[Special thanks to Dario, on location at the Avalanche rookie development camp. Read below for his impressions of some of the top team prospects. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DarioinDenver- Joe]
(Oops, I wrote this but never posted it. I'm talented.)
I did a lot of tweeting while talking to Tapeleg at the rookie development camp yesterday but I thought I'd summarize my general opinions from day one.
So the whole thing was just a little somber honestly. Sakic's retirement was weighing heavy on everyone. The crowd started of really small and eventually grew to 30 or 40 people by the end. Still, it was a relatively quiet crowd.
It all started with the four goaltenders taking the ice and getting instruction from the Avalanche Vice President, Craig Billington. How many other NHL VPs do double duty as goalie coach? I'm no great expert on goaltenders but I thought Kent Petterson looked promising. He battles, uses a nice poke check with his stick and sits up very tall. I'm looking forward to him getting more reps in college. Delmas kind of looked the same to me, just kind of a tad too slow. Cann looked good, if not spectacular. Maxwell was really quick with great positioning and he wasn't giving up first shot goals too often. The only moment of weakness I saw was when Ryan O'Rielly scored three quick goals on him that generated some stick tapping (this is a single drill that includes four shots on goal).
I didn't watch the defensemen much on this day but when I did it was obvious to me that Shattenkirk is by far the best defensemen of the bunch. He skates with his head up, makes great passes and when he does shoot on goal he's very dangerous. I watched Gaunce a little bit but there wasn't anything that stood out. Keep in mind this was a drill session that defensemen where doing some skating drills with lots of shots on goal, not exactly the best way to evaluate defensemen. Montgomery still looks like a good prospect as he's got a real natural skating ability and makes heads up passes and covers a lot of ice.
I watched the forward group primarily because like the young lady with the ghetto T and drawn on Duchene #9 T-shirt, I was there to see the doctor MD, Matt Duchene. Before I get specific about MD, let me give you my general first impressions of who stood out as the most impressive players as a whole...
Stoa is a physical speciman that's going to stand out right away, the guy is really big. He's got super-soft hands and was scoring on a lot of the drills. At times is it seems like he would purposely take a first shot off a goalie leg pad and then use his long reach to just slap in the rebound. Just really impressive hand-eye coordination. You can tell he's very comfortable in front of the net and takes advantage of that long reach there. With every big forward (or defensemen) your first concern is skating. Stoa does not struggle with his skating. He's not beating anyone on the outside but his skating is advanced enough that he doesn't hesitate to make any kind of skating stroke. A bigger test will be against NHL calibur defensemen leaning on him in the crease but I think he's the most NHL ready of the skaters I saw.
O'Rielly gets critisim for his skating but just didn't see it. He's got an aura about him in that he's not doing anything spectacular but he's Drury-like with his work on the ice. He never gives up on a play and seems to ignore obsticals in his way be it sticks or shoulders. He's not going to dance around defenses. He was really impressive.
Shattenkirk I've already mentioned but I will say he's got a nasty little shoulder fake on a breakaway where he head fakes before a heavy shot. He looks NHL ready but obviously won't be at training camp.
Duchene is really explosive. When he skates hard he skates hard for a longer time than a lot of other guys. Kind of like that crazy speed up move of Svatos on a penalty shot you just aren't expecting a player to make that burst when he does. His shot is really heavy and of course he's got outstanding puck handling skills. For some reason, it appeared to me that MD was gripping a little bit. I mean he was shooting the puck a ton was was totally snake-bit. The goalies were reading his shot and making stops and goals were kind of rare. It's only one day and a short one at that but Duchene kind of looked like he could use a little time to polish his finishing skills. He's been characterized as a sniper but he looks more like a play maker to me.
The thing I've learned about rookie camps and training camps is that you can get a good read on general skill sets but some guys elevate their games when the season starts and others deflate. Last year Brian Wilsie was killing it in training camp. He was hitting the water bottle and schooling the goaltenders. That's evidence enough that practice is well....practice. I was impressed with those four guys and that's about all you can say about it. There's a long way to go and their abilities will be tested more thoroughly against NHL calibur players in training camp.
I will say that I'm a bit more enthusiastic about the future after my short visit to development camp. Stoa is going to be really fun to watch next year.