In case you missed it, I wrote up Wednesday night’s first practice in some degree of detail. You can find that HERE.
I seem to be running about a day behind with a busy week and the Canes trade activity this week, but installment two of my notes covers both a morning and an evening session of practices for the Carolina Hurricanes 2019 prospect camp.
Credit to the camp invitees
The fast-paced one-hour sessions most times have a dozen things happening all at the same time. The limited time and the small total of 5-6 hours of total ice time makes it challenging to watch each and every player in detail. My first focus is mostly trying to get a read and baseline on the newest draftees, and the Hurricanes added extra this year. And then my second focus is to gauge if/how much the returning players have improved/developed. Doing that seems like a lot such that though I try to do it, it is difficult to really focus on the camp invitees. My aim is to give them credit where it is due, but to be honest it is just hard to track that many players.
So at a general level of giving credit where it is due, the invitees for this camp and also past camps are a solid group of players. The gap between the invitees and the players who were fortunate to be drafted in the mid-late rounds is small. Specifically when I watch this 2019 group, I would struggle and fail to sort the middle range of these players into those who were drafted and those who were not. That is a testament to the ability and level of play of the players invited to the camp this year.
I called out returnees Matt Filipe and David Cotton in my day one notes BEFORE Sergei Samsonov commended both players in the post-practice media session yesterday. Both players again had strong showings on Thursday. Filipe had a stretch of two quick snipe goals on drills followed by another only a couple minutes later that beat the goalie cleanly but clanged the post. As I said yesterday, he has decent size and can skate the NHL game. Add an offensive component, Filipe starts to project as a player who could see NHL ice time.
Cotton had two plays that stood out. One one drill he came over the blue line and sized up a smaller defenseman in front of him. He the proceeded to put the puck where he could protect it going wide and then cut at an angle from the top of the face-off circle to the net once he had his shoulder inside of the defenseman. The play did not finish with a pretty goal, but it showed an ability to assess a situation quickly and also an understanding for how to effectively use his size/reach. The second play was a pretty goal where he carried in from the other side and then deftly handled to his backhand and finished up over the goalie’s shoulder and under the bar. What jumps out with Cotton is his size/reach and capable skating, but that play also suggests that there could be some skilled finishing too.
He has really stood out through three practices. He can flat out scoot. Significantly, Fensore’s speed is not just Ryan Murphy type straight line speed once dialed up. Rather, Fensore has an any which direction type of mobility. He is quick and shifty with a first step or two which helps get him make some space to start moving north-south with the puck. He is also incredibly quick and agile moving laterally which is useful in the offensive and also defending. To little surprise, the challenge for Fensore will be defending against larger players. He is 5-7 and 151 pounds. When people talk about players like Fensore, they often jump straight to the “he needs to get bigger and/or add weight”. That can be true for players who have larger frames and need to add weight, but for the vast majority of undersized players like Fensore, success is not about getting better. Even the bulked up version of him will be undersized relative to NHL forwards. Rather, success is a matter of (1) being exceptional elite in their strengths and (2) figuring out how to do other things that minimize the size disadvantage. So the opposite side of the coin is that he was the defensemen who Cotton ate up easily with a power move and also that Fensore struggled trying to get pucks off the wall when he could not get separation to use his skating ability. I think more than anything the key for smaller defensemen is being nearly flawless positionally and using their sticks well to take away skating lanes/options for players trying to do simple making a quick move, getting the puck and their shoulder past the defenseman and then sealing physically.
Shorter version: Fensore impressed me with his every which way mobility, and I think the NHL increasingly has room for any size player who can skate and think the game. Fensore does have work to do to build a tool set of smarts, positioning and stick play to also be at least competent defensively at higher levels.
Jake Kucharski and Pyotr Kochetkov
I am on record as admitting that scouting/evaluating goalies in these camps is difficult. A significant amount of time is spent in rapid fire drills that in the end find someone firing an uncontested shot from relatively close range. So especially in the practices, trying to guess if a given goalie did well giving up 22 goals on the day or if maybe it should have been more like 16 is impossible.
But what does stand out with Kucharski and Kochetkov is their agility relative to their size. Invitee Cedrick Andree is a bit smaller, but the other four goalies are all north of 6 feet tall but more of the wiry strong Cam Ward or Ryan Miller type of frame. Kucharski clocks in at 6-4 and 222 pounds and Kochetkov at 6-3 and 205 pounds. Both of them are bigger bodies with a bit more strength that could bode well in terms of shouldering a heavy workload over a long season without wearing down. But more significantly, that size does not come with really any of a downgrade in terms of agility and quickness. When I watch the 45 minutes of move-move-move drills that the goalies work through, Kucharski and Kochetkov both move as quickly and as smoothly as the group. That does not guarantee success, but I think size AND agility combined is a good starting point at a physical skill set level.
I read a few things that suggested he might have been a bit of a reach early in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft. The gist of those articles was that his skill set was maybe not as high as other players drafted in that range and that he was maybe overrated based on his name and blood lines. After watching him for two camps now and trying to be open-minded, I guess I can see where there are other players who maybe have better hands and a bigger bag of offensive tools. (On the shootout Drury’s go-to seems to be to pull up a bit early and to try to surprise the goalie with an early/quick shot.) But that is not to say that he is without offensive ability. More significantly, what I think you hope for with a name and blood lines is that a player comes with leadership abilities, hockey smarts and other things past raw physical skill. If you watch Drury closely and past overseeking some type of highlight type play I think you see that. Two things stand out about Drury’s game.
First, he talks on the ice more than any other player in camp. He is vocal during play trying to help his team mates sort things out. He is constantly revisiting things with other players on the way back to the line after a drill. And he is constantly chatting with other players or coaches in between things.
Second, his ability to stay on for a full 40 seconds is mature for his age. He seems to constantly process information and make adjustments without the lulls to just watch for a couple seconds if not directly engaged with the puck. One example is his ability to sort of sit next to or behind a defenseman at the top of the crease and time when/how to step in front of him to get to the top of the crease when the puck might be coming.
2019 fourth-rounder Patrik Puistola did not jump out to me through the first couple practices, so I tried to focus on him a bit for stretch of Thursday evening’s session. His first impression is somewhat similar to fellow Fin Eetu Luostarinen’s last year and maybe also Janne Kuokkanen. Puistola’s game did not seem to have a flashy ‘wow’ factor, but he possesses a decent well-rounded skill set in terms of skating ability, puck skills/hands and hockey sense. Puistola was at his best in a couple of the 3-on-3 rush drills that showed his ability to sort things out, use his skating to find space and then make plays.
Would love to hear observations from others who attended one or both of Thursday’s practices.