Over the past couple of days, I’ve had the good fortune to spend my mornings (and afternoons) down at Winsport for Calgary Flames development camp.
Development camp is a bit of an odd duck, in terms of what it is, and the questions it can and can’t answer – the primary of them being “How’d he look?” regarding almost any prospect.
Let me explain.
Development camp is fundamentally a time to get the prospect group together in early July for fun, frivolity, team-building, and some on-ice work. Newcomers get a chance to meet the team’s staff and get familiar with everybody in the organization, and for the college and European players it’s also often their only chance to work with Flames coaches in-person and in-depth for the entire year.
However, you’re also dealing with people that have played hockey for a living for varying amounts of time. In the media, we have a small amount of good-natured chuckling about how the hockey season never seems to end. “Didn’t we finish this season three weeks ago?” and it’s a bit surreal to be in a hockey rink in July when it’s gorgeous and 30 degrees outside. For the guys actually playing the games, a lot of them are mentally beat by the time the summer hits.
Let’s take, just to throw names out, Jon Gillies and Hunter Smith. Gillies played a full college season, won a national championship, then was with the Flames for the playoffs. Smith played hockey until the end of May and won a Memorial Cup. After that much hockey in that much time, you’d imagine they want a rest.
Multiply it by the 42 guys in camp, and it’s tough to tell who can do what, because all you can really tell is who is in shape (still) and who needs a bit of conditioning work. And even in the prospect base of the fittest team in the NHL, guys are huffin’ and puffin’ when they get off the ice because they haven’t probably done anything intense on skates since their seasons ended. Add in that the majority of the on-ice components have involved drills rather than showcasing systems and simulating in-game situations, and it’s tough to really place players in any kind of definitive hierarchy.
In terms of the camp so far, bearing all those caveats in mind, I can say this: the guys you would hope to stand out typically have.
- Morgan Klimchuk seems to have an incredibly accurate shot.
- Oliver Klyington is an amazing skater up-close.
- Riley Bruce, Keegan Kanzig and Hunter Smith are all huge human beings. Bruce is skinny, but he’s also just 17. Mark Jankowski continues to fill out and seems a bit thicker than at last summer’s camp.
- 19-Year Old Sam Bennett seems amped up, and was easily one of the most explosive guys with the puck.
- Andrew Mangiapane is a great stick-handler.
- Brandon Hickey looks really composed and mature for a player his age.
- Jakub Nakladal looks about as composed and mature as you’d expect a player of his age to be.
That’s not an exhaustive list, but I’ve spent the majority of my time setting up interviews and handling logistics, sadly, so I wasn’t able to watch as in-depth as I would have liked to.
The upside? A ton of interview content coming your way later this week from development camp.
The only scrimmage of development camp is scheduled to go Thursday morning at 9:30 at the Markin MacPhail Centre at Winsport. Traffic around Canada Olympic Park has been a bit of a gong show because of construction on 16th Avenue and in the park itself.
My best advice is to show up early. Parking and seating space in Arena B are at a premium, and if you show up late, you may have to park far away and walk….and then stand by the glass.