Think that July means no hockey? Think again. While NHL regulars are out on the golf course, spending time with family or naming puppies after their teammates and taking pictures of them next to the Stanley Cup, a new generation of NHL hopefuls gather in cities around the league for the annual development camps. By now, every hockey fan knows what happened in Edmonton’s camp, where some guy named McDavid scored five goals in his first scrimmage with the team, but the Ottawa Senators also had their fair share of stand-out performances at their camp which took place from July 2nd to July 6th in Ottawa.
With all the on-ice sessions being open to the public (except July 3rd), the Sens’ camp provided an excellent opportunity for fans and this hockey writer to see Ottawa’s recent draft picks and other highly touted prospects. In this post I’ll share some general thoughts about the camp as well as highlight some of the more impressive prospects. In my next post I’ll review some of the less impressive and downright concerning performances. But let’s start with the good news for Senators’ fans.
The players on the Prospect Camp roster vary greatly in experience, age and skill level. The only common factor is that they are all young – the oldest players are only 23 years of age – and almost none of them have any NHL experience (Matt Puempel and Chris Drieger are the exceptions). Consequently, though just out of their teens, Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci did not attend. Similarly, while a number of Binghamton Senators players were present, Shane Prince and Derek Grant were not, as they all have played for the big club, either last season or before.
The varying skill levels, age and experience made it difficult to asses players during events like the prospects scrimmage and the 3 on 3 tournament. For some players, like Buddy Robinson and Max McCormick, the level of competition was lower than what they faced on a daily basis in the AHL last year. For others, like goalie and 2015 draftee Joel Daccord, who played high school hockey last year, the caliber of play was higher than anything he has ever faced.
The consequence of this disparity was that different players needed to be judged by different criteria. For players like Robinson or Puempel, who aim to break into training camp with the Senators this fall, anything less than being the best player on the ice at all times would be a disappointment. Alternatively, for new draft picks like Daccord, Colin White, Phillip Ahl, or Thomas Chabot, all of whom will play NCAA or Major Junior next year, the standard for performance was much lower.
Apparently I was not the only one impressed with Max McCormick’s play.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) July 6, 2015
While “Hardest Worker Award” sounds like an honour from an Atom B, house league tournament, the Senators’ current management team used the award to demonstrate significant interest in certain prospects. Remember, Mark Borowiecki won the award in 2011 and 2012, while Curtis Lazar was last year’s recipient and both are now full-time members of the Sens. Winning the award doesn’t automatically mean that we will see McCormick make the team come October (and realistically he shouldn’t) but it does mean that management saw something in him, despite mediocre stats in his rookie AHL season last year (20 points in 62 games).
Certainly his play during the development camp warrants extra attention. McCormick is a smaller left-winger (5’11” and 192 lbs) but is exceptionally quick and uses his speed to effectively force opposition defensemen into making mistakes. His 133 PIM last year also indicates that he doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game. He appeared to lack the high-end puck skills and vision required for a top six forward but his release was quite good. With the way he played there is no reason to think that he can’t be an effective bottom six winger with a physical edge.
Nick Paul and Tobias Lindberg
Ottawa’s two top-touted wing prospects are being lumped together for the purposes of this post, as they played together on a line with center Ryan Dzingle in the prospects’ scrimmage and were incredibly impressive. I’ve already written about Lindberg and how his combination of size and speed bodes well for his future in Ottawa.
Nick Paul also brings a similar combination of speed and size as Lindberg does, but is more clearly a power forward. He says he models his game after Milan Lucic and that is a very apt comparison. While Paul played center with North Bay this past season (and at least year’s development camp), he played left-wing at this year’s camp, the same position he played with Canada at the World Junior Championships in December.
Playing on the left side, Paul managed to score the only goal of the scrimmage on a two-on-one, but equal credit goes to Lindberg, who used his speed to beat his man in the neutral zone and then feather a perfect pass onto Paul’s stick.
What was particularly impressive was the chemistry the pair developed very quickly. While most of the other lines looked like they had never played together (because mostly they had’t), Paul and Lindberg, combined with Dzingel, played as a unit and dominated every time they were on the ice. I couldn’t help but imagine the two of them flanking a smaller but creative center like J.G. Pageau in a few years on Ottawa’s third line. Both have to develop a lot more and prove they can translate their success in the OHL to the AHL this year in Binghamton, but they seem to have tremendous potential.
The fact that we are even talking about a 7th round pick from 2012 three years later is a win for the Senators’ scouting staff. Taken out of Mora IK in the Swedish Second Division, Mikael Wikstrand is a reliable, two-way defender who has a good first pass and a strong shot from the point. He was impressive enough in his post-draft year that he was a member of Sweden’s silver-winning World Junior Team for 2014 and even quarterbacked their second power-play unit.
Wikstrand was consistently impressive throughout the development camp. His Team Blue managed to win the annual 3 on 3 tournament that closed the camp and he was also the most consistent defenseman on the ice during the prospects scrimmage.
Wikstand’s play is not flashy and nobody will mistake him for Erik Karlsson, but he does everything well and demonstrates excellent awareness when on the ice. All of which makes the news that he will be playing in Binghamton under head coach Luke Richardson next year very exciting.
— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) July 7, 2015
Goalies Matt O’Connor and Marcus Hogberg. Both are big and use their size to their advantage while being tremendously calm in net. Matt O’Connor projects to be a very good goalie and its nice to see that he didn’t disappoint.
Senators’ fans can take a lot of positives from the 2015 development camp. All of the players highlighted in this post were either drafted outside the first two rounds or signed as free agents out of college. Watching the play of Ottawa’s late round picks is quite encouraging as it means that the management and scouting staff are consistently able to find talent late in the draft. For a budget team like Ottawa, that is key to ensuring future success. It also makes for a few days of great hockey in the middle of the summer.