Monday, July 07, 2014

Scrimmage No. 1 - First Impressions from Development Camp

The stands were packed at WinSport on Monday morning and everyone got what they came for -- an excellent show from Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, who as you would hope, were two of the best players on the ice.

While there's a chance both will be Calgary Flames this season, the more likely outcome is Bennett returns to Kingston for a third year in the OHL and Gaudreau begins his first pro season in the AHL with Adirondack. However, by 2015-16, I would be surprised if both of these players aren't fixtures in Calgary's line-up and really, that's only 15 months away.

Flames General Manager Brad Treliving addressed the media afterwards and as he's been doing all week, he tried his best to keep expectations in check despite the obvious reasons fans had to be excited.

"Obviously a lot has been talked about with Johnny and what he's done in college and what he did in the World Championships so it's nice for our fans to get a little glimpse, and obviously see Sam too," Treliving said. "We are excited about these players but let's also keep in context what time of year this is."

With so many guys on try-outs and unfamiliar jersey numbers everywhere, and with an odd number of forwards on each side making line combos a constantly changing thing, it's hard to get a read on a game like this but from my vantage point -- ice level in one of the corners, here are five players that stood out.

53 - LW Johnny Gaudreau

He's the shortest guy on the ice, by far, but he also had the puck more than anybody else, by far. Flames fans got exactly what they were hoping from the 5-foot-8 offensive dynamo as he controlled the play whenever he was on the ice -- and set up both of the game's goals.

With the speed he has and his ability to pivot and turn on a dime, he's got that elusive quality that will make him hard to hit and that quality will be a must-have when you're his stature in the NHL.

Just like Sean Monahan had the chance to play with Gaudreau at this same camp one year ago, Sam Bennett played with him a bunch in Monday's scrimmage and afterwards he had nothing but complimentary things to say.

"He's got unbelievable vision and he's a smart hockey player. You combine those two and you have a real special hockey player. His skill set, it blows me away," Bennett said.

63 - C Sam Bennett

You know that expression, your best players have to be your best players? Sure enough, at Monday's scrimmage, they were as Bennett also had a solid game including neatly snapping a shot top corner for the opening goal.

Playing with a variety of linemates over the course of the game -- as well as seeing power play time and time on the penalty kill, the 6-foot-1 centre showed why many draft pundits ranked him as the No. 1 prospect coming into the draft. Getting him at No. 4 certainly met the approval of Gaudreau.

"I can see why the Flames drafted him," Gaudreau said after the game. "He's a great hockey player and an even better guy off the ice. You can tell he's going to be a great teammate from the second you meet him."

Gaudreau says it's Bennett's all-round game that impresses him the most.

"He's smart on the ice, he knows where everyone is at, he makes plays, he has a great shot, great speed and great vision," Gaudreau said.

51 - LW Kenny Agostino

This week isn't his first rodeo. In fact, it's development camp No. 4 for Agostino although just the second one with the Flames. Of course, he came over in the Jarome Iginla trade to Pittsburgh two years ago.

He likes to shoot and being an older guy in this particular camp (at age 22!), he is a little more calm and poised with the puck. He is around the net a lot and seems to be one of those guys that always seems to be in the right spot at the right time and will always get his chances.

"It's awesome how high the pace has been so far in camp. It's even higher than last year and I thought last year was fast," said Agostino, who took a few seconds to get up at one point after being on the wrong end of a heavy open-ice thump from Keegan Kanzig. "It was a great game pace. It was physical, it was high-tempo, guys are making plays and guys are really pushing for July. "

After graduating from Yale, his first pro season is coming up and playing close to home, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to life in the AHL and if he can develop into a 20-25 goal scorer with the junior Flames.

73 - D Keegan Kanzig

Sometime, have your buddy stand on top of the kitchen table and then you, while standing on the floor, pretend to interview him. That's what it's like to interview this guy when he's got his skates on. He's massive. The 6-foot-6 feels more like 8-foot-6 when he towers over you like that.

Foot speed will always be the issue for the Flames 3rd round pick in 2013 but it's better than you expect when you consider he's hauling around a 245-pound chassis. With the puck, he's never going to slickly spin his way out of trouble ala TJ Brodie and breakaway passes are not going to very plentiful, but when he doesn't have the puck, you better have your chin strap on tight when you go down his side because he will staple you into the glass and I can attest as I was ringside for a couple loud crunches, that glass shakes for about 30 seconds after one of his crushing body checks.

One highlight for fans -- and for Kanzig for that matter, was seeing Gaudreau go at him one-on-one on a rush down the wing midway through the second period. To Kanzig's credit, he denied him.

"I know he's a quick player, really good side to side. so I just tried to steer him wide, get him going that way and keep him out there... and it worked out well, so I was happy about that," said Kanzig, who is not yet old enough to play in the AHL so will be returning to Victoria (WHL) to play for coach and ex-Flame Dave Lowry for another season.

I'll have more on Kanzig later in the week. Keep an eye on the blog.

97 - RW Tim Harrison

Firstly. I must begin with the obligatory Stampede Midway update after the racket he had going last year where he kept winning mini BMX bikes and turned into a profitable one-night business. Unfortunately, sounds like this year -- all the players went at the Stampede on Sunday night, it didn't go nearly as well. "I wasn't feeling it," said Harrison, who has an infectious Craig Conroy-like chipperness to him off the ice. "I had a couple throws but I'm getting old and I threw out the shoulder a little bit."

Harrison, who stands 6-foot-3, was noticeable in the scrimmage if for no other reason that he saw a lot of time running shotgun with Bennett and Gaudreau -- so he was around the net a lot. The Flames 2013 6th round pick, who is coming off his first year of NCAA hockey at Colgate, took advantage as well by scoring a goal. Potentially, that was his first goal since last development camp considering he failed to score a goal in 35 games in a limited role as a freshman last season.

"It was a blast playing with Gaudreau and Bennett, two dynamic guys. To be able to play alongside them was unbelievable," Harrison said. "(Gaudreau) slows the game down so easily. He just stops the puck and it's a walk in the park for him. He just picks and chooses whoever he wants to give the puck to."

Other Loose Ends
  • G Doug Carr - He got in a late-season cameo last season with Abbotsford after his season at Hockey East's University of Massachusetts-Lowell came to an end. Done his four years of school now, he is in camp on a try-out and so far, so good, as he did not give up a goal in his half-game and he also stopped two penalty shots -- one off Kanzig and another off energetic winger Adam Chapie.
  • C Bill Arnold - Playing on the opposite team from Gaudreau for the first time that he said he could remember, which must have been weird, he showed that his commitment to defence is year-round by getting down and blocking a hard point shot, which left him hobbling briefly.
  • D Brett Kulak - I really like his mobility and he seems really comfortable with the puck, always looking for the open diagonal pass but not afraid to whistle a shot on net either. While eligible to return to the WHL as an over-ager, I'm betting he reports to Adirondack and don't be surprised if his year plays out similar to how last year unfolded for Tyler Wotherspoon. I'll also have more on Kulak later.
  • G Mason McDonald - If my math is right -- there's no scoring summary to audit against, the only goal he allowed was Bennett's tidy snapper from the slot in playing the first half of the game. In his portion of the exhibition shootout after the game, which consisted of eight or nine players, Bennett scored another really nice goal on him but I think that was the only one he gave up. One thing you notice immediately is he certainly is tall. The roster says 6-foot-4 and I'd say at least that. Reminds one of Ben Bishop.
  • LW David Wolf - This guy is fairly unique in how he's built and how he plays. He's stocky, really big around the shoulders -- resembles a football linebacker. But he moves around pretty good and he's sure not going to let up when he tails you into the corner, that's for sure, so head's up. It doesn't take long to see why the Flames were attracted to his energetic and physical style.

The next scrimmage goes Wednesday at 10 a.m. and once again will be at WinSport. We'll see who steps up in that game. As a warning if you're coming to watch, don't show up last minute or you'll be searching for a long time for a parking spot!


  1. "it's better than you expect when you consider he's hauling around a 245 pound chassis."

    So how is his skating? Without having to put in qualifiers I mean.... Average, Above Average, Below Average?

  2. Not 'above average' overall but I'd say 'average'. Again, it's hard in that environment. Such a small body of work and it's not a typical mix of defencemen he's with given he's surrounded by many there on a try-out. Also, watching the game from right beside of the glass as opposed to 80 feet above the ice in the press box as I'm used to is way different. It really can mess with you. Watching up close, it seems that EVERYBODY is moving way faster than normal! But for now, I'll say average and improving. Can he get around the ice good enough to be a serviceable NHL defenceman someday? If he continues to improve as he has even in the last year, then I'll say yes. Not as a top pairing guy, but certainly a 5/6 and potentially higher than that. He's an interesting project. I will have more on him later. Hope this helps.

    1. It helps a bit. I tend to dislike descriptions that have a "for a guy his size" qualifier because they don't actually describe how good or bad it actually was.

      For defensemen I like to look for overall footspeed and the amount of effort they have to expend. If you're a bit slower then you need to have superlative positioning but you can get by, but if you need to pump out a bunch of effort to be effective then you probably don't have the ability to effectively log the number of minutes that a top four d-man needs to be able to eat.

  3. Ya, I understand what you're saying. Sorry, I can't provide much more detail today and I'll be honest, I've seen maybe one of his games with Victoria so my sampling is really small. And today was a mess from a full-on evaluation perspective because: (1) You're trying to monitor all players on both teams, so there's 12 guys on the ice -- that's a lot of guys to follow. (2) You're constantly checking the roster -- who's 74? Who's 36? Etc.

    If I had the luxury of keying in on Kanzig than I would be in a better spot to help you. Again, my preliminary assessment is he's not Scott Niedermayer but he's not Brad Marsh either. He's some shade of 'average' but above/below or right in the middle, I'll need to see him play/practice more. Cheers.

  4. Thanks for the update Darren!

  5. Did you happen to notice that Fram kid? Even as an overager that kind off offense from the back end is impressive. So does the play match the output?

  6. Didn't stand out. I did look for him a few times and immediate impression is he's not a physical player. At 6-foot-0, he looked like 5-foot-8 compared to most of the other d-men and didn't look very aggressive with his defending, which won't fly. They need some muscle and size back there. I'll try to take a closer look on Wednesday.

  7. Great articles, I'm now an avid reader, keep up the good work. GFG!

  8. Thanks for the kind words Chris. I appreciate it very much.