Matt’s comments: I am in the middle of one of those stretches of life where running a hockey website does not align with broader life. I managed to swap some amount of sleep to keep up with things in total but could not make it to prospect camp on Thursday night. Thankfully, Canes and Coffee is luck to have a well-timed guest article covering Thursday’s practice.
I would love to hear other attendees’ thoughts on Thursday’s practice on top of Craig’s below.
Craig Johnson bio
Craig (Twitter=@cwjohnson23) grew up in Virginia where he played dangerously thin ice pond hockey on a nearby pond those couple of times a year when it froze over. The Capitals were his team by geography, but they were pretty horrible and tough to follow. Fast forward to 2000 when Craig and his family moved from Wilmington to Raleigh. A good friend took him to a couple of Hurricanes games (his company had killer seats) and Craig was hooked. For the 17 years since, Craig has been an “on again/off again” season ticket holder. He attended every home game of both Stanley Cup runs, culminating with going to the 2006 Finals game with his 8 year old and 10 year old sons. Craig and his family remain die-hard Caniacs.
Craig lives in Chapel Hill and writes occasionally for both CanesCountry and the new CanesEdge blogs.
Craig’s prospect camp notes from Thursday
As I’ve intimated previously, the 2nd day of prospect camp tends to be much more telling as the kids are stiff, tired, but also more aware of processes and expectations. Today was no different. The first drill, an end to end affair, went on much longer than any two drills of the previous day. Seemingly, it was to loosen the guys up and get the kinks worked out. I sat at the other end from the first day so I had more exposure to Callum Booth and Eetu Makiniemi in net. The action, regardless, was very spirited. The other observation is that, overall, the drills were more spirited and business-like.
A general observation, and this is something I’ve noted every prospects camp I’ve been to, is that most of the guys come out tight and a little muscle-weary. In my estimation, the guys seem to have the same jump as the first day, generally tend to be the better prospects overall. I think this held true again this year. As far as individual performances, here was my read on the guys:
He continues to impress. His leadership (or attempt at leadership) was evident and was mostly by example. His puck-handling skills are just so very solid. Coupled with his confidence, he always seems to get his shot off or find the clear seam for the pass. Throughout the afternoon he demonstrated terrific puck skills. He had at least two instances where he gave subtle head fakes, small stick fakes, or look offs that ultimately led to goals. I don’t want to gush, but he was one of the 3 or 4 best players on the ice the last two days.
I was somewhat critical of him yesterday as I felt he had trouble with the puck on his stick. He seemed much more comfortable today, almost as if his hands were just plain softer. I didn’t see him lose control once and he scored a couple of nice “settle the puck and accurately shoot it” goals. There were also a couple of times where he was thinking ahead of his mates, so the passes didn’t connect but everybody watching knew what he was trying to do and realized that it was “a good idea”.
What a difference a day makes! Frankly, he was a different player. He seemed totally engaged, more physically ready for the drills, was skating better, and demonstrated the sweet hands and skills that got him 170 points over the last two seasons. He had 3 or 4 snipes where his release was quick and the shots went to the spots where the goalie had no chance. He made a few nice feeds and even had a deke or two that for a guy with his size were quite impressive.
He wasn’t the opposite of Roy, but he looked more out of sorts than anything else. He had trouble handling the puck, made errant passes, and generally shot into the chest protector. His skating is really good, but he seems to have trouble capitalizing on that. The funny thing is that he doesn’t look bad, just “off”.
If anybody has seen their stock rise it is this guy. He’s fast. He’s shifty. And he’s got a highly underrated shot. Time and again, whomever he was paired with, they owned the defense and usually scored. His passing skills seem to be on display more than I remember, too. While this is something of a pleasant surprise, my thinking is to let him percolate for another couple of years in Wisconsin and he could be another hidden gem.
I really liked this big kid last season, but I’ve not been impressed at all this camp. A couple of times he was caught flat-footed, sort of just standing around. He had a nice play or two, but mostly his play was marred by muffs, mishits, and general mediocre play.
He was super impressive yesterday and he basically picked up where he left off. It was, however, apparent that he was feeling the effects of practice/training. He was a little less “energetic”. Still, he again rifled several highlight reel goals. He just wasn’t as able to separate from the defenders.
Brendan De Jong
Speaking of defenders, it was a day and night display for De Jong. He was “adequate” yesterday and was, frankly, mostly invisible. Not today. De Jong was the most effective defender in every drill that called for defensive work. His positioning and skating were superb. His offensive game, however, has a way to go. He’s okay with the clear, crisp pass, but he does fold a bit under pressure.
He was nearly invisible today except for one offensive sequence where he gathered the puck and shot all in one motion, netting a short side beauty. In all honesty, I wasn’t watch for him very much, but you couldn’t miss him yesterday. Today that wasn’t the case.
I just have to reinforce Matt’s thoughts on this guy. What an enigma! Last year at camp and even more so at Traverse City, where he was called upon to fill Haydn Fleury’s first pairing shoes following his injury, he stepped up and looked like a calm, cool, collected professional. He made good reads, quick outlet passes, and kept his man to the outside consistently. Then during the season he was something of a train wreck, even getting sent home for a few days by his team. Once he was traded he was a bit better, but mostly nondescript. Today, he was the 2nd best defender on the ice. In particular his vision and passing were quite noticeable.
What I really like about Bean this year is that he’s somewhat under the radar. You don’t really notice him. In my opinion, that is a great trait in a defender because it means they are doing their job without a lot of fanfare. Bean had a number of just plain solid defensive plays and augmented it with two very nice, high cheese goals. He’s nowhere near ready for the NHL, but today you could see a glimmer of what the scouts all seemed to understand.
I’m a huge Cotton fan and think he’s got a game that could ultimately translate to the pros. That said, he struggled early today but came on late. He’s very workman-like and doesn’t make the glaring error. However, you can see the skill he has and he leaves you wanting more, despite a couple of very nice offensive displays.
Much like Nic Roy, what a difference 24 hours makes. Something clicked with him today. He had more “spring in his step” and just played a better game today. He had 3 or 4 very nice snipes, made one of the better feeds that led to a Kuokkanen goal, and seemed to have found another gear. I was worried yesterday that he was just plain raw, but apparently somebody told him to quit thinking and just play his game. He looked much more natural.
The other “Eetu” was very impressive today. He has “cat-like quickness”. His anticipation is really superb. He’ the type of net minder that always seems to be in position for the rebound or the next shot. He also never seems to flop on his stomach or his back, even when he’s making a spectacular save. He and Jack LaFontaine have both been very impressive (or as impressive as a goalie can look when they see 100 or more shots in an hour).
There were a number of other interesting observations where I could spend another couple of pages detailing: Smallman looked more into the game, Booth and Helvig are technically sound, Lorentz continues to over-achieve, etc. All in all the practice was upbeat and exciting. The guys generally answered the call.
While I didn’t mention him specifically, I pointed this out yesterday and it bears repeating. Martin Necas shows like a Top 10 pick in the draft. He’s the most complete package of speed, skill, shot, and agility of any Hurricanes prospect I’ve seen, Aho included. Today was but another example of that. He’s a blue chipper and in a year, two, or three, he’s going to burst onto the scene and only knowledgeable Caniacs are going to expect it.
Canes and Coffee extends a huge thank you to Craig Johnson for generously sharing his views on the Thursday practice.
Canes and Coffee also extends an advance thank you to everyone else who generously shares their viewpoint in the comments below. 🙂