Let's be clear: what we witnessed this week were mostly a series of skating drills. Yes, superlative skating is becoming more and more important in today's NHL, even for the league's biggest players, but it is still just one element of a complete hockey player. So, what we don't want to do in the aftermath of this development camp is make hard judgments about players who have yet to play any actual hockey for the team. Quite a few of these prospects are likely to receive an invite to training camp in September and we'll gain a much clearer understanding of their actual ability to play the sport, as well as size them up against the players who will eventually comprise the NHL roster.
However, that doesn't mean we can't discern a few things from these exercises. With a couple of exceptions, many of these players are in similar stages of their careers -- recent draft picks, borderline pro/junior players, etc -- and how they are able to show ability, take instruction, and demonstrate improvement will go a long way toward their standing in the organization. What I've put together isn't a list of winners and losers (because I think each player likely gained a lot from these drills), but a summary of players I felt really excelled among their peers.
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The big Norwegian is 25-years old and has been playing professional hockey in Sweden and Germany (as well as his native land) for ten years now -- it shows. He was bigger than the other attendees, fully grown into his frame, and showed a lot of mature skills each time he took the ice. His skating form was nothing you would show on an instruction video, but it was one-hundred percent functional -- shooting him down the ice faster than even the smaller players in his grouping. The stops, turns, and reverses weren't exactly his specialty, but they won't need to be either. He's going to play a power forward game, driving hard to the net, crushing his competition against (if not through) the boards, and posting up in the slot. Martinsen isn't going to make the Avs out of camp, but I think he shows enough that Patrick Roy remembers his name if they need to fill a spot on the 4th line for a stretch.
There were fans who were apoplectic when the Avalanche selected Greer 39th overall in this year's draft. The 18-year old, who is likely to return to a top-ranked Boston University squad next season, was expected to reach the 3rd Round according to most pundits. However, it took all of about ten seconds to see why Roy and General Manager Joe Sakic fell in love with his game. Greer exerted an impressive level of energy and effort, flying through drills as if he were escaping imminent danger. A few times during the three-day camp he was told slow it down and concentrate on technique; but really, he was a stand-out in this area as well. The soon-to-be sophomore is a very polished and powerful skater who should move up from the 4th line he occupied as a 17-year old and make bigger contributions to his team.
Another 2015 pick that elicited some head scratching after being selected in the 6th Round. The 19-year old Boikov is a Russian national who has put up modest numbers on the blue line in the QMJHL the past two seasons. If his numbers don't impress you, his skating certainly does. Not phased by single drill in three days, he keeps his balance, moves his feet, and changes direction on a dime. We don't yet know how this translates to hockey performance, but it's easy to see why Joe Sakic might see a late-blooming puck-moving defenseman here. Boikov needs to add more strength and improve his output next season with Drummondville, but he's a 6th round pick worth following.
Not particularly fast or explosive, but smooth, powerful, and agile -- impressively so for his large (6'4" 215 lb) size. The 2013 4th Round draft pick concluded his major-junior career last season and was able to play nine games for Colorado's AHL affiliate at the end of the year. A fast-rising prospect, he's going to get a chance to start there next season along with a slew of other top Avalanche defensive prospects.
He's tall, long, powerful, and polished on his skates -- everything the Avalanche were looking for with their No. 10 overall selection this year. Rantanen fits the physical mold of a modern top-six NHL forward. Like some of the other bigger players already mentioned, his game isn't predicated on changing direction or skating backward, but he keeps his head up and is noticeably strong on his skates. Most enticing were the few instances we were able to see him shoot a puck. Rantanen is both powerful and accurate when firing toward the goal. Right now, no one knows where the young Fin might play next year. If he can demonstrate enough skill during training camp to occupy a 3rd-line spot, he's going to make some awfully difficult decisions for Roy and Sakic.
What more really needs to be said about about the 2013 2nd Round pick? Always considered an intelligent and effective defensive player, he demonstrated last year that he was also more than a point-per-game scorer. This week, he showed off some truly impressive skating ability: compact movements, tight turns, fluid transitions to reverse techniques. There's a reason he's often regarded as the best prospect in the Avalanche system and it was all on display for coaches and fans to see. He's still young and likely needs part of this season in the AHL to gain strength and experience, but followers of the Avalanche system will be clamoring for his call-up all year long. It's almost time.