Prospect Development Camp Recap
Focus for players was on learning how to be a pro at July 8-13 camp
There's a common misconception that the Thrashers annual Prospect Development Camp held each July is an evaluation camp and that it is used to determine which young players will get invitations to training camp in September. That isn't the purpose of the camp, but don't tell that to third overall draft pick Zach Bogosian who was clearly the star attraction from July 8-13 in Duluth as he pulled on a Thrashers practice jersey for the first time. Whether it was on the ice in front of fans and coaches or in the weight room with fellow prospects and training staff, Bogosian was blowing away the competition. He scored in his first scrimmage. He threw the first hit of the camp. He blew everyone away in fitness testing. And he dealt with the pressure and media spotlight like a seasoned pro. Oh- and then he turned 18 the day he flew home.
For his part Bogosian simply claims that he was trying to get his first taste of life as a professional hockey player, and when it comes down to it that's exactly what the purpose of the six-day camp is.
The reality is that what happens off the ice at prospect camp is often more important than what happens on it for the 32 invitees, 22 of whom are Thrashers property. According to Dan Marr, Atlanta' Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development, the main purpose of the Prospect Development Camp is to teach the young players how to be professionals and help them transition from being successful college, junior and minor league players to being players capable of playing in the NHL.
"The players come in to learn how to take hockey seriously as a job and an occupation." said Marr. "They find out from (strength and conditioning coach) Ray Bear what's required to be an NHL player and they add that to their routine."
The difference between a successful player and one who doesn't live up to their potential is rarely talent. More often than not it's a failure to cope with expectations and the day-to-day rigors of being a world-class athlete. How to train. How to eat. How to talk to the media. How to go from being taken care of by parents, billets and team advisors to being an independent adult. It isn't an easy adjustment and some prospects find it easier to adjust than others.
2007 draft pick Spencer Machacek will be entering his first pro season after a successful junior career during which he lived with a host family. After spending a few weeks in Chicago with the Wolves at the end of the season he saw how different the pro lifestyle can be. To prepare himself for it he is renting an apartment in Vancouver for the summer and learning to fend for himself, especially in the kitchen.
"I moved out on my own to get used to being on my own and making my own food. I have a roommate but he doesn't play hockey. I cook a lot of chicken and steak. On time I went gourmet and did some salmon, but I keep it simple. I'm just getting used to being on my own."
For players coming to the camp for the first time it's a chance for them to get to know the staff, find out what is expected of them and familiarize themselves with the Thrashers' facilities and way of doing things. Returning players are monitored to see how much progress they've made from a fitness and conditioning standpoint compared to the previous season. Most players get drafted the year they turn 18 and very few are fully developed physically at that age. It's the job of Strength and Conditioning coach Ray Bear to develop individual workout plans for each player that suit their needs and body types. Most players could stand to add some size and muscle before making their professional debuts and Riley Holzapfel is a prime indication that Ray Bear's efforts aren't in vain. When Holzapfel was drafted in 2006 he was a slight 170 lbs. Now he is hovering around 190 lbs and has filled out dramatically. Defenseman Arturs Kulda from the same draft class has also added some significant muscle to his 6'2" frame, as has Angelo Esposito who has put on more than 10 lbs. since being acquired from the Penguins at the trade deadline.
Make no mistake though, what happens on the ice does matter, especially in the minds of fans who don't see what goes on in the weight room or on the track. The action on the ice was guided by Thrashers Head Coach John Anderson with help from Chicago Wolves Assistant Coaches Wendell Young and Todd Nelson and Wolves Skills Coach Kenny McCudden.
Wendell Young and his blue team took the week-long scrimmage series two game to one and came out on top in the shootout portion in well. Is it any surprise that his squad featured Bogosian, who was a threat to score every time he took the ice? But while bragging rights certainly count for something, the main goal of the camp was to prepare players for taking the next step. For many of them just being in Atlanta in July is a big step in preparing them for September.
As Dan Marr said, "When they get to come here a lot of them it's their first or second trip here and now they know our staff a little. They know our facility. When they come here in September to fight for a spot on the team there are fewer new issues facing them. They're already acclimatized to the environment here and they keep their mind on the task at end and not worry about all of the other things."
From the looks of this year's camp, there cold be multiple players for whom that's a factor in September as they compete for roster spots. While Zach Bogosian is the odds-on favorite to earn an NHL job he isn't the only player with big-league aspirations. Angelo Esposito, Riley Holzapfel, Spencer Machacek and Arturs Kulda also have designs on playing in Atlanta, and that's a sign of a strong crop of prospects. While Bogosian may be in a class of his own there is solid depth behind him, both in terms of talent level and maturity, and that's a sign that the scouts are doing their jobs.
"There were no disappointments this year," said Marr. "And every year it seems that spread between the top and the bottom narrows. We were pleased with everyone here. It went smoothly and everyone is very close to being where they should be this time of year. They're all heading in the right direction."
Below are the players who may be headed in the right direction a little more quickly than the others.
Chris Carrozzi was drafted by the Thrashers in the sixth round of this year's NHL Entry Draft. At 6-3 he's tall, lanky, and full of promise while still a bit raw. He was the only one of the four attending goalies who is a Thrashers prospect and he will likely play two more years at the junior level with the Mississauga St. Mike's Majors in the OHL before going pro.
The Thrashers had two defensemen in camp with a full year of pro experience- Grant Lewis and Chad Denny- and while they continued to progress they were upstaged by Zach Bogosian, his former Peterborough defense partner Arturs Kulda and unlikely standout Zach Redmond. Bogosian came across as a polished veteran despite being the youngest player to take part in the camp. He flew through the off-ice workouts and instantly took on a leadership role on the ice.
"It was a lot of fun. It was great to come down here," said Bogosian at the close of camp. "I'd never been to Atlanta and it's nice to get to know the organization and they systems and it's nice to get to know some of the guys that have been around for a little while. It was a good week for everyone. It gives you a little sniff of what it's all about. I'm just gong to keep working hard and hopefully be able to crack the lineup."
Kulda, a 7th round pick from 2006, showed some offensive flair and wasn't afraid to go head-to-head with his friend and former partner. The Latvian blueliner earned regular ice-time with the Chicago Wolves during their Calder Cup run after joining the team after his junior season ended and it was easy to see why he earned the trust of John Anderson. Like Bogosian Kulda is a blend of size and skill and is entering his first pro season.
Like Kulda, Zach Redmond was also a seventh round pick but was taken less than a month ago in the 2008 Entry Draft. Redmond is at the upper end of the age range for his draft class (he turns 20 before the season starts) and that could explain his maturity. Redmond showed plenty of offensive flair in scrimmages while leading all defensemen in scoring and also showed off his strength in the gym. Redmond is entering his sophomore year at Ferris State in Michigan and exhibits a tantalizing combination of skill, hockey sense and athleticism.
Defensive Dark Horse: Keep an eye on Paul Postma who had a solid year in the WHL with Calgary after being traded form Swift Current just two games into the season Postma had 14 goals in the regular season and added six more in 16 playoff games. A smooth skater with a great shot Postma is cursed with a seemingly overactive metabolism that makes adding mass a challenge. Whether or not Postma fills out his 6-2, 175 lb frame could determine how far he goes.
While a pair of late-round picks proved to be standouts on the blueline the forwards followed a more conventional progression with the higher picks setting themselves apart from the pack. Angelo Esposito (1st round, 2007), Riley Holzapfel (2nd Round, 2006) and Spencer Machacek (3rd round, 2007) were the most impressive forwards on the ice and they all showed considerable progress in the gym as well.
Esposito was making his first appearance as a Thrasher since being acquired for Pittsburgh and he didn't disappoint, showing the flair that made him a first-round pick. Esposito will go back to junior if he doesn't make the Thrashers out of training camp, and if that's the case he will play for a new QMJHL expansion team in his hometown of Montreal.
"It's a good place to be for me in Montreal, living back home," the former first-round pick said. "I'll be happy to be there but obviously my goal is to come into camp first and not worry about what's going on back in junior. Either way it's two exciting opportunities for me. I have a new start in Atlanta and a new start in Montreal, so it's all positive no matter what happens."
Riley Holzapfel and Spencer Machacek are both entering their first seasons as pros and will likely make their debuts with the Chicago Wolves. Both players are gritty forwards with Holzapfel being a playmaking center while Machacek is goal-scoring winger.
Forward Dark Horse: Center John Albert is the type of slightly undersized speedster that has been able to thrive in the NHL in recent years. Albert exhibited plenty of offensive ability in the scrimmages and will continue to hone his skills at Ohio State where he is entering his sophomore season on a team that graduated eight seniors.
Jonas Enlund (6th round, 2006), Nicklas Lucenius, (4th round, 2007) and Niklas Lasu (5th round, 2008) all made their first appearances at a Thrashers camp and they acquitted themselves well. Enlund may be the most skilled of the bunch and he showed it this season by putting up 19 goals and 41 points while playing for the same team in Finland as countryman Nicklas Lucenius. Lucenius is the most eager of the trio to play in North America and his rugged style of play should make the transition easier for him when he makes the jump. Lasu is a stereotypical Swedish forechecker who tenaciously pursues the puck. He will make the jump to the Swedish Elite League this season where he will be tested against grown men for the first time. All three players were at home in the gym, breezing through the conditioning staff's workouts.
They Said It
Zach Bogosian on what he was told by the coaching staff: "Just keep doing what I'm doing. They've been telling me to keep working hard and play my game. Paying attention to detail is the main thing I learned at this camp. If you're going to play like a pro you have to act like a pro and be mature about taking care of yourself."
Zach Bogosian on the advantage of coming to prospect camp before training camp: "You come back in September and you're more comfortable coming into a room where you know some guys and have had conversations with them. It's been fun to get to know the guys and it will make it that much easier in September.
Angelo Esposito on what he got out of his first Thrashers camp: "I got a chance to meet a lot of the guys here and see what competition there is. With Ray Bear in the gym I've learned the little things that it takes to make it to the next level. On the ice with the coaches we got to see all of the systems that are going to be used here and that's very useful."
Paul Postma on what he is taking away from his first pro camp: "I see the guys that are in top shape and it shows me what it takes to get to the next level. I know what I have to work on. I have to work on getting bigger and my strength and foot speed. Everyone is focused in practice and you have to be committed no matter what you're doing- on-ice and off."
John Albert on what he got out of camp: "It was a lot of fun and it was a great group of guys. It's a great opportunity to play with players like this. It was a tough camp. I didn't really have any expectations going into it but I'm so excited I came. I'm looking forward to coming back and getting even more out of it. I learned a lot that will carry through to this next season."
Arturs Kulda on his former junior defense partner, Zach Bogosian: "I think Zach is a very great player with a lot of talent and a bright future. If he continues to work hard I think he will be fine. He's very smart off the ice. He doesn't do stupid things and he stays out of trouble."
Zach Redmond on his style of play: "I like to jump up and play in the offensive end. I pass more than I shoot but I liked to get involved in the play."
Niklas Lasu on his style of play and NHL role models: "I like to hit people. I try to make it hard for my opponents and I try to make my teammates better by being there for them. I like PJ Axelsson in Boston and Lundqvist in Dallas. I like to play like them."