Despite coming back to win the tournament, the Ottawa Senators rookies only capped off a disappointing event for players and fans alike. The event was plagued by lack of organization, lack of big names attending and bad scheduling. The opening game was marked by hordes of people lined up to get tickets, delaying entry for most until the beginning of the second period. For subsequent games, the Corel Centre staff had better preparations in place to deal with a larger crowd and lines were eliminated.
As for the on ice product, the Ottawa Senators iced a squad of lower tier prospects. Notably absent were the top-tier European prospects, Alexei Kaigorodov and Igor Mirnov. The lack of quality was evident in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport players invited — the notable exception being Steve Simoes. The CIS players were clearly over their heads and were benched in the later games.
Another possible explanation for the low quality of play was that the training camp element of the rookie tournament was very lax. Several parents of players on each team commented that the players thought of the tournament as a joke because of its easy practices and slow pace. It was evident in the way the Senators played tentatively for the first couple of games and seemed unfamiliar with each other. If the pace was too slow and lax, then it begs the question, what is the tournament’s purpose? In past years it was to see the progress of the rookies and challenge them to improve for the next step, NHL training camp.
There were some good surprises, especially on the ice. Eric Himelfarb as pretty much guaranteed a place in camp and Simoes probably earned a spot as well. Adam Munro further deepened the goalie pool and Scooter Smith will get another look. In all, the crowd was entertained in later games with the increased effort from the players, with the shoot-out against Montreal being the highlight.
Next year’s tournament does show reasons for optimism. There will be a crowd of NCAA players and Europeans attending. Also, there should be more teams, adding credibility to the tournament.
Below is a progress report on several players.
Billy Thompson: Hard to analyze since he saw very little action for most of the tournament. Had a good set of fundamentals and was pretty good side-to-side. Was plagued by equipment problems for most of the tournament. Seemed to be battling a case of nerves. Had slow reactions to loose pucks.
Future: At most will be a backup, if for no other reason than there are much better prospects ahead of him. Has to show more poise and work hard to earn any chance in the NHL with the Senators.
Jan Platil: Tough, fiery, sparkplug is way too undisciplined at the moment to be considered a surefire prospect. He is fairly fast, and can skate well. Does play off the puck well and positions himself smartly.
Future: If he or his coaches can rein him in and instill more discipline into his play, he will be a more then adequate replacement for one of the current Senator blueliners.
Christoph Schubert: This guy is an enigma. At times he seemed dominant and physical, hitting everything that moved. But other times he was scared of the other players on the ice and got rattled easily under pressure. He is a big guy and really can skate fast, which is useful since he likes to join the rush a lot. Does have excellent hockey sense and positions himself well off the puck. Played the point for the power play and has a hard, low shot.
Future: Has to spend more time in Binghamton getting used to the North American style. If he can do that, then the blueline in Ottawa is going to get very crowded.
Greg Zanon: Plays and even looks like Jason Woolley. Is a puck mover that makes decisions quickly. Does get involved in the physical play from time to time and is a smart player who does jump into the offensive rush.
Future: Should see some time in training camp, and at the very least is capable of playing at the AHL level.
Brooks Laich: Captain material for Binghamton. Is a solid two-way player and spends most of his play off the puck. A good comparison is Mike Fisher Jr. Likes to create traffic in front of the net. Spent time on the PK and PP and looked comfortable at both.
Future: A second/third line player in the NHL. Will be in Binghamton for the next couple of years.