2013 Development Camp: Days 2, 3 and 5

Apologies for the delayed observations but personal circumstances have necessitated a combined summary of impressions from several days I attended.

The bulk of the following observations stem from last Wednesday's 3-on-3 tournament action (I was unable to make it Tuesday) although some does come from the on-ice sessions last Sunday and Monday. Here are some thoughts on a limited number of camp participants, from those I went out of my way to watch and those my eyes kept being drawn to:

  • When you see 2012 2nd-rounder Dylan Blujus scoot around the ice, it's hard not be impressed. The 19-year-old defenseman skates with a blend of power, agility and quickness for his size (6'3", 198) that that amounts to a very pronounced mobility. Watch him long enough and you really start to appreciate the poise with which he plays the game, too, as he rarely seems to show signs of feeling rushed, be it retrieving the puck or while looking to make a play. Despite also possessing a quick release, heavy shot and strong offensive instincts, he isn't flashy in how he goes about his business. Perhaps, in lacking the panache to be found in the play of some of the other rearguards in the system (e.g. Barberio, Koekkoek, Nesterov), Blujus, who finished with 2 goals, 0 assists and 12 shot attempts during the 3v3 tournament, seems to blend in rather than stand out, although quietly providing a steady, two-way presence on the back-end isn't exactly a weakness.

  • Dylan Blujus during a drill. Photo by Eric DuBose.

  • Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay's 3rd-overall selection just a few weeks ago, certainly did not disappoint when it came time for scrimmage action. The 18-year-old forward flashed his calling card, the creative and dazzling play-making made possible by superb puck-handling and shifty movement, on numerous occasions during tournament play. This development camp highlight reel, which made the rounds last week, shows his most memorable sequence during the tournament, an eight-second possession he spent fending off Adam Erne as he came out of the corner before stopping to turn him inside out in front of the blueline, then drifting into the slot and feeding Dan Milan, who was alone at the side of the net, for an easy goal. Drouin finished as his team's co-leader (along with Milan) in points with 3 goals and 4 assists. He also took just 11 shots.
  • Creating and finishing with equal aplomb, 2011 2nd-rounder Nikita Kucherov was every bit as entertaining as highly-touted newcomer, Jonathan Drouin, who understandably drew the bulk of the attention from onlookers in several matches both played against each other. Like his younger counterpart, Kucherov was his squad's primary catalyst throughout the tournament. With 6 goals and 9 assists, Kucherov tallied a team-best and second-best tournament point total while also racking up a team- and tournament-high 27 shots on goal. It was only fitting Kucherov, the tournament MVP (if one was to be named), scored the lone goal--a cross-slot feed snapped past Vasilevskiy from near the bottom of the left circle--in the tournament finale. Syracuse Crunch fans should be ecstatic to know the 20-year-old Moscow native is spearheading an influx of talented Russians to the Lightning's AHL affiliate next season..

  • Jonathan Drouin tries to evade Nikita Kucherov during tournament play. Photo by Eric DuBose.

  • Nikita Nesterov, the Lightning's 2011 5th-rounder, is among the three Russians set to boost the Crunch's Eastern European contingent next season. The young defender, known for his two-way ability and for playing with a bit of an edge in his own end, got a chance to flash his offensive strengths in the fast-paced action of half-ice, 3v3 matches and finished with 6 goals and 4 assists. Nesterov has a cannon for a shot, as viewers all saw when he ended a shootout with a blast away from between the dots, and, by finishing with a team-best and third-best in tournament 23 shots on goal, he showed he's more than eager to pull the trigger. Nesterov also exhibited the knack for locating and executing passes he displayed as a member of his native country's squad in this year's World Junior Championship. Nesterov has the look of a versatile minute-eater. It'll be interesting to watch his development in Syracuse this season and see what kind of role he can secure as he adjusts to living and playing pro hockey in North America.
  • Matt Peca, a very undersized (5'8", 155) forward when drafted, has added an inch and put on some bulk while training under a collegiate regimen. He'll continue to develop physically but the 2011 7th-rounder is a gifted skater with soft hands and a dogged mentality that makes him both an offensive threat and a pest in the defensive third. Simply put, Peca's fun to watch, be it with the puck or on the back-check. He posted a very respectable 2 goals and 5 assists for Team Malone while launching just 9 shots on net.

  • Matt Peca during a drill. Photo by Eric DuBose.

  • 2013 7th-rounder Saku Salminen was the youngest member of Team Stamkos, the squad that won the development camp tournament but the 18-year-old held his own skating alongside forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brian Hart as well as defenseman Artem Sergeev. Salminen, who ended up with 9 points for the tournament (3 goals, 6 assists), made use of his size (6'3", 202) along the boards and in front of the net battling for pucks and fending off challengers, which further helped a unit that was savvily managed the puck maintain extended possessions. Salminen's highlight moment, though, occurred when he took a slap-pass from Sergeev after parking himself in front of the net, then delivered a no-look, between-the-legs feed through traffic right onto a wide-open teammate's stick-blade for an easy tap-in goal.
  • Andrey Vasilevskiy, who saw the most rubber of all the camp goalies during tournament action, stopped 110 of 127 shots en route to posting the highest save percentage (86.6%). Impressive work, especially when you consider that the bulk of these attempts were quality scoring chances, which sometimes came in rapid succession, promoted by the wide-open scrimmage structure. A number of skaters were left stunned when Vasilevskiy prevented what seemed to be sure-bet goals, especially when he managed to anticipate a cross-crease pass or simply react to one well enough to get the full extension of his long legs and stop the puck from getting in the net. The Lightning are content with his returning to Ufa so long as he's allowed to continue developing by seeing regular action in the KHL but, with his contract set to expire after next season, the organization is no doubt looking forward to his North American pro career beginning in earnest in 2014-2015.