Saturday, September 18, 2010

Flames Training Camp - Day One

Training Camp is finally here! My overall review of the morning: between both the veterans and young guns, there was some sloppy play out there – shots high and wide, poor passing, and the overall chemistry of the group was weak. To be expected on Day 1 of Training Camp I suppose, but noteworthy nonetheless. Some positives and negatives from the first day of training camp:

I kept a keen eye on this fella throughout the morning. As advertised, this guy is an enormous goaltender – that’s the good news. The bad news? His five-hole becomes more of a target, because when all 6’6 of him stands up, there’s some room between those pads. For what it’s worth (not much) he made 11 stops on 15 shots (73.3 SV %) in a breakaway relay-type drill, while Kipper went 12 for 17 (70.5 SV %). What does that tell us? Absolutely nothing – but at least it’s one metric we can assess. From the hour-long sample I had, he isn’t much of a reactive goaltender. He seems to rely primarily on his positioning and size.
Speaking of reactive, he doesn’t possess the same calm, cool demeanor as Kiprusoff (but who does?) He’s a tad more firey and passionate. The reason I say this? There was some frequent stick-smacking and cursing going on this morning between sequences, and he seemed to get rattled somewhat easily. Personally, I can’t blame him, as I would be an emotional wreck if I were to play the goaltending position, but it’s a change from what we’re used to seeing with Kiprusoff. Having said all of this, he looked solid, and he will learn to be calmer in the net working with McLennan and Kipper I’m sure. Very excited to see this guy play a game or two in the pre-season.  

Quick note: While I wasn’t blown away by Olli this morning, he does seem to have a “bee in his bonnet.” Very serious in practise this morning, and seems more agile than one calendar year ago. He’s out to prove something and silence the entire North American hockey world. Please do sir.

Personally, I find it difficult to assess defensemen in these training camps, because they don’t usually stick out unless they’ve done something wrong, but I want to touch on Staffan Kronwall. You feel for this guy, because he is far advanced from the young guns that surround him, but there simply isn’t room for him on the big club. Regardless, I was very impressed with Staffan in some of the skill-related drills this morning, and his ability appears head-and-shoulders above his AHL peers.

When this guy was originally signed, I thought of him as a fringe enforcer. Today, I was pleasantly surprised with Jackman. He’s very quick considering his size, and had a very impressive shot from what I saw! He was out with the skill players at the end of practice shooting around and actually showed some decent skill. Above all, he should be a pain in the butt to play against.

Unfortunately, Backlund was set up on a line with Ivanans and Jackman today. I’m trying not to read into that combination too much, because I think it would be more valuable for Backlund to serve as a leader in Abbotsford than a 4th line energy guy on the big club. However, he settled in to his plugger line well, as he took a stick in the face and left practise. He didn’t return, as he was likely getting some stitches and some mean tattoos to fit in with his enforcer linemates.

Personally, I feel the resurrection of Kotalik’s career got off to a bad start today. Even in training camp, I was privileged enough to see Kotalik’s indifference and lack of energy out on the ice. He was missing passes, skating half-speed and flipping the puck over the net. The day wasn’t a total waste for Ales though, as he spent most of practice working with his semi-illegal curve to propel the puck into the top-half of the empty net. A couple more weeks of this, and he will be all set in his role as 3rd string goaltender, while logging 3 minutes a night chopping the puck over the net from the blueline on the powerplay - vintage Kotalik.

While awkward in almost every other aspect of the game, Bryan Cameron has a heck of a shot. Here’s hoping he becomes more of a Brian Gionta-type than a David Moss-type in the coming years.

It’s tough for me to say this, because I’m rooting for this guy to make the team: Matt Pelech struggled today, even alongside fellow AHLers. He’s big, but not a great skater, and his play with the puck is just plain awkward. The bad news for him is that we have plenty of Sarich/Staios style defensemen as it is, so there simply isn’t a need for that type of player right now. From my perspective, John Negrin has a leg up on Pelech at this stage.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see enough from John Armstrong that differentiates him from any other energy forward in the Flames organization. At this point, I think you have to place less importance on Junior numbers with this guy, and just watch him play. His skill-set is limited, and yet I don’t see him fitting in as a 4th line center on the Flames either. Darryl has a soft spot for this guy, but I just don’t think he stands out as a player destined for the big club.

Who stood out most to me among the Abbotsford group? Stefan Meyer. That’s right. Stefan Meyer. He continued to strike me as a Glencross-type player, only a more feisty version of Glencross. Let’s call it a cross between Nieminen and Glencross: he keeps his game simple, has very impressive speed and relentless hustle. Even in practise, he was driving hard to the net and jabbing at loose pucks. I had heard this guy was an agitator – and it certainly appears that way – but he also seems to have much more to contribute. On top of all of this, he had by far the most impressive shot in his group. I would say 80% of the opportunities he had to shoot in the drills, he would fly down the wing and fire it short-side over the goaltender’s shoulder. I think this guy could be a fan favourite if given the opportunity – but it’s unlikely he will get that chance in Calgary.

What are you looking to see in training camp? For those of you that went today, what did you notice?

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