Below are my comments from day 2 of the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp. Comments are primarily from the evening practice which I attended in person though I did also watch the streaming version of the morning practice.
—Max Zimmer (versus the group at wing): I noted yesterday that the Hurricanes have a good collection of wings with both decent size and decent skating ability. Aside from Julien Gauthier, the players are also similar in that they were mostly picked in middle to late rounds where teams are hoping to find diamonds in the rough who can mature over time. Drafting players with NHL-capable physical ability in terms of skating and size and then patiently developing them is the path to having a deeper farm system with more players capable of at least filling in at the NHL level. It also increases the team’s ability to build an above average ‘new NHL’ fourth line internally at a near minimum cost from good young players. So the pool of Warren Foegele (3rd rd; 6-2 190lb), Valentin Zykov (2nd rd; 6-1 224lb), Max Zimmer (4th rd; 6-0 190lb), Matt Filipe (3rd rd; 6-2 198lb), Luke Stevens (5th rd; 6-5 200lb), Spencer Smallman (6th rd; 6-1 200lb), Steven Lorentz (7th rd; 6-4 201lb) and David Cotton (6th rd; 6-2 200lb) makes a great pool of 8 players who project physically as potential NHL players. With many being mid/late draft selections, they will not all make the NHL level, but for this need the Hurricanes are set to play the volume and the odds to net a couple NHL players a couple years down the road.
At a generic level, I think it is reasonably fair to say that all of these players skate reasonably well for their size, but from watching the bunch today, the player that jumped out in terms of skating ability was Max Zimmer. He accelerates reasonably well from a stop, has good straight line speed going north/south and maybe stood out most from the pool in his ability to change direction, skate laterally and keep his legs moving when turning fairly sharply. With these players being at least a year away from the NHL, there is no final decision to be made right now, especially based only on first impressions from a couple days of prospect camp. That said, my early favorite is Max Zimmer because I continue to think that it’s “skating above all else” (even size) in today’s NHL.
—Hudson Elynuik: I said on Twitter shortly after the conclusion of practice that he is probably the player who is most different from what I expected. Important to note is that I do not scout pre-draft players all year round and my expectations are dictated by a limited amount of research and watching a few highlight videos on Youtube. My starting point had Elynuik roughly in the category of player as a power forward type center maybe a bit like Josef Vasicek from years past. The size is there at 6-5, 194 pounds and a frame that projects to be 15 pounds heavier in 2-4 years. But his game is very much that of a skill player who can handle and distribute the puck and also has a decent shot and bag of tricks in close. My notes for Saturday’s scrimmage are to see what he can do playmaking-wise in a game-like situation.
—Mixed results in a challenging drill for defensemen: One of the most interesting and difficult drills that the Canes did on Wednesday night was a drill that saw a forward get the puck at the defensive blue line with a defenseman in front of them but starting from a stand still without much of a head start. The forward picked up the puck and was off to the races while the defensemen made an effort to get going backward quick enough and build enough speed to defend the rush. The drill was challenging for everyone but therefore an interesting and important measure for defensemen for who fast and well they could skate and defend going backwards. (After all that is what they do for a significant part of a real hockey game.) The results were mixed and no one was perfect, but some were better than others. The older (and therefore maybe stronger) defensemen were not surprisingly the best at this. Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown were able to pretty consistently at least get back to the defensive blue line still skating backwards and not getting blown by such that they still at least had a chance to prevent a 1-0 rush to the net. Josh Wesley was the other player who stood out for being able to get back fast enough or at least nearly so, and 6-4 camp invitee Alex Peters used a combination of lateral reach and decent skating to also keep himself in the play more often than not. Jake Bean struggled with this drill, had a couple times where forwards blew around him and went in uncontested and was very much in the lower category for this drill. He is 18 years old, so I think it is as simple as taking note that this is probably an area in which he still needs to improve.
—Roland McKeown: The thing that is most noticeable in his play is how well he uses his stick. He has a very good knack for having his stick in passing lanes and also using it to poke pucks away or deflect loose passes.
—Julien Gauthier: He continues to look like a great pick all the way back at #21. Despite the fact that he is 6-4 and 225 pounds, his skill level and agility are at least on par as some of the smaller players who might be tagged with “skill player” in the same vein that he is called a “power forward” which can sometimes imply less skilled. The comparison at Dobber Prospects (and I think I might have seen it elsewhere) is Rick Nash. The more I watch him, the more I see that resemblance in his game as a big body with enough quickness to eat up a small chunk of ice in a hurry to make a shooting lane or path to the net. The area of his game that is less refined is sometimes playing with the puck on his stick when the obvious choice is to drive the net. He has room to improve in terms of understanding when to pass the puck and then drive the net versus when to keep and carry and also knowing when to make the pass off the rush.
—Alex Nedeljkovic: As I told someone today, I feel like I am at a loss for evaluating goalies in practices like this. The practices feature a huge volume of players shooting off a full speed rush with no defenseman in front of them such that if they pick and hit a corner they score. The result is a save percentage of .850 even on a good day. That said, Nedeljkovic had a stretch on Thursday at about the middle of practice in which he reeled off a string of saves many of which were good enough to get a reaction from the crowd. More interesting for me is watching his demeanor in net. I really like the way he seems to take every goal personally, not in an exaggerated temper tantrum kind of way but rather in way that shows that he competes for each and every puck and does not take a few minutes off here and there effort or intensity-wise because it is just practice.
—Janne Kuokkanen: He was primarily at the other end of the rink in the day 1 practice and did not stand out to me when he did make it to my end. He did stand out on Thursday most notably with his deceptive speed while carrying the puck through the neutral zone. In one drill that the players go back and forth and finish with what was supposed to be a 2-on-1 rush, he consistently seemed to push ahead of his partner and then have to veer wide, slow down a bit or otherwise adjust to do the drill right. This is eerily reminiscent in a good way obviously of Sebastian Aho last summer who similarly did not seem to stand out as lightning fast but just got from point A to point B efficiently and ahead of schedule.
—Nicolas Roy out sick: For those who saw my Twitter post during the morning practice, Cory Lavalette from the North State Journal reported after the evening practice that he was feeling under the weather today. Here is hoping he kicks whatever is ailing him quick and can be back on the ice on Friday and Saturday.