sure.
Sacco, Lefebvre, and Kono ran things pretty close to the other times I've gone. Sacco was way more vocal than Granato though, and Kono had some fun with the players too, something I'd never seen from past regimes. He unexpectedly jumped in and cleaned up some rebounds in some drills and teased the goalies after with some big celebrations.
I was really, really bummed not to see Justin Mercier there. Last year him and Hensick really jumped out at you in terms of skills and speed, and I wouldn't have loved to have seen either of them compared to this field. It's also a bit concerning for Mercier not to be there for other reasons, with his negotiations apparently being difficult.
EDIT: Mercier has signed, as has Cumiskey. Whew! :)
I'll be honest, I didn't watch everyone else combined as much as I watched Matt Duchene, our top pick in this year's draft. In short, he appeared to be everything I hoped for and more. He was better than all the other prospects without a doubt. His skating was faster than just about everyone, and he performed every drill at the fastest pace he could. His burst of acceleration was amazing in and of itself. His puckhandling was without par, and probably is only matched on the big club by Hejduk and Wolski. His shot was sudden, faster than anyone else's, and accurate.
I'm struggling a bit with how to communicate this, but I'll try -- the more you saw him in game style drills, the better he seemed. As good as his skills were individually, everything flowed together even better. Perfect passes to high speed carries and receipts of the passes fluidly into hard and fast shots. Best of all, he was very clearly having fun every second he was on the ice and yet still was upset every small failure he had. He reminded me of Deader's on-ice personality -- always grinning, always loving everything, and always working hard.
He's a showman for sure, he was always making sure to draw oohs and aahs from the crowd with his puck tricks while he wasn't drilling. He had one he flipped from multiple in-air hits, to his back, to his helmet, back to his stick that was really amazing. Jibble missed it with the camera. :(
It wasn't all roses -- he struggled quite a bit on a drill where players had to come out of a corner and attempt to beat a goalie. He didn't seem nearly as comfortable with the angles and moves from there as other angles of attack. In the faceoff drills, he didn't look too great. He was muscled around by the coaches, and Tessier (his primary combatant) won more often than him.
Those are nitpicks though. If he made the team tomorrow, he'd be the most explosive and talented player on it without a doubt. He'll of course need to grow his game and adjust to the speed of the NHL game, but I just can't see how you could hold him back on the basis of talent now. As my wife said, "he's just got it. I don't know what else to say."
EDIT: This is a great video from the day I was there, though I though it missed some of the longer drills later in the day that I really based the glowing reviews on. It did catch his insane goal of the day, it's the last highlight:
Cedric McNicoll, the undrafted free agent center we signed from QMJHL last year, actually was the biggest surprise of the forwards to me -- he's good! Great shot, great on-puck skills, fast -- sniper. But, not a good passer at all and he's pretty small. I looked him up for his height and it says 5'11"...yeah, my ass. He looked slightly bigger than Tessier. I'm still very curious what he does for Lake Erie next year. If he has or adds a complete game to go with the skills I saw, who knows what might happen?
Ryan Stoa, the LW from Minnesota taken before Stastny, was easily the biggest guy there. I'd seen him play a few times on TV, and was pleasantly surprised to see his skating in person -- it's quite good, especially for such a big dude. He looked very comfortable taking faceoffs, and had a number of nice backhand shots. He does lack finishing ability and really high level skills with the puck, as opposed to Chris Stewart. It's all about if he continues to grow his offensive skills -- if so, I'd guess he slots as a nice 2nd line LW eventually. If not, he's probably a good 3rd liner still. Sort of like Jones that way, if that makes sense, though Jones is faster and has better puck skills at this point. It would be nice if he could spend a year in Lake Erie before coming up.
Ryan O'Reilly, the C taken with the 33rd pick this year, is quite an interesting player. On one hand, he's got a really nice shot, and seemed very natural and skilled with the puck. On the other hand, his skating is subpar to a pretty large degree. I'd say it's much better than Stewart's the first time I saw him though, and the comparison to the other forwards, all brilliant skaters, was pretty unflattering too. The Avs have had a lot of success with players knocked for their skating (Stastny and Stewart jump to mind). I think they need to treat this guy the same way as Stewart -- a little longer curve before making the jump, lots of work on his skating. I think they've got another gem here though, a really solid and skilled 3rd line center in a couple years. He is an absolute wizard at faceoffs, he was well over 75% in the drills against all opponents and won 7 in a row on Stoa, the next best guy, at one point.
Kelsey Tessier, Patrick Roy's top line center in the QMJHL taken by us a year ago in the 4th round, has superb skills. He drew nearly as many oohs and aahs as Duchene, to be honest. He's still tiny though (5'9"...yeah, my ass), so it's hard to project where he'll top out. You've gotta love his motor though, he just never quits and always went hard. Him and Duchene had some good moments competing, including one where they locked up on a faceoff and they finally just started wrestling (Duchene ended up on top with Tessier in a headlock).
I didn't spend as much time watching these guys, preferring to focus on Duchene and the forwards. It's also harder to really get a feel for them outside of games, in my opinion. I did catch some impressions though, so I'll relate what I remember.
Kevin Shattenkirk, the first rounder of the Avs in 2007, is of course the class of camp defense-wise. Other defensemen would settle the puck on drills before shooting, he always went for one-timers. Great hands, smooth skater, accurate and moderately hard shot. He showed some really nice dekes in the offensive drills (and I'd forgotten he's a right hander too, boy do we need that). Stud.
( Jibbles ed note: I think the only thing I can contribute to this entire report that doc didn't cover better than I would is that Shattenkirk is a tremendous passer. I didn't see one pass he made all day that wasn't right on the stick of the guy he was passing to. My favorite drill today ended up where he was behind the net and passed to Duchene for a shot. I was transfixed by the 1-2 punch coming in the near future.)
Joel Chouinard, well, I think I see what the Avs' scouts saw last year when they took him out of the blue in the 6th round last year. Very hard slapper, good size, decent skater. He consistently beat the goalies in offensive drills, and handled the defensive drills quite well. He really caught my attention repeatedly. I'll be keeping an eye on him.
Cameron Gaunce, our first 2nd rounder last year, I didn't see much of, sadly. He's bigger than I remembered, and was solid in every drill. I think he's going to make the team with Shattenkirk next year, just from what I read.
Didn't catch my eye much...
Tyson Barrie, our 3rd round pick this year. Good shot, and a good skater. Pretty small and fumbled the puck a couple times though.
Stefan Elliot, our second 2nd rounder this year. Decent size, but probably on a longer course of development.
Kevin Montgomery, probably a pretty long shot for the NHL. Could be a good pure defender though, hard to say based on drills.
I felt bad for these guys, there was no real coaching for them at all, especially compared to last year with Hackett. They just got pucks fired at them repeatedly.
Trevor Cann, our 2nd rounder in 2005, has improved again. He was definitely the best goalie at camp, and I'm almost starting to wonder if he's got a legit shot at the NHL. He flat robbed Stoa a couple times, and Duchene too. I love the lightning bolt pads still.
Peter Delmas, our second 2nd rounder last year, reeeaaaally struggled today. He let in a lot of stoppable shots. I'm not going to say he's a bust by any means, but he's got a lot of work to do and I think it's mostly mental. I saw none of the quickness I saw last year in drills, he was really fighting the puck and always looking behind himself after shots.
Brandon Maxwell, our 6th rounder this year, looked good. He outplayed Delmas by quite a bit at the end I was at. Made a flashy glove save on Duchene to applause from the crowd at one point, and never gave up on a play. Definitely some promise here.
I didn't see Kent Patterson, somehow. But he's never impressed me in the past.
That's it folks! Please, ask me ANY questions you might have in the comments and I will reply as best I can -- I really want to help out the fans that aren't as lucky as I to attend.