The air in
is cooler and the air is buzzing with the new National Hockey League
features two NHL regulation size ice rinks with grand stand seating on
each. On one rink cameras click and
fans chatter while players like Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya and Adam Foote display
their skill. On the other side it’s
much quieter. A handful of observers
watch players in simple black and white jerseys. There’s no fanfare and no media.
But let there be no doubt that each one of these players hope to be on
the other rink in the years to come.
The rookies are here and every move is watched from the Avalanche
private balcony by scouts, coaches and management alike.
eight returning players, this year’s rookie camp reflects both the attrition
and influx of new talent into the Avalanche system. This year’s camp also reflects a change at the coaching position as
coach Paul Fixter, freshly promoted in Hershey, was in
to run the show. The roster consisted
of four goaltenders, nine defensemen, and nine forwards. With an equal number of defensemen to a
relatively short number of forwards at this year’s camp, drills and 4-on-4
scrimmages dominated practice.
rookie camp was run quite differently under coach Fixter, with a higher focus
on drills and conditioning instead of scrimmages. The days consisted of two
sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Groups of players were
rotated out on the afternoon sessions for work in the weight room with the
strength and conditioning coach. They worked the rookies very hard this year
and comments from parents and players alike indicated that most of the players
spent their off time on the couch recovering from the long day. The good news
is that most of the players look like they were well prepared for the altitude
and were properly in shape for coach Fixter’s camp.
following is a summary report of each Avalanche prospect:
goalie on the ice was Peter Budaj,
the Avalanche first pick in the 2001 draft. The 6’0”, 200 lb goaltender
demonstrated excellent reflexes and very quick side to side movement. Budaj
showed very fast movement going down to his butterfly then getting back up for
rebounds. He took several occasions during camp to high five rotating goalies,
laugh it up with teammates, do some one-on-one stick handling against Johnny
Boychuk for laughs and even played a whole series of shots on goal by making
saves with this facemask. He kept players loose and was the best communicator
on the ice at all positions.
The 6’5” Tom Lawson, recently acquired as a free
agent signing from the United Hockey League (UHL), started camp a little slowly
as he was getting beat high and low on the first day. However, Lawson got
stronger as camp went on and showed why he was picked up by the Avs with his
excellent flexibility and quickness from side to side. His glove hand is pretty
quick for such a large goalie and his technique makes him tall in net to compliment
his size. Lawson did step in against some NHL talent during some Avalanche
workouts and was getting beaten pretty regularly top-shelf as he goes to the
butterfly pretty quickly and relies on size to cover the top of the net. As
Craig Billington (the Avalanche goaltender coach) worked with him, he got
better and more impressive as camp progressed.
Jean Filiatrault was an invitee to camp that showed
great glove side saves. He showed good
reflexes but tended to slide out of position easily and was beaten on a few
occasions because he slid out of the crease. Tyler Weiman had it rough from the start. He was scored on with
regularity both high and low. Weiman made saves in streaks and needs to improve
his consistency and overall play.
there were a lot of new faces at defense and this is by far the most improved
aspect of the Avalanche system. Leading the way was the best skating defenseman
on the ice, John-Michael Liles.
Liles is a very swift skater with excellent balance and exceptional foot speed.
In drills he shined with is backward skating, heads up puck handling and
positioning. On 1-on-1 drills Liles demonstrated excellent stick position and
could coordinate a good poke check while maintaining his position. This created
a lot of problems for opposing forwards with very few quality scoring chances.
Liles’ strength however, has been his play in the offensive zone and it was no
different at camp. He made some of the best moves on goal at camp with a very
accurate shot to boot.
Tomas Slovak also made his first appearance at
rookie camp fresh from his trade from the Nashville Predators. Slovak is a high
energy player with excellent speed and surprised a lot of people at camp with
his unheralded checking ability. On one particular 1-on-1 drill Slovak laid a
monster hip check into Charlie Stephens (6’3”, 225 lbs) that got the coaching
staff yelling “nice hit” which was a rarity. During a 4-on-4 scrimmage Slovak
raced down the right side, stopped on a dime and spun to the outside while
making a no-look pass into the crease for an easy goal showing speed, puck
control and very good vision of the ice.
Mikko Viitanen also made a very impressive showing
at camp. Viitanen was not afraid to get physical during scrimmages and was good
at taking the body without losing position. Coach Jerrard worked with a few
defensemen on some very tight backward figure eight drills around three pucks
and while others struggled, Viitanen completed them without error and continued
to show his smooth and balanced skating throughout camp. Viitanen struggled a
bit with some puck handling drills and keeping his head up but otherwise was
Johnny Boychuk looked bigger than his 6’2” and 200
lbs he was listed at officially by the Avalanche last year. Boychuk is a smooth backwards skater and
features a very good shot from the point.
He wasn’t afraid to mix up the physical play during scrimmages but got
himself into a little trouble and out of position with his aggressiveness in
this area. During drills he would often find himself getting beat because of
his positioning and some aggressive attempts at unsuccessfully stealing the
puck. Boychuk needs to improve his consistency with his positioning and
defensive fundamentals but he’s got all the skills to be a top defender.
Jeff Finger left
a year early to make the jump to professional hockey this year so this was the
first look at his abilities in camp.
Finger was a better skater than previously reported with quick feet and
great energy. He takes the body well
and drives players out of the crease aggressively. Finger also has some good
puck-handling abilities but was the victim of a few errant outlet passes during
David Liffiton had an unimpressive first camp. He showed good foot speed and some good
positioning during scrimmages, but he did not stand out with his physical play
nor his passing abilities. Liffiton did nothing to separate himself from the
crowd at this year’s camp. Liffiton could have been feeling the pressure of his
first pro camp, playing it safe or just playing at his ability level. Only time
Tim Wedderburn showed good quickness but did not
distinguish himself defensively nor offensively. Darryl Yacboski plays a strong, in-your-face style of defense, but
his skating seldom allows him to get in that position. Yacboski was the poorest
of the skaters at this year’s camp and will need to work on improving that
before other aspects of his game can flourish. Agris Saviels showed some good skating and some promising offensive
abilities at the beginning of camp but sat out two days of camp due to injury.
impressive forward on the ice this year was the diminutive Marek Svatos. Svatos skated at a speed the other players on the ice
couldn’t match. He has terrific
acceleration and very good vision of the ice.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Svatos has a goal scorer’s touch. He had some lasers in the top shelf corners
during scrimmages that had the players on the bench banging their sticks.
Jonas Johansson demonstrated why he was drafted in
the first round with his effortless skating and solid puck handling. Johansson
isn’t afraid to be creative with the puck, but can get distracted and stop
moving his feet when he’s played physically on defense. Johansson is a competitor and showed signs
of checking and defense that he doesn’t get press for. If he can continue to improve defensively,
Johansson can make the jump as soon as next year. He’s got pro-caliber skills that
are easy to see.
Charlie Stephens looked very good at this year’s
camp. He uses his body well to shield the puck and works well along the boards.
He shows surprisingly soft hands and some quality moves on breakaways. Stephens
is also an effective skater for his size, but was subjected to some pretty
solid hits. It’s hard to say if this was an inability to see hits coming or a
fearlessness of such contact because of his size. At the pro level, Stephens
will need to keep his head up and avoid that kind of abuse.
Linus Videll surprised a lot of people by flying
to participate in this year’s camp. Videll did not waste his time as he showed
some very nice puck-handling skills. He
used his 6’3” frame to frustrate defenders during keep-away drills. He is a smooth and natural skater with good
speed for such a big forward, and not surprisingly he worked well with fellow
Swede Johansson. Videll is definitely a playmaker. On one particular play he
was down low below the left circle shielding a defender with his body, he
worked the puck out to the middle of the slot and drew the right side defender
over to steal the puck. He made a beautiful feathered pass between them both to
a wide open Svatos for the easy goal, showing very good vision. His shot loses a lot of accuracy from beyond
the slot and he was knocked off his feet by Finger a couple of times when he
was away from the play but overall he performed admirably.
David Svagrovsky had the best slap shot of anyone at
camp and he uses it liberally. It has
tremendous velocity and accuracy and it had Weiman ducking a bit when he it let
it go. Svagrovsky has good hands and worked well out of the corners. Svagrovsky doesn’t use his size to be very
physical, but does utilize a long reach to his advantage. His skating needs to
improve and progress to get him to the next level and there were also some
obvious defensive lapses during 4-on-4 drills.
Cody McCormick was not all that impressive in the
heavily drill-oriented rookie camp in the afternoon sessions. But he did get a chance to show some of his
checking prowess and work ethic during the scrimmage sessions in the mornings.
He laid some nice hits on Stephens and Boychuk that had the bigger players
struggling to keep their balance. McCormick showed some good skating ability
when away from the puck but got a lot more conservative when he held the puck.
He showed some signs of good shot-making ability, but it was rather
inconsistent. McCormick is a hard worker on the ice and keeps his head up while
driving toward the net on offense, but can improve with better consistency on
his shot and puck handling.
Sergei Klyazmin showed a nose for the net during scrimmages
and demonstrated a good scoring touch. His skating and puck handling were good,
but he did shy away from physical contact. Unfortunately, on day two Klyazmin
limped off the ice with what looked like a leg injury and did not return.
Brad Richardson showed speed second only to Svatos
with great acceleration and control. Although he has a really good shot he was
not really strong on his play-making ability as he passed off the puck quickly
and didn’t look to generate his own shot very often.
did not seem to have any glaring weaknesses, but never stood out with any part
of his game except his speed.
Invitee Craig Kennedy was relatively quiet
throughout rookie camp. He showed good
foot speed and work ethic. His shot
making showed a lack of accuracy but he showed good energy levels on all drills
and shifts in the scrimmage sessions.
impressive showings at camp this year were: Peter Budaj in goal; John-Michael
Liles, Tomas Slovak and Mikko Viitanen at defense; and Marek Svatos, Jonas
Johansson and Charlie Stephens at forward.
The biggest surprise out of camp is probably the strong showing of Mikko
Viitanen who did not get to play much last year with a knee injury and the
underrated skating and play making ability of Linus Videll.