Some of these notes and a few others made it onto Twitter earlier tonight, so if you are Twitter-inclined, it might make sense to browse there as well.
Here are my notes from day 1 of the Hurricanes prospect camp:
—Warren Foegele: He vaulted onto my radar this time last year. Foegele was a relatively unknown, non-headline mid-round draft pick. What stood out then and stood out again today was his play without the puck. I have compared him to Erik Cole and Justin Williams in his ability to create havor on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. At a very basic and non-technical level, he has a great knack for getting in the way of everything when the other team has the puck. At least in the prospect-level group, he is above average for speed, but it is more about figuring out where he needs to get to and then skating hard to close space quickly. Justin Williams might be the all-time Hurricanes master of this. When you watched Williams skate drills next to fast players, he was never looked that fast comparatively, but in game situations he just seemed faster. It puzzled me for a couple years, but after watching and wondering for long enough I figured out that what he did well was not his skating speed but his ability to figure where he needed to get to to take something away from the other team and being as consistent as anyone ever in terms of skating hard for his full 45 seconds every shift.
Kevin LeBlanc and Brock Otten from OHL Prospects who both track prospects much closer than I do and watched a decent amount of the part of his 2015-16 season that was in Kingston had positive reviews too. Brock compared Foegele to New York Islander fourth-liner Casey Cizikas. That is obviously less exciting than my Williams and Cole comparisons. At a basic level I think the assessment is that his skating, forechecking and 2-way play in the middle of the ice projects nicely for Foegele developing into a solid depth forward. The difference between that and a third-line forward is simply ability to produce offensively too.
As an aside but related, during the stretching at the end of practice Ulf Samuelsson came over to Foegele and talked to him for 5-7 minutes and finished with a quick tap with his stick. I was obviously not privy to the conversation but more often than not in a group of 27, getting a new coach’s attention is a good thing.
—Haydn Fleury: Suddenly in his third prospect camp, he looked mature and at the high end of the competition which is exactly what one would hope for and expect from Fleury. If the week continues on this path, we will be able to check the box for a successful prospect camp, but the real evaluation and try out for Fleury does not come until preseason. Last fall, he had a solid preseason and made it past the major cuts that sent most players back to juniors. Simply because of numbers, Fleury was a long shot to make the team anyway, but a fateful preseason game against the Islanders that saw him get eaten alive by John Tavares’ line showed that even if he might be NHL-capable another year in juniors might still be okay for his development.
—Jake Bean: As I noted on Twitter, he did not stand out to me in a practice that was heavy on drills and light on scrimmaging and other things closer to real hockey games. This actually does not surprise me. Bean’s resume coming in is not so much that of a flashy player or physical specimen because of speed and/or size. He came in labeled as a heady playmaker from the back end. So I think the real read on his game will come to some degree in the Saturday scrimmage and to a larger degree in the Traverse City tourney in September. That said, in watching him 2 things did jump out about his play. First was that he possesses the same soft, skilled forward-type hands that Hanifin showed this time last season. He is adept at receiving and handling passes even when off a bit and similarly skilled at moving the puck to a team mate either via short or long passes. The other thing that I noticed was his skating not so much in terms of raw straight line speed but in terms of ability to move laterally, change direction and maintain speed while adjusting lanes.
—Julien Gauthier: (Insert obligatory comment about how big and strong he is) What impressed me about Gauthier was that his movement, agility and everything else looked similar to smaller, theoretically more skill type players. Skating-wise Gauthier goes from a stop to decent speed in only a couple strides which can be a challenge for bigger players especially when young. (Nicolas Roy struggles a bit in this regard.) And once moving, Gauthier’s skating stride is pretty smooth. Top it off with decent hands and shot, and I really like his game and am inching toward wondering if he might be ready sooner rather than later.
Some interesting perspective on Gauthier is his 2015-16 journey. He started the season projected by most to be a top 10 pick. Most of what I hunted down had him as high as 7 and as low as 12. The Canes selected him at #21. Why? By many accounts, he had a sub-par 2015-16 season playing in a league that he should have been able to completely dominate physically. Important to note is that I do not track the QMJHL closely, so this more research and speculation than scouting and reporting. He averaged about a point per game in 2015-16 which was almost identical on a per game basis to his 2014-15 season. Basically there was no improvement in terms of production. But here is the thing. As a power forward whose game is a bit more about getting in close and finishing, I think there is more of a ceiling production-wise because it is more situation-driven (how many pucks find your stick in close) than a dazzling puck handler.
Drawing any kind of drastic conclusion after 1 day of practice is crazy obviously, but Gauthier is the player who most captured my imagination today in terms of both upside and potential to do it soon.
—Speed and size on the wings: A significant portion of the forward roster today can be loosely categorized as mid/late-round prospects with decent NHL size and at least average straight line speed. Bigger is better than smaller all things being equal, but I am on record as taking speed over size every single time in today’s NHL where offense comes from attacking with pace and at least some skill. While there might not be a ton of high-end talent past Gauthier and perhaps Kuokkanen in the group, there are enough players with the physical skill to manufacture at least depth forwards who help Francis achieve his goal of making the team deeper.
—Bill Peters and my favorite light moment: Bill Peters showed up to run his usual up-tempo and crisp practice. It is not that he seemed upset, but he was animated and vocal in terms of pushing pace, barking instructions or whatever else. And he meant business. But in the middle of it all there was a play where Jake Bean was exiting the defensive zone and was tripped at about the blue line sending him skidding to the ice in front of Peters. I could not hear who said what or if Bean said something first, but the end result was Peters making a diving signal with his hand and a big smile which showed it was a brief moment fun in the middle of the work.
—Hudson Elynuik: First impression of Elynuik was that he has a pretty good set of hands for a big center who measures 6-5 and 201 pounds at age 18. He seemed to spend more time in the opposite end at least when I was watching but is on my short list of players to try to watch a bit more closely on Thursday.
I have 1 wild card schedule-wise that could throw a wrench in things, but my hope is to attend Thursday evening’s practice and post similar Twitter-size notes shortly after practice and then a few more details at the end of the night.
Most of the conversation tends to live on Twitter, but it would be wonderful if others who attended Wednesday’s practice chimed in with their observations.