Another year of watching the Bruins prospects is upon us and while the show was fun, there were some big disappointments. Some of the most intriguing prospects were not on the ice. Rob O’Gara is no where on the list even attending this years camp, Matt Benning was likewise conspicuous by his absence. Zachary Senyshyn is down and out with mono, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is not attending for “personal reasons”. Worse, only the absence of the latter pair is explained. With the utter lack of quality in the Boston Bruins defense this year not seeing O’Gara and Benning is likely cause for concern.

A few players stood out in multiple areas. I thought Heinen, Steen, and Kuraly had the most developed shots. The release from all three is hidden  until the puck is two feet off the blade of their stick. Matt Grzelcyk as the grizzled veteran of the skating contingent looked to have slid into a leadership role demonstrating all the drills, and showed the high end agility, puck handling and shooting we’ve come to expect from the healthy and fit version of the Charlestown native.

What might be the most pleasant surprise is Daniel Vladar who looked like he could have stopped pucks for another six hours. He is a big, tall goalie who unlike a lot of guys approaching his six and a half feet he doesn’t seem to lose the puck when its on the ice right around his pads and skates. Day one is hardly the time go projecting NHL career lengths for anyone but he made the skaters work for the very few pucks that went by him, and had a quiet efficiency of movement.

Wiley Sherman is another of the jumbos, he seems to have put on some muscle filling out a body that looked a bit scary his first year at camp. That first year you’d watch him recovering between drills or at scrimmage and you’d see his jersey get sucked into his ribs when he breathed. To go with the muscle his straight line speed is certainly adequate.

Brandon Carlo should probably get the “Anthony Camara” award for body contact as he pressed hard on forwards during drills and the center ice simulate play.

In the first half of day Stephen Dillon looked a bit ragged and the skaters put more than a couple pucks past him in the early drills, repeatedly going to the same spots. As he warmed up and settled in the Niagara Icedog (and youngest player in camp) looked better and better.

The biggest takeaway from the group as a whole is the most noticeable separation between the most agile third of the players present, and the rest of the group. Not surprisingly small and very small men like Steen, Grzelcyk, and Fitzgerald were near the top of the chart.

Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre were on the ice early today doing goaltending drills with the staff, but did not participate in the general session with the youngsters. The most impressive player of the day was hands down Daniel Vladar who didn’t flinch from contact, tracked the puck well, and used pads, stick and glove to great impact.

Boston Bruins Development Camp has come and gone. There were over a dozen returning players, new draftees and invitees. While I do wonder how it is they failed to invite any goalie prospects, and had Malcolm Subban filling in for Adam Morrisson, and University of North Dakota star, and Fargo Force alumni Zane Gothberg. There  are literally dozens of colleges within driving distance of Boston, and if the goals of camp is to coach, develop, and protect the health of prospects then it makes perfect sense to have additional prospects in camp.

That said, camp was as always engaging.  The progress some players made over the years is notable. No players stood out as not belonging, but trying to watch two dozen players at once is foolish. Below are the players who stood out most for one reason or another.

Cole Bardreau, of Cornell University stood out among the forwards showing great speed, lateral movement and hands.

Anton Blidh had a hard shot that was a little bit high at times.

Oleg Yevenko was the largest, and oldest of the prospects. The UMass Amherst defensemen didn’t exhibit great skating but was in the right place to use his stick well.

Billy Sweezey of Hanson, Ma was the youngest player in camp and it didn’t seem to mean much. Solid positioning, good skating, respectable size and still a year of high school to go.

Rob O’Garra clearly is an athlete with high level conditioning. The day camp opened when some of his campmates were flagging, he looked like he might be warmed up. The rest of week he never looked like he broke a sweat.

Wiley Sherman, more poised, more precise and clearly having filled out more than a little.

Colton Hargrove, the improvements in Hargrove’s game are pretty obvious, I’m willing to bet if the 2012 entry draft were redone the son of Rockwall Texas would go before 205 this time.

Kyle Baun, after Bardreau arguably the most impressive forward in the group. Good hands, good speed.

Matt Benning was hands down the most impressive player in camp. Not only was his positioning excellent he used stick, body, and skates to separate opposing players from pucks. Northeastern has itself a good looking young defenseman right now.

David Pastrnak seemed to have a bit of trouble keeping his skates on the ice and his uniform ice free, possibly new skates, possibly the sheer pace of camp, or possibly an ongoing skating issue, its hard to say in just a few viewings. I won’t be shocked if he’s invited to camp in September, but given that he’s still under contract to Soldertalje he likely will not break camp with either the Boston or Providence Bruins.

Of all the differences between this camp and years past, is how strongly management curtailed physicality. In years past no scrimmage was complete without double digit numbers of hits by players trying to make sure they remembered by management and each other. This year, there a scant handful. While development camp focuses on skill and athleticism, elusiveness is a skill and leadership may be doing the organization a disservice  not to keep the players on their toes. And on the other end, physicality is a big part of the tool set of many players.

While several of the young men look really great among their peers, it is no measure of how they will perform against the AHL or NHL. Among the forwards, I don’t see anyone among the forwards I would project above the second line. Among the defensemen, assuming their trajectory continues at the same level two or three who could land in the second pairing in most NHL cities, and depending on circumstances you could see a top pairing player or two.

The Boston Bruins development camp was held last week and if it didn’t have a new top of the first round pick to draw people, some of the campers we’ve seen in the past were more than compelling enough on their own. Two notable prospects will be graduating this year. And one youngster in his second year made huge strides.

Malcolm Subban was a surprise pick to some just over a year ago. The goaltender, and older brother of Jordan Subban who was the Vancouver Canucks selection this June was the most recognizable name at camp. Even without the bright Belleville Bull’s color pads he sported last year, the athletic net minder will draw your eye again and again. The book on Subban coming into camp last year was that his glove side needed some polishing.

#81 Malcolm Subban

#81 Malcolm Subban

This year, I don’t think I saw him beat to the glove side even once. When I asked him about the way his save percentage climbed year over year, he credited his teammates contribution and talked about his maturity as a goaltender. Despite facing nearly a full shot more per game this year over the previous season, and taking time to play in the World Juniors the key numbers were unequivocally better. In 2011-12 he had a very respectable .923sv% and GAA of 2.50, in 2012-13 he turned in .934 and 2.14. Even more indicative is the change in his post season numbers. His 2011-12 Memorial Cup playoff stats line was 6gp, 2.93 GAA and .917sv%, while 2012-13’s number improved to 17gp 2.00 GAA, and a .933Sv%. Not surprisingly he won Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week twice, and the best Sv% and best GAA in the Ontario Hockey League.

Year over year the most improved prospect was easy to spot. More than one observer at the week’s workouts and scrimmages had to be pointed at a roster to realize the young defenseman they saw this year, was the same one they saw last year. Matt Benning’s camp was a bit curtailed by injury last summer. His hockey season however boosted his stock, and tagged him as someone more than willing to work to get to the next level.

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

A sixth round pick out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League who jumped to the USHL this year, and won the league championship under Jim Montgomery with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. In the fall hockey fans can look for Benning in black and red at Northeastern University, making the transition with him will be Fighting Saints teammates Mike Szmatula and  John Stevens.

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

Anthony Camara came into camp having had the best junior season of his career. He was successful as a physical menace and as a points producer. Thirty-six goals and sixty points through the regular season by itself would have punched his ticket to Providence, and likely to being a late cut in Boston if that’s all he did. That is not however the case. Camara earned his place on an international squad for the first time representing Canada in the WJC. Then he went to the playoffs with the Barrie Colts and racked up nine goals and a point per game in 16 appearances.

What’s interesting about Camara is that he’s not one of those elite prospect like Subban or the exiled Tyler Seguin, he was a late third round pick. Only ten percent of the players drafted in 2011 have played a single NHL game. None have been from the third round. When Camara first came to the Bruins Development camp just days after being drafted he was clearly a project. His shot was so-so, he managed to drive himself into one of the stanchions, and his skating was on a level with Glen Murray and Milan Lucic’s first season.

#51 Anthony Camara #76 Rob O'Gara #88 Matt Grzelcyk

#51 Anthony Camara
#76 Rob O’Gara
#88 Matt Grzelcyk

At some point in the last two years, the major components of that changed. Camara entered what will be his last OHL season with a career high of 9 goals. He ended it with 36, and in less games than any of his previous seasons. While his skating isn’t going to be shaming speedsters like Carl Hagelin and Emerson Etem, or ice dancer Jeff Skinner he’s improved to the point where you only notice his skating by the fact that you no longer notice his skating. Camara’s work ethic is quite healthy, writers and fans noticed it, as did Bruins staffers. During a press conference Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned Camara by name four times in eight minutes. He didn’t seem at all displeased to be doing so.

 

As with most development camps day one was getting everyone’s feet wet. While some of these young men haven’t skated in weeks, a few managed to stand out.

Anthony Camara’s puck handling ability is far in excess of his first trip to camp. Since last time we saw him he made the Canadian World Junior Championship team, went a point per game in the playoffs for the Barrie Colts, and in general continued to be a menace on the ice.

Bruins development camp 7/10 Left to Right: #53 Ryan Fitzgerald, #78 Derek Docken, #80 Brian Ferlin, #82 Alex Cord, #64 Anton Bligh.  In net: #60 Zane Gothberg

Bruins development camp 7/10
Left to Right:
#53 Ryan Fitzgerald, #78 Derek Docken, #80 Brian Ferlin, #82 Alex Cord, #64 Anton Bligh.
In net: #60 Zane Gothberg

Anton Blidh is in his first camp for the Bruins and showed off a quick, hard shot on day one.

Brian Ferlin spent the school year at Cornell holding down the second spot in scoring on his team, and playing in more games than his freshman season. Smooth, purposeful movements with a clear confidence on the ice.

Alex Cord an invitee from the Mississauga Steelheads opened the door for physicality throwing the first, and loudest hit of the morning.

Matt Benning, while it is hard to judge defensemen at these camps it is obvious that Benning who outscored five other defensemen on the his Clark Cup USHL championship team came to camp very fit and notably poised. This fall Benning is off to Northeastern, and the man who will be coaching him spoke quite highly of Matt and his season.

Zane Gothberg watching Gotherberg in net is a lot of fun. He’s very precise in his movements. When he moves there’s no flailing to stop, when the puck hits his equipment he doesn’t have to search for the puck he just puts his hand down or takes control of the puck with the stick. Backwards, sideways or forwards he seems to always end up exactly where he needs to be.

Off Ice Notes:

Don Sweeny said the team expects 2012 1st round pick Malcolm Subban to turn pro this year. Organizational history indicates that he’ll likely spend the season getting a lot of reps split between Providence and the ECHL rather than minimal games at the NHL level. The assistant general manager also noted that the small size of the development camp this year will allow the players in camp more reps, and be a bit more draining.

Oldest to youngest the players will be competing to see who can knock the most back in the very near future. The Bruins have planned a bowling expedition in addition to their team building and community service projects.

The five days of camp were quite the spectacle. While the smaller number in this years crowd showed off individuals more, it was harder to separate the players into either A: likely NHL ready this year or next or B: not yet close. Like everyone else, my focus was first on the guys most likely to turn pro this season, second on the new draft class, and third on everyone else. With so many players, including six goalies and drills being run at both ends of the ice and sometimes in three lines, I didn’t get a chance to focus on everyone.

In the first group:

  • Tommy Cross, unflappable puck handler, smooth, smart passes and over the years his willingness to throw the body has grown. Some have criticized his foot speed but the list of NHL guys without high end speed who have logged hundreds and hundreds of games isn’t short. Glenn Murray, Hal Gill, Mike Komisarek, Adam Foote are just a few on the list.
  • Ryan Spooner, almost certainly both the best skater in agility and speed as well as the softest hands in camp. Solid shot too. Has clearly gotten stronger and filled out since being drafted.
  • Jared Knight, still a fearless net driver, willing to trade hits with larger players and definitely plays bigger than his average size. One of the fitter players and was able to absorb hits from larger players, in a manner similar to Bergeron, without it shifting his balance.
  • Dougie Hamilton, good straight line speed, good passer and not afraid to shoot, pinch or or go deep into the offensive zone. Made a nice hit crossing the blueline in scrimmage. Is off to the Worlds this summer.
  • Alexander Khokhlachev while barred from contact in drills, and held out of scrimmages, his hands are undeniably gifted. Has bulked up a bit despite the time off. Unless he makes the NHL this year will be playing for the KHL team his father manages this year.
  • Torey Krug, sealed off the boards well, went into traffic as needed and was also aware enough of more offensive minded defense partners to stay back when they pinched. It’s not a surprise why the Bruins signed him out of college.

Malcolm Subban watching the action at Development Camp

This years draftees:

    Malcolm Subban, high end athleticism, not

just

    explosiveness but control. When you watch him move in the crease you get the feeling he could move the exact same distance fifty times while singing the national anthem. When I spoke to him I got the impression he listened very intently and that can’t hurt a goalies development.

  • Matt Grzelcyk, of the defensemen, probably the most agile, showed good hands in several drills as well. Small but popped in and out of lanes well. He’s off to college this fall.
  • Colton Hargrove good skater both in terms of movement and speed, made nice passes even on bad ice, willing to hit and be hit as well. Western Michigan University fans will get to watch him play this year.
  • Cody Payne, while the most notable line on his stats in the PIMs he showed off more than you might expect. He’s played for Team USA internationally in the Ivan Hlinka so he certainly should be watched.
  • Seth Griffith, shoot first, and second mentality, never looked out of place. Was tracked a bit better by TheOffWing, but I noticed him more and more as the week went on.
  • Matthew Benning is one of those rare right shooting defensemen, was limited by a minor injury. On his juniors team he was in the top half in points per game, and had 87 PIMS. Clearly not a goon, but bears watching for his skill.

Everyone else:

  • Robbie O’Gara is headed to Yale this fall, big body, better agility than some of the smaller players. More than willing hitter who didn’t get out of position to do it.
  • Adam Morrison, the recently signed goalie tracks the puck well and is not going to be beat along the ice. Moves the pads well even if both are flat.
  • Niklas Svedberg, no beatings dished out this week, but he also didn’t get beat by many pucks. Aggressive play, willing to come out of the crease and just shrugged off physical contact.
  • Wayne Simpson didn’t look out of place, handled the drills, physicality and the like quietly, had a huge open ice collision and shrugged it off. Also showed off some nice hands.
  • Brian Ferlin two words best describe his game one is power the other is forward. Uses his body and brain.
  • Ben Sexton, in body and scrimmage reminds me of Sean Bergenheim, compact and solid body, lower skating posture
  • Parker Milner, stays upright a bit more than some goalies while down, good glove.
  • Justin Courtnall, quiet competence, for some unknown reason attracted a lot of attention from other Hockey East players, displayed good on ice awareness and dropped back to cover for pinching defensemen frequently.
  • Chris Casto, more a stay at home defenseman than guys like Hamilton or Krug.
  • Anthony Camara, good size, straight line player, likely to annoy the hell out of the defenders he runs over.