Sunday afternoon marked the first 1st of three of 4 on 4 scrimmages that are scheduled to be held during camp. All of the players did drills for about 40 minutes and then they left the ice for the Zamboni. Each squad had a 4 defensemen and 11 or 10 forwards. That means there were just 2 D pairings on each team and 5 forward pairings--so the defense got quite a work out and the forwards had to really wait their turn. Furthermore the teams were told not to hit--All Star Game rules were in force. So the rules really favored finesse players and kept big hitters (Klingberg, Chariot, Sol) who showing their physical dimension. Defensemen and goalies were at a disadvantage.
They played two periods and the game ended with a tie and a 5 man shootout. The practice facility was almost full this Sunday afternoon. I strongly prefer watching hockey from end end zone perspective and from above (easier to see spacing on the ice) so I found a seat up high during the Zamboni resurfacing. Much of the Thrashers brass came up and sat on either side. I'm not going to repeat anything that was said out of respect for their privacy--they were not giving an interview to me in that setting. I will however make this observation--they are hockey fans too. They let out an occasional "ooh" and "aah" after good offensive or defensive play. They are all rooting for these young men to excel. There was an undercurrent of genuine excitement about this nominally meaningless scrimmage--and the young prospects did not disappoint--they put on a good show that ended in a 6-6 tie and a shootout.
Trying to capture the action of a hockey game is a hopeless task, there are simply too many things taking place simultaneously. I'm going to run through some key plays and then make comments about which players distinguished themselves in my eyes. If you are a friend or family of a prospect please remember that I can't comment on everyone and my opinion is not the one that matters ultimately.
1st Goal: Jimmy Bubnick circled behind the net and dished to the front of the net where Zach Redmond shoveled it in.
2nd Goal: Bubnick fired a shot from the left boards that somehow eluded 35. Weak goal, it was a groaner.
3rd Goal: Eric O'Dell carries the puck over the blueline, fakes going outside cuts back inside and fires a forehand wrister. Pretty move.
4th Goal: This was sort of strange one, it looked like almost like an icing play, but it was the defending team that had sent the puck the length of the ice and thus no icing. I think a couple of players might have expected a whistle. Daulton Leveille wasn't fooled picked up the puck in the corner skated right towards the net and scored.
5th Goal: So far in camp Carl Klingberg has displayed really nice puck skills, but I wasn't wowed with his finishing ability. Well he took a pass just inside the blueline and just drove to the net on a 45 degree angle of attack and just ripped a shot for a goal. Very exciting power move.
6th Goal: So I missed one in the 1st, sorry about that.
6th Goal: Evander Kane took a loose rebound and circled behind the net for a nice wrap around goal.
7th Goal: Riley Holzapfel made a sweet dish to a flying John Albert for an easy back door tally, goalie had no chance.
8th Goal: Vinny Saponari scored it. I missed the play while writing down the previous goal.
9th Goal: Goalie made a quality save but Bubnick took the loose rebound and put it upstairs.
10th Goal: Kingberg gets his second with another power move to the net.
11th Goal: Jeremy Morin showed off his gold plated hands. Red Line Report had commented that he can be quiet all game but win it the last 5 minutes. In this case he tied with a super quick shot. After tying it in the final minute, Morin very nearly won the game for Team Blue with another terrific looking shot that was saved.
Shootout: I missed the first shooter's number but Spencer Machacek, Andrew Kozek, Evander, Kane, Redmond, Jeremy Morin, Jay Gilbert, Paquette (lost control of puck and collided with goalie), Bubnick all failed to convert. The only SO goal was a jaw dropper by Paul Postma who came did some razzle dazzle stick dribble moves and then fired a roof shot that hit the bottom of the crossbar and went into the net.
Some non-goal individual plays that caught my eye in numerical order (jersey number)
35 Personally I find evaluating goaltenders very difficult. However you didn't need to be an expert to see that Chris Carrozzi had a rather rough first period. The format did favor the forwards of course.
40 John Albert had a partial breakaway, but made one too many moves and cut down his own shooting angle.
41 Daulton Leveille had a wide open shot in close and just missed the net, second missed shot on that shift.
42 Andrew Kozek had two really hard shots. He has looked better this year than in previous Prospect Camps. On the other hand, he is now one of the oldest players and so he ought to look good when matched up against players younger than himself.
43 Riley Holzapfel made a couple of good stickhandling moves that allowed him to create space for a spot in the slot area for himself.
44 Carl Klingbeg made a nice read to steal the puck but then lost control and turnover it back over in the neutral zone. Got a wide open shot from the high slot.
45 On the first day I commented that Jeremy Morin's skating is so ugly you know that it can be improved upon. In game play he had no problem getting from A to B out on the ice. He's not going to win any footraces but if paired with other speedy wingers he could have a nice Andrew Brunette or Ray Sheppard career ahead of him.
46 Spencer Machacek and Evander Kane both played on the Vancouver Giants for one season and they played as a froward pair. They generated offensive pressure virtually every shift. Ripped a shot just wide from the top of the circle in 1st period.
48 Will O'Neil mishandled puck creating a turnover. Had a spirited battle in the corner with Machacek that ended in a draw.
49h Evander Kane hustled to backcheck and earn create a turnover. He made a good pass to Postma who fired it wide. A friend-of-the-blogger made the observation that Kane reminded him of a young Dany Heatley and I tend to agree after thinking about it. Heatley was never super fast but his lateral movement allowed him to shift and create an opening for his shot. Kane has that same attribute it seems to me.
52 Coby Sol--perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises. My expectations were fairly low. I thought he would a raw fighter who perhaps looked a young Lane Manson. He certainly lacks elite puck or elite skating skills, but he looked reasonably effective out there.
53 Vinny Saponari drove hard to the net after a pretty saucer pass from Paul Postma sprung him loose.
54 Jimmy Bubnick had one nice back check. He's not flashy at all but scored two goals and set up a third by my count.
56 Zach Redmond made a very nice pass to create a scoring chance for Cody Crichton.
58 Eric O'Dell made a steal with a slick move but then failed to get his back hand roof shot on net. Had his pocket picked by Vinny Saponari but responded by stealing the puck right back.
60 Paul Postma looked like a star out there. He had several steals, he staked beautifully. He never bobbled a puck and he made clean one time passes in transition. He also made one insanely risky hold in play at the offensively blueline by knocking the puck out of the air with an opponent bearing down on him. He was able to chip that puck away with a some terrific eye hand coordination and hold it in. This produced some chuckles in the peanut gallery.
After the game I wrote on twitter that if the NHL were to shift to no-check 4 on 4 hockey he could play in the NHL right now. In many ways this scrimmage was well suited for him to display his puck skills and offensive flair. To his credit he took full advantage of the opportunity. The real test will come this fall in NHL camp when hitting and rough battles in the corner are back on the table. But right now it looks to me like he has NHL level puck skills and great skating ability.
64 Ben Chariot's first step looks slow to me, takes several steps to reach full speed (this might be the product of being off the ice this summer). In the1st with the forwards exerting pressure in the corner he read the play and pinched all the way to the net for a scoring chance.
70 Nick Prockow had a nice steal which led to a good scoring chance.
I tried very hard to make note of all the key plays, I know I missed a few. For me Paul Postma was the most impressive guy. Eric O'Dell and Jimmy Bubnick both stood out after looking just average in some of the drill sessions. Spencer Machacek continues to look like the most NHL ready guy--to me at least. Cody Sol surpassed my modest expectations. Klingberg has looked good all camp but today showed some finish that had been lacking other days. There seemed to be some real positive buzz among the fans in attendance. It seems that between the draft, trades and free agency, the expectations of Atlanta hockey fans are rising as they look forward to next season.
Sorry for any errors. I've played four hours of hockey myself and now it is 3:30am and I can barely keep my eyes open. Time for bed. Another scrimmage tomorrow-I'm really looking forward to it.