Saturday’s event and scrimmage wrapped up a great week of July hockey at PNC Arena.  Sergey Tolchinsky with help from Haydn Fleury tallied ESPN/national media-worthy highlight reel goals.  The sudden mini-army of big, mobile defensemen in the Canes system offered significant reason for hope for the future.  And then Noah Hanifin’s signing in front of fans at the Saturday event capped the great week.

For me, the top highlight was seeing Hanifin’s signing in person on Saturday.  Who knows exactly where the future leads with a young hockey player, but that event (and also when he was drafted) has the potential to be something that Canes fans talk about in 10 years.

My second favorite part of the week is from the files of ‘hometown sentimental.’  In a week that saw Josh Wesley return home to Raleigh for his second development camp and also saw Charlotte area player Bryan Moore (who participated in the Canes camp in 2014) sign a professional contract, we also had Raleigh kid Trevor Owens on the ice at PNC Arena.  Not sure why, but it really hit home for me when he was front and center for the end of scrimmage stick salute on Saturday.  For a kid who grew up in Raleigh, I can only imagine how special it must have been for him to put on a Hurricanes jersey and play Canes (summer prospect version but still) hockey for a week.

On the more analytical side, here are my thoughts from the week of prospect camp leaning heavy on the Saturday scrimmage:

–Sebastian Aho.  He was the best player by a pretty good margin in the scrimmage on Saturday.  His three goals probably vault him to the top of many people’s lists, but for me it really was not so much the goals (2 of them were tap ins from great passes and being in the right place).  I was impressed by his soft hands and skill in the drills earlier in the week and even more impressed with his ability to carry and move the puck through the middle of the rink even when faced with defensemen in pretty good position.  At his young age, you can already see where he has that vision and awareness that usually translates to playmaking and heady positional/decision-making play.

–Haydn Fleury.  He did not do anything to jump out during the scrimmage, but 1-2 maneuvering rushes up the ice with the puck validated what I noticed in the earlier practices which is that he has taken a big step forward (from a great starting place) from last summer in terms of skating, especially with the puck on his stick.  Numbers-wise with Hanifin now signed too, the Canes might have a slight preference toward him spending one more year in juniors, but it will be interesting to see if he can show up at training camp and make it impossible not to keep him.

–Warren Foegele.  Of the forwards, he ranked second on Saturday.  What impressed me was his pace and intensity.  Per my Twitter comment below, he jumped out as Nathan Gerbe-esque on Saturday.  This is a recipe for driving tempo and creating scoring chances without the puck on the forecheck.  When coupled with skill which he also has, it projects very well.

–Nolan Stevens.  With about 30 players of which about half I was seeing for the first time, it is difficult to do any kind of detailed analysis of all of them.  This is especially true when a big chunk of my attention is focused on watching the big names like Hanifin, Fleury, Aho, etc.  So especially in a cap where the general theme at forward was big kids still with some work to do skating/hockey-wise, the forwards who entered the week off my radar very much blended together.  But the one who jumped out on Saturday was Nolan Stevens.  He showed some moves, skill and finishing with the puck on his stick and a bit of open ice.  I guess the near-term measure for whether the Canes coaches were also impressed could be an invite to play on the Canes prospect squad at Traverse City.

From my first impression after watching him for the first time Tuesday night…

–Noah Hanifin.  Like everyone else, I came into camp expecting to see a skilled, smooth skating, big young defenseman.  Hanifin obviously matched that description.  So instead of repeating what we all know, let me chime in with two first impressions on Hanifin.  First, he very much reminds of Joni Pitkanen, as a big effortless smooth skating left defenseman.  In addition to the physical aspect, his willingness, comfort and desire to sometimes keep the puck on his stick a bit longer until he had a good option to get rid of it very much reminded me of Pitkanen’s style.  Second, from some of the drills, his ‘finishing hands’ that are not often part of even good defensemen’s bag of tools stood out.  He has the ability to do a bit more than just beat a player with his wheels and then chuck it at the net.

–Josh Wesley.  He continues to develop and improve and did not look out of place playing the right side next to Hanifin or Fleury.  His path to the NHL is likely a bit longer, but he seems to be good value in the 4th round of 2014 and is progressing.

–Jaccob Slavin.  In both drills and the scrimmage, he had a few turnovers where he tried to do too much at the blue line, but in terms of raw skill, he brings yet another big, skating left shot defenseman.  The Canes are suddenly deep on the blue line in the system.

–Sergey Tolchinsky.  He is just fun.  With highlight reel plays pretty daily all week and incredible smarts and creativity, he truly has NHL level offensive skill.  This week he at times had a propensity to just keep holding the puck looking for something dazzling which is fine in development camp.  I will be curious to see how his game translates to training camp where things will be a bit tighter.

–The forwards in general.  The thing that everyone who wrote about the camp noted was the size compared to years past.  My general impression of the group of forwards was that there was some skill to go with the size, but that most of them had some work to do in terms of skating and skill on their path to someday winning an NHL spot.

All in all, Canes prospect camp 2015 had a nice buzz and optimism to it.  It is only exhibition, but I would love to see the organization challenge this bunch to go win the Traverse City tournament this summer and then see them do it.


Go Canes!

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