Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Development Camp: Eight Observations From Scrimmage No. 2

Well folks, that's it, that's all.

Calgary Flames development came came to a close on Wednesday morning at WinSport with a second scrimmage, which wrapped up the six-day camp. You can now go outside and weed your garden. Oh joy!

It was another good turnout as the stands were once again packed with fans eager to see what the future might hold and I do mean future. With one notable exception -- and you know who that is by now, that NHL future I'm talking about is at least a year away and for some -- if it happens at all, could be 3-5 years down the road. Nonetheless, there was a lot of talent in town, significantly better prospects than Calgary got used to seeing at these camps a few years ago when they were quietly held at Don Hartman Arena. There is certainly reason to be optimistic if you're a fan, who has grown tired of watching other teams play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With the Flames 2014-15 season opener against Vancouver less than three months away and with rookie camp starting up in two months, there won't be much down time. Like it or not, winter will be here before you know it.

I'll leave you with eight observations from today and the overall camp on the whole. I'll be working on some longer player profile pieces over the summer and if you're following me on Twitter at @DarrenWHaynes, I'll certainly let you know when I have them completed and posted.

1. Space Up, Offence Up

In contrast to Monday's scrimmage (my recap here), which was mainly played 5-on-5 and produced only two goals, there was much more space to move on Wednesday morning at WinSport as the 30-minute game started with 4-on-4, then went to 3-on-3 after about 12 minutes and ended up an exhausting-to-play-but-fun-to-watch 2-on-2. What we learned is opposing Johnny Gaudreau with only four skaters on the ice is like chasing a squirrel around a football field.

The final score in the game was 5-5, I think. Or, maybe it was 6-5 for the Reds. Regardless, the fact I lost track of the score in the end is exactly the kind of problem you hope to have when you open up the ice like that and give guys space to be creative. The resulting offence speaks to the quality of the players in camp -- particularly the ones already in the organization, most of whom accommodated themselves very well.

The game zipped by really fast and was once again high-tempo and with its fair share of physicality. The excitement created when you get into pond hockey with two or three skaters aside certainly leaves you wondering if it's just a matter of time before the NHL at least experiments with that in the AHL as an alternative to the shootout to decide tie games during the regular season.

2. I Think We Should See Other People

In the spirit of Ross and Rachel, maybe Boston College duo Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold are just on a 'break'.

It was certainly an interesting dynamic this week with Gaudreau wearing white in both scrimmages and his best buddy playing on the reds. For much of today's game, Gaudreau's wing-man was hulking Milan Lucic-look-a-like David Wolf, who like everybody else, came away impressed.... or make that mighty impressed with Gaudreau's high skill level.

"He's just pure talent," said the 24-year-old German. "He's so smooth on the ice. At his size, he's probably the best player I've ever seen."

Gaudreau, as you come to expect every game, did score a goal and it was a dandy. He made a nice deke and deftly slid the puck through the five-hole on Mason McDonald after he was sprung on a breakaway by Kenny Agostino.

Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding more like a Hollywood Insider from TMZ, I can confirm that Arnold was spotted playing with Morgan Klimchuk in both scrimmages. Yes, it would seem they're now an item. Klimchuk scored twice Wednesday -- both set up by Arnold, who also had a goal of his own.

"I didn't really know Billy that well coming into this week," Klimchuk said. "But to sit next to him and to be on his team and be around him all week and do off-ice activities with him, you really do build chemistry and I thought that definitely showed in the game today."

Klimchuk had a great chance at his hat-trick at one point but from a prime shooting area, he unselfishly sent a pass back across the slot to Arnold instead.

"He's a lot of fun to play with, a real skilled, fast player. We've been playing together a lot this week and I think it showed out there," said Arnold. "We were clicking and we had a good feeling for where each other was going to be on the ice."

Gaudreau and Arnold did find themselves back together again at centre in the shootout -- both shooting at the same time but in opposite directions. And in a twist of fate, Gaudreau was thwarted by McDonald while Arnold scored on a deke against Doug Carr. "Bragging rights for the summer," said a delighted Arnold, with a chuckle.

3. I'll Be Back

If I played you a clip from my voice recorder and asked "Who is this?" Your first guess would be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, I can definitely confirm David Wolf is German and speaks just like Arnie, or... I suppose... like many Germans do. I can also confirm that he is quite a character. Firstly, he's pumped about Germany's 7-1 rout of Brazil in the World Cup on Tuesday. Flying back to Germany tonight, he'll be home in time and looking forward to the big party that will be Sunday's final. I also discovered Wolf is a personable, funny and very engaging fella off the ice.

When the 24-year-old was signed in May, much of the discussion revolved around his size -- 6-foot-2 and at least 216 pounds, his truculent style of play, and how he led the German League in penalty minutes in two of the last three seasons. However, lost was the fact he was also second on his team in points each of the last three years.

"I stand up for my teammates when I have to, I fight when I have to, but I'm not out there looking for it," said Wolf, who had a few good scoring chances during the game but was not able to capitalize. In the shootout, he was also denied but just barely as he raised eyebrows by pulling out the only spin-a-rama move we saw. He just couldn't jam the puck past McDonald's outstretched pad as he completed his 360.

"I do have some finesse too, although I've got 'summer hands'," laughed Wolf, who says he hadn't skated in nearly three months before this week. "I've got to get on the ice more and more and then I'll get my hands and my conditioning back."

"David's an interesting guy. He's like a walking fridge," said Flames GM Brad Treliving. "He's got a straight-ahead approach and he's a big body, who does everything well. He'll be an interesting guy to see, come training camp."

4. Johnny B. Goode Again

Watching Gaudreau on the ice is just so darn enjoyable. His creativity is off-the-charts and the failed attempts by others to cover him, hit him, catch him, get the puck away from him, or do anything to stop him -- it's like watching one long, endless Keystone Cops routine. Flipping through my notebook from this morning, I have references to No. 53 scribbled on every page with enough stars written besides those references to resemble the constellations in the northern sky. Some examples from today:
  • Speeds down the wing, turns away slickly from Keegan Kanzig, makes a nice toe-drag around Austin Carroll and snaps a quick shot on goal.
  • Gains the zone, does a sharp curl towards the board to lose the defender and give himself time and space. Then, zips an absolutely perfect saucer pass across the slot that lands on the tape of Chris Dienes for a one-timer.
  • On a 1-on-1 rush, he's stood up just inside the blueline and knocked down by a good, physical defensive play by Allan Caron. However, you're messing with the wrong guy, Allan. That same shift on another one-on-one between the same two guys, a nice curl-and-drag move by Gaudreau results in Caron flopping to the ice and sliding helplessly out of the play. Gaudreau then strolls in for a dangerous shot.  Later that same shift, with Gaudreau buzzing around like a mad hornet, he regains the puck again with a lightning fast stick lift and steal of the puck from unsuspecting Damian Bourne.
  • While playing 2-on-2, Agostino and Gaudreau had possession of the puck for nearly their entire shift. They scored once and essentially just teased the helpless red pairing of Scott Allen and Brandon Vuic, who looked like a pair of Wile E. Coyotes chasing a pair of road runners in the defensive zone.  

Gaudreau won't dominate like he did at this camp at Calgary's main training camp starting in mid-September but it will be intriguing to see how he fares. That will be the real test to see if he is ready to be an NHL player right now or if some seasoning in the AHL is the route the Flames will opt to go. Consider this one of the top story lines to follow heading into training camp.

5. Sam Being Sam 

Sam Bennett is going to be a fan favourite, no question. He doesn't care how big you are, he's going to get in there, and get in there fast and he's just so damn determined to come away with the puck. A couple times on the forecheck, Bennett pursued a guy behind the net and if he didn't succeed in stripping the puck from the panic-stricken defenceman, he then chases him up the ice relentlessly like a pit bull.

He's not afraid to get to those so-called dirty areas either. In one sequence in front the opposition's net, he had a gruelling 8-10 second battle for positioning in front with massive 6-foot-6, 245 pound defenceman Keegan Kanzig. Bennett did not back down and was determined to get to and stay on that patch of ice at the top of the crease.

The same two met again later along the sideboards and while Kanzig was first to the puck, it was Bennett that came away with the puck for a dangerous scoring chance. All it took was an aggressive, physical play from Bennett to pop Kanzig into the boards and then strip the puck from him. "Like a dog on a bone." -- that's how I'd describe Bennett regarding his pursuit of the puck.

On a side note, Bennett and Klimchuk will both be at Team Canada's World Junior orientation camp later this summer. It's a decent bet that both could be on this year's team and if so, it would be the first time the Flames have had two forwards on Canada's World Junior team since 1999 when Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk were part of Canada's silver medal-winning team. (I know what you're now thinking and stop thinking that way. I have zero doubt that the future of Klimchuk and Bennett is much brighter than it turned out for those other two Flames 1st round picks.)

In the last 15 years, the only three Flames forwards to play for Canada at the World Juniors have been: Greg Nemisz (2010, silver), Dustin Boyd (2006, gold) and Chuck Kobasew (2002, silver).

6. 'D' Depth Chart

None of the defencemen that were on the ice at development camp are immediate threats to play in the NHL. However, look 2-3 years into the future and you may have something.

For me, the top three that were on the ice this week in terms of future potential are:
  1. Brett Kulak
  2. Keegan Kanzig
  3. Ryan Culkin

Because I said "on the ice", this excludes Patrick Sieloff, who was at camp but did not dress for the scrimmages as he continues to work his way back from being injured almost all of last season. Sieloff has the potential to be ranked right there with Kulak.

Both Kulak and Culkin, who have offensive upside, sniped goals on Wednesday and they could be a couple key figures in Adirondack this year assuming that's where they land. Kanzig has impressed me all week and while he'll be back in Victoria this year for sure, his future looks bright as long as he can continue to improve his foot speed. Even with the wide open ice today that comes with 2-on-2, I thought Kanzig looked just fine. He's a better skater than you would expect.

As for Eric Roy, he's tall enough but that's his best quality. At least in this week's sample, he's just not at the same level as the other three. Also of note, making an impression on the Flames was undrafted Jason Fram. At the camp on a try-out from Spokane (WHL), where the 19-year-old has played the past three seasons, Fram was the lone player singled out by Treliving today, who the Flames have already decided to bring back to rookie camp. At 6-foot-0 and 195 pounds, Fram saw his offensive production skyrocket from 2-13-15 in 60 games in 2012-13 to 6-51-57 in 72 games last year.

7. Nervous Mason McDonald

It's so hard to evaluate goalies in this type of setting considering the odd-man rushes that naturally occur in a pond hockey format, which was the second half of today's game that 2014 2nd round pick Mason McDonald played. Also, allowing a breakaway goal to Gaudreau as he did hardly puts him in an exclusive club.

In the shootout, it didn't start off so good as McDonald was beaten five-hole by Agostino and again in the same spot two shooters later by Collin Valcourt. However, he stopped the next 11 shots including Bennett, who after scoring on a spectacular deke move in Monday's shootout, tried a similar move only this time did not convert.

"It's a big jump from junior to this," McDonald said. "The pace is so much faster, guys skate so much faster, the shots are so much faster. Everything is bang-bang. It's great to have the experience of it and going back to junior, it will help me."

And next breakaway, he vows to stop Gaudreau.

"He's really shifty, he can shoot the puck. He's got everything to be a pro hockey player. He was definitely the best out there," said the soft-spoken 18-year-old. "It's too bad, he got me through the five-hole. Next time I'll have him."

8. What Will Development Camp Look Like in 2015?

This year's camp was just like last year's camp, and also the camp the year before because it was the format already in place when Brad Treliving was hired by the Flames as general manager. However, expect Calgary's development camp to look a little different next year.

"It's safe to say there will be changes," said Treliving. " I don't think it will be radical changes but we'll tweak it."

Calgary's camp is certainly one of the longest if not the longest in the NHL. The players are on the ice for five consecutive intensive days. Arizona's development camp -- and that would be the organization Treliving just left, consists of only three on-ice sessions of 90 minutes each.

Shortening it certainly sounds like one of the things he's considering.

"I want to continue to place the emphasis on education," Treliving said. "It's development, it's giving these guys the tools. Yes, you want get a little glimpse and see how they move and do those things but in a lot of ways, the emphasis on doing too much heavy-lifting on-ice and evaluating in the middle of July, it can be a dangerous thing."


Related Flames Reading:
  • First Impressions from Scrimmage No. 1 - The Flames best players were their best players on Monday as Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett were two of the five players that stood out for me. 
  • The Polarizing Selection of Goaltender Mason McDonald - Selecting a goaltender with pick No. 34 infuriated a lot of Flames fans. Why take a goalie so early? Well, I've done the homework and I will explain to you why it was the smart choice for Calgary at that point in the draft. 


    1. In your last post you said you'd take a closer look at Fram on Wednesday... so did you see anything different?

    2. Here's the problem. Where I was situated in one corner, it was the worst possible vantage point to watch the white d-men as they were at the far end of the ice. Coming up ice, you couldn't tell who was who at a glance so it was hard to track guys like Fram. In the format played, there was no changing of ends so that issue was present the whole time. So no, I didn't notice him in a positive or negative way. The good news is those with a more discerning eye and/or having seen him play lots before like him and he's been invited to Flames rookie camp. So I'm of little help, but hoping to see more in Sept. Call it an 'evaluation in progress'.