First let me say that it is impossible to cover everything here. I will probably follow up with another article or two on the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp once the initial frenzy from free agency passes.
But here is at least a first set of notes from the scrimmage combined with context from the rest of the week.
In more crowded 5-on-5 hockey, he will need to make some simpler plays and not be able to just dangle with the puck indefinitely, but he used the 3-on-3 space to showcase his skill set well.
Let me start with an interesting assertion. Specifically in terms of playmaking skills with the puck on his stick and the need to generate scoring options out of mostly nothing, his skill set is more advanced than both Andrei Svechnikov (who is admittedly more of a scorer) and Martin Necas. All good NHL offensive players can see and exploit open passing lanes. Many players (Necas fits well in this category) have the ability to pressure defenses with their mobility/ability to skate to make space for themselves or their line mates. But one skill that elite playmakers usually have is some crazy ability to generate passing lanes or scoring chances out of nothing. I think Ryan Suzuki has that cerebral ability to make subtle plays to make a defense shift or move his stick or to pull players out of passing lanes. Quick example…He had a play where he carried into the offensive zone 2v3 with really not much doing offensively. He made a play to turn to the outside which pulled his defender with him and to the outside. Then he made some odd looking flip back toward the middle of the ice he had vacated. Sure enough the third player on his team was coming from behind into that space. The play looked random, but with a 2-on-3 and nothing doing in a couple seconds Suzuki managed to…(1) Recognize the need to buy time and make some space in the middle of the rink; (2) While turning (pass was blind) he read lane and speed of team mate coming up middle; (3) Managed to get puck through defender with perfect timing into space.
Suzuki came in billed as a playmaking type center with NHL skill and fairly high standing as first rounder, so the basics are not a surprise. But I came away higher on him that the pretty positive scouting report primarily because of how well/creatively he thinks the game.
Cotton played the majority of his time with Suzuki. That duo was dominant in terms of puck possession cycling out around the face-off circles in the offensive zone. But I actually left a bit disappointed in Cotton’s game. He did well figuring out where to be to help cycle the puck and maintain possession but did not seem to have an understanding for when Suzuki did not need the puck support and he should instead have been finding a place to receive and shoot for a scoring chances. I actually think this was why Suzuki maybe spent a bit too much time dangling around with the puck.
That said, David Cotton had a strong camp and showed himself to be at the top of this group as he should as an older player. If he had not done so already, I think David Cotton earned his entry-level contract this week.
He had a strong scrimmage to put an exclamation point on a strong week. Like Cotton, I think Matt Filipe earned his entry-level contract this week (if did not have it coming in). In Saturday’s scrimmage, he had a nifty snipe off the rush for a goal and another near miss. He also had two nifty passing plays off the rush to set up team mates. Combine his offensive ability with his good combination of size and skating ability and he easily checks out as a player who has earned time in the AHL to continue tracking toward the NHL.
Local invitee (Cary) Nick Hale finished up a strong camp. He had a pinball goal shooting into traffic in front of the net and a couple other good scoring chances that he could have had a couple. What stood out about him was his compete level all camp. He is undersized at 5-8 and 161 pounds but scrappy and not hesitant to engage. Good for him continuing the tradition of having a local invitee match up well against future NHL competition.
What stands out about Jamieson Rees is his nose for the puck. He is a bit smaller but reminded me of my first impressions of Warren Foegele at prospect camp a few years back. Foegele had a knack for just always being around the puck and being engaged 24/7. Rees is the same. He seemed to constantly either have the puck, battling for it or hounding whoever had it. That style of play and tenaciousness is a good fit for Brind’Amour’s aggressive forechecking system.
The goalies in general were good. I would really categorize any of the goals as soft. Invitee Andree had one of the best stretches of the goalies. In a short sequence where his team’s defense seemed to take a break, he stoned Felipe and two others in quick succession on grade A chances off the rush.
This light-checking 3-on-3 format is right up Fensore’s ally. He continued a week of showcasing his ‘every which way and fast’ skating ability in Saturday’s finale. He had an assist on the Hale goal and multiple other plays where he used his mobility to pressure the defense. No doubt his skill set is a perfect fit for 3-on-3 hockey. The question is whether he can be effective offensively with more crowded ice 5-on-5 and if he can be sharp enough in terms of positioning and decision-making to be at least adequate defensively despite his size disadvantage.
Kevin Wall capped off the week with a strong offensive performance. He showed acceleration and finishing on a goal of the rush and also made a handful of heady passes to generate chances for team mates. With decent size, skating ability and puck skills, he is an intriguing prospect for being a sixth round selection.
Henman started the scoring with a snipe off the rush early in the scrimmage. What stood out more was the increased strength in his stride. As a lanky undersized first-timer at prospect camp last summer, he had a smoothness and ease about his movements but not really much for a burst or acceleration. The goal and a couple other plays showed him to be a bit stronger. He is an even 6 feet tall and has a nice well-rounded skill set. His path to the NHL is probably more like 4-5 years if it happens, but despite not posting overly impressive numbers for the 2018-19 season, he seems to have made step-wise progress physically since last summer.
As noted above, I will circle back around to the scrimmage and prospect camp in general probably after things calm down after the start of free agency.
Would love to hear others’ thoughts on the Saturday scrimmage either here or on Twitter works too.