Hokay. It's been a bit of a whirlwind morning as the Avs Rookie Camp kicked off, signifying the official start of a new Avalanche season. Rosters were posted a mere hour before camp got underway so if you managed to miss them, here are the links to the Rookie Camp Roster and the Rookie Camp Roster by Position.
Before I get to my thoughts on the day, I'm obligated to note the extremely large caveat that this is simply one day of a glorified skills competition in which certain players are never going to shine because the setting is very specific. Please please please remember that as you read anything about the players I write. Anybody who had a great day could easily go out there and shit the bed tomorrow or Wednesday and anybody who struggled in the drills today could always step it up. This simply a review of who stood out today. Just remember, Ryan Stoa was once a star at these things. Onto the good stuff.
Duncan Siemens - This is a guy all of us hope remains on this side of the fence for the rest of camp and the pre-season. Siemens really stood out today in every drill except the one where he was forced to try to beat a goalie on a breakaway and he insisted on firing the puck right into the goalie's chest. Siemens remains an excellent skater, especially in transition, and was hands down the most physical player on the ice today (Poor Dennis Everberg found this out firsthand a couple of times). Siemens wasn't beaten once by anybody, made several solid plays to break up odd man rushes, and generally looked like he didn't belong. His biggest miscue of the day came when he let a pass to the blue line hop over his stick and followed by immediately flubbing his slapshot. Everyone got a good laugh and it was the only time he didn't stand out in a positive way. For a guy needing to show that he's developing, this was the exact kind of start you hoped for.
Chris Bigras - The star of last year's camp returned today to continue dominating. His defensive play has always been described as "calm" and certainly nothing was different today. Bigras continues to show what a clean, almost boring defensive game he plays. He's never going to be a real physical force so when put in the drills where he had to work the corners against bigger forwards, the only guy to get the best of him was Borna Rendulic (more on him later) and even then he recovered to strip him of the puck before Rendulic could take the shot. Like Siemens, there's really not a lot to be gained by Bigras participating in this camp because he's much more developed than the majority of the guys there. And like Siemens, his dominant day one showing is exactly what you're hoping to see from a guy many expect to be knocking at the NHL's door sooner rather than later.
Mason Geertsen - A guy I was highly skeptical of when we drafted him, Geertsen showed surprisingly well at last year's camp and forced me to pay attention to his development more than I had previously planned. After another solid campaign for the Vancouver Giants in which he set career highs in all offensive categories and PIMs (Dario noted during camp "every single internet highlight of him is a fight"), Geertsen came into camp poised to prove he belongs in the conversation as a guy to be taken seriously as a legitimate NHL prospect. So far, so good as Geertsen showed very well in skating drills, a big surprise after a lackluster showing last season, and whose physicality was matched only by that of the heavyweight Siemens. The most interesting one-on-one matchup of the day was Geertsen vs. Samuel Henley, as the big bodies went at it in the corner. Ultimately Henley would beat Geertsen after Geertsen stopped moving his feet and started reaching, showing that there is still plenty of room for growth in Geertsen's game. Despite that, the rest of Geertsen's day was solid and while he'll probably never score more than 2-3 goals a season at any level of pro hockey, he definitely has mastered the art of the low line drive slapshot. A very impressive start for Geertsen.
Colin Smith - Finally, a forward! What a showing by the explosive Smith today. When I mentioned the caveats at the very beginning, they are to be kept in mind a lot with a guy like Colin Smith, whose biggest deficiency is never going to show up in a setting like Rookie Camp. Given every opportunity to showcase his wide array of offensive skills, Smith repeatedly capitalized and smoked defenders and goalies alike with a variety of moves and top shelf snipes. An explosive skater, Smith shined all day when given open ice to work with. While he managed to avoid me seeing him matchup against any of the better defenders, his play constantly drew the praise of everyone in attendance. Unfortunately, Colin Smith's frame may never match his game and how he adjusts to pro hockey as small as he is will determine just how far he goes. If he can learn to play multiple roles, be defensively responsible, and an all-around quality player, this kid could be a real problem in the bottom 6 in the next couple of years. His talent is real.
Borna Rendulic - The first thing that came to mind when Rendulic touched the puck 15 seconds into the first drill was how smooth everything looked for him. He received a bullet of a pass without any issues (always something to keep an eye on in these drills) and transitioned immediately into flying down the ice to put one past whichever goalie he happened to beat. It certainly wasn't the last time he scored or looked impressive in doing so. Coming over from Europe, you'd figure this setting would allow him to showcase his offensive talents and give you a feel for what kind of skater he is. He's got silky mitts, moves well for a guy his size, and seems to have an aggressive attitude towards everything he does. Rendulic was the only guy to give Siemens any trouble in the transition drills and while he ultimately was shut down, Rendulic was the only guy to make Siemens really work for it. Where he struggled on the day was in the corner drills where defenders were already on top of him. He struggled to work his way out of those situations and you couldn't help but wonder how the smaller NA ice was hampering his ability to work through those situations. All in all, an impressive first day and a guy I'm excited to watch in coming days.
Cody Corbett - This is a guy with a lot of intrigue coming into camp because of the highly successful end to his tenure with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Corbett certainly did not fail to impress early on. His skating was smooth with a long, powerful stride and he found himself in the right positions more often than that. He made solid outlet passes throughout the day and didn't struggle to receive them. Corbett, like so many others, started to have his game exposed a bit when it came time to get physical and play the nitty gritty style of hockey. He wasn't overwhelmed but of the defensemen who showed well today, Corbett had the most trouble with the physical aspects of the game. His stickwork wasn't good enough to allow him to recover when he was beaten and while it didn't happen often, he wasn't nearly as dominant as some of his blue line brethren. A good start overall for Corbett but still plenty to work on in the next two days.
Mitchell Heard - If you happened to be at camp today and sitting near our little group, you might've overheard me planning to christen a new annual award called the Mitchell Heard Participation Ribbon for the camp's most unimpressive player who at least he gets to say he was there once upon a time. I'm not sure what happened to Rick Pracey and crew when this kid was drafted but holy hell does this appear to be a big-time swing and a miss. With hands made of stone and skating that wouldn't impress at the high school level, Heard certainly made an impression today. Known more for his emotional displays of bravado and general manliness than hockey talent, the kid better be a world class fighter if he hopes to see the NHL someday because right now I'm not sure if he's anything more than bottom 6 filler for Lake Erie. Again, this is only one day but it unfortunately continues the disturbing trend of Heard underwhelming at every turn. I hope like hell we see something more from him the rest of this week.
Max Iafrate - Far less disappointing than Heard's virtual no-show but still disappointing nonetheless, Al Iafrate's son had a grand total of one almost positive highlight on the day - he whizzed a bomb of a slapshot high above a teammate as it drew laughs from all the defenders waiting their turn in line. When your one shining moment of the day is a shot that missed the net by several feet, you've had a bad day. A poor skater, Iafrate was constantly out of position at every turn and was routinely beaten by forwards of all shapes and sizes as the day wore on. There really isn't much else to say about a guy who looked completely overmatched at a Rookie Camp that might produce 6 NHL players someday. That's...not a good start to a potential pro hockey career.
Kyle Wood - The disclaimer here is that I only focused on Wood in one drill on the day but caught glimpses of him during others and while he wasn't bad elsewhere, he failed to impress on any level whatsoever. Wood's greatest struggle of the day came during the transition skills in which his short, choppy steps stood out in the worst kind of way and it caused him to get absolutely smoked during this drill. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of coaching given to Wood during this drill. Quite a bit. Had he impressed elsewhere, I would've left him off this list but because he didn't, this drill alone really sunk his day. I absolutely expect a rebound performance tomorrow.
The Sometimes Ugly, Sometimes Not
Samuel Henley - Another overage Junior signee, Henley started the day off in the less than stellar category before slowing working his way up the list. Failing to receive passes multiple times really made Henley jump off the ice in the bad way as he looked like the big guy with stone hands and no game for a while there. As the drills became more physical, Henley continued working and improved his showing by a lot towards the end. As mentioned earlier, the highlight of the day for me was the matchup of Geertsen and Henley and that battle meant we finally got to see what makes Henley such an intriguing prospect. His size and strength makes him an intriguing potential power forward and his skating, while not exceptional, was still very solid for a guy so large. If he's able to correct some of the issues he had earlier in the day with passing/receiving passes, Henley could be a standout this week. If he doesn't, he's likely going to continue burying his upside in a myriad of solid plays that need to be made to be taken seriously at the NHL level.
That's it for today! I also want to mention that because I fully admit I know basically nothing about goaltender development, I pretty freely ignore the goalies but Spencer Martin received the kind of extra coaching that leads one to believe he wasn't performing up to expectations and the save of the day definitely belonged to Roman Will as he slid post to post to make a diving stop. Also, because I'm sure somebody will mention him, Conner Bleackley did look very solid to me today but my personal viewing of him was really limited. As such, I wasn't comfortable talking about him beyond this footnote at the end. I plan to keep a much closer eye on him tomorrow.
For anyone planning to come out this week, make sure to stop by and say hello. We're pretty easy to pick out of a crowd and always love meeting fellow MHHers. See you all tomorrow!