Some thoughts, observations, comments on the Tampa Bay Lightning rookie camp
The four-day rookie camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon wrapped up on Friday with a short scrimmage won by the White team, 2-1, over the Black. Defensemen Vladimir Mihalik and Victor Hedman scored for the White. Hedman's goal was particularly pretty as he went short-side high. Defenseman Mark Barberio scored for the Black.
A breakaway contest followed, won by center Chris Lawrence. A second competition was won (or lost, in fact) by Mihalik, who was the last player not to score. Lawrence got an orange to snack on for his victory. Mihalik got a lemon, which he obediently peeled and bit right into.
"It was very well-run," GM Brian Lawton said of the event. "There was real purpose to it."
Lawton said he liked this format better than attending a rookie tournament, as the team has done in recent seasons at Traverse City, Mich.
"I'm a big fan of doing this over the Traverse City type things," he said. "Development, development, development is a common theme here. This is more of an opportunity for us to do that. It also prepares the players, in my opinion, better for the start of training camp. They aren't beat up. They haven't been fighting. There's been a plan toward getting them ready for camp. Now, it's live fire, though, with the big boys, and they see how they do."
How did the players do? Lawton said Hedman, the No. 2 overall draft pick, was "exceptional." Compared to July's rookie camp, in which he seemed tentative, Lawton said of Hedman, "He looks like he's got his game face on a little more."
Lawton also praised Mihalik for turning his training up a notch over the summer: "He wasn't where we wanted him to be in the summer, and he really busted his rear end."
Lawton also singled out defenseman Ty Wishart: "He did a nice job this week." He said forward forward Alex Hutchings "surprised us with his scoring ability;" forward Richard Panik "has some nice skill;" and forward Carter Ashton "is a very north-south player that gets into the real traffic areas and looks comfortable."
A very interested party was AHL Norfolk coach Darren Rumble, who survived a dreadful 2008-09, as the Admirals missed the playoffs for the second straight season as a Lightning affiliate. He said he is stoked by what he saw this week.
"I saw some skill, some hockey sense, so it's coming," he said. "It's not something that changes overnight, but the guys who have been through a couple of years with us down there have really made some strides. The new kids we just drafted this past season, a ton of skill there, and some hockey sense to go with it. I'm excited for what's on the way."
Here are some of Rumble's critiques:
On center Dana Tyrell, who is coming off last season's knee surgery and could challenge for a Lightning roster spot: "The progress he's made is amazing. I knew he was a heart-and-soul energy type, but I didn't realize he was that talented. He's obviously here to make a statement the way he's shown up in camp with his conditioning. He's in phenomenal shape. And I just love his attitude. He just wants to be a hockey player. It just shows. He comes to the rink every morning and does what we ask and does it with a smile on his face."
On center Chris Lawrence: "We need him to be huge for us this year. It's his third year. He's a guy, his final year in junior he put up huge numbers. He's come along slow. There's skill there. He's a really good penalty killer. He's a big body. We just need him to play with more urgency and intensity on a day-to-day basis. He probably will get a bigger role from us if he earns it."
On defenseman Kevin Quick, whom Rumble said put on 15 pounds over the summer. Quick was listed last season at 175 on Norfolk's web site: "I'm a little concerned he put on to much weight this summer. we may have to monitor that and get him back down to where he's a little bit more fleet of foot. He still skates well. That's something he does naturally. But I'm a little concerned he might have put on too much weight."
Asked if he was talking about more than just muscle, Rumble said, "I don't know if you can put on 15 pounds in one summer of muscle. Seven, eight, nine pounds of muscle is a lot of muscle, so 15 pounds is a big difference for me at first glance for a kid who has to use his legs to get him places."
On Mihalik's slow starts: "We can't wait around 40 games for him to come out of the gate, and I'm pretty sure that's been because of his conditioning the past two summers."
On Wishart: "More jam, more urgency, more consistency. But he's pretty talented. He shoots the puck, moves it well."
On another topic, Rumble said left wing Justin Keller will be brought in on a tryout contract. He had 18 goals, 37 points in 58 games last season for the Admirals, but at one point had been demoted to ECHL Augusta.
"I think he had a 'come to Jesus' meeting with himself on his way down to Augusta," Rumble said. "He came back up and the light bulb clicked on. When he came back up, he might have been our best player the second half of the season. I think the light has switched on for him."