The Ottawa Senators annual development camp is a great opportunity to see firsthand prospects that are often talked and written about but rarely seen. All on-ice sessions are open to the public, and provide a look at the current strengths and weaknesses of the younger players in the organization.
After the Rebuild Draft of 2010, I was able to attend almost all of the sessions of the camp, and wrote fanposts on all of them. At the time it was my first look at newly drafted players like Mika Zibanejad and highly touted prospects like David Rundblad and Jakob Silfverberg, so I jumped at the chance. I came away with an appreciation for them, but also for players like Mike Hoffman, Shane Prince and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, three players I previously knew very little about. I took the time to write fanposts of the days I attended, and as we are a much displaced community of Sens fans, this was appreciated. Today, I thought I would do the same, and provide brief thoughts on some of the players I watched today.
Mika Zibanejad: Obviously one of the better players on the ice, Mika looks much more polished than he did in his first camp. One thing that I noticed is that too often instead of using his size and speed, he would try to cut in with a deke, and ended up losing the puck. Perhaps it was because he is essentially assured a spot on the roster for next year, but not much effort was expended on his part today.
Cory Conacher: The best player on the ice, and that makes sense. He is older and has significant pro experience. His speed was on full display and he used it very effectively. One thing I was very happy to see was that he seemed to have taken on a bit of a leadership role on the ice. He was demonstrating drills and players were coming to him with questions.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau: The Saviour (TM) looked quite average today. Again, there might be a touch of complacency like with Mika, but he was another player who didn't use his speed, instead he tried often to make a fancy move. However, in flashes, you could see his intelligence on display.
The Bingo Boys
Shane Prince: This guy is the real deal. I would say he was the best player in his group. His speed is second only to Connacher, and his puck control, vision and shot are all incredibly impressive. He is also one of the more colourful guys out there, celebrating after goals and hooting and hollering when a teammate makes a nice play. Not sure where he fits long term, but I expect a big year from Prince.
Mark Stone: I was expecting a lot from Stone. I was... a bit disappointed. His skating is certainly not at the level of some other players, and as such he didn't stand out the way I'd hope. In tight around the net his hands looked good, but in line rush and one-on-one drills he looked average.
Wacey Hamilton: Easily the most improved of all the players I saw today when compared the the last time that I saw them. His skating was very strong and he made some great plays with the puck. Can see him as a bottom six player sometime in the future. As an aside, much was made about his "character" when he was signed. I'll say this: the players love him. Always smiling, laughing, joking and even tossed a puck over the glass to a couple kids watching.
The High Draft Picks
Cody Ceci: Another player I expected would stand out a bit more than he did. He is undoubtably a very good skater, and is good with the puck, but there was certainly no "wow" factor with him. He flew under the radar a bit today.
Curtis Lazar: I must say, for a 17 year old, he looks pretty good. He also looks much more offensive minded than I was first lead to believe, as he has a very good shot. He was one of the better skaters out there as well. But man oh man, he looks about 14 years old. He makes Jeff Skinner look 50.
Matt Puempel: I was intrigued to see Matt play, as he was injured the last time I attended camp. He skates well and has a nose for the net. He has a very hard shot that he can get off very quickly, though he missed the net a little more than I liked to see. Think we'll see him on a scoring line in Bingo this year, and I'm curious to see how he does.
Marcus Högberg: This guy is HUGE. Listed as 6'5, he is at least that. Not much net to shoot at when he is there, and he moves laterally very well. I heard he may have had a tough go in the scrimmage last night, but he was nails today, very impressive.
François Brassard: Very talented. Not many pucks went into the net behind him. He was laughing and joking with JGP and others between drills, but was focused and intense during them. Would be cool to see him play for the World Junior team this year.
The Best of the Rest
Buddy Robinson: I was very impressed with Big Buddy Robinson, and make no mistake, BBR is massive. He towers over other players, and is more than a head taller than Cory Connacher. Despite being a big man, he skates fairly well and is very capable with the puck. In front of the net he made some great plays, and used his size to his advantage all day, while other players didn't.
Michael Sdao: This guy is all business. Not many smiles, no joking, and he just plays hard. There was one drill where he was one-on-one with Prince in the offensive zone, and he tossed Shane around like a rag-doll. Very impressive show of strength.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Jarrod Maidens: Wearing the only grey jersey with no number or name on the back, it took me a little while to figure out who he was, but man oh man, I'm glad I did. This kid can play. His skill with the puck was easily top 5 of the players I saw, and nobody (in either group) scored more than he did. There was one drill where the puck was cycled around and ended up in the slot for a shot. He was paired with Puempel and he scored over and over and over again. He couldn't miss. If he can get healthy, this is a player we'll be talking about much more often.
There you have it. I left many players out, so if you have a question about any, let me know in the comments. If you have had the chance to attend any sessions, let us know some of your thoughts.