The annual USA Junior Camp is an important scouting event on the calendar of NHL teams.
“All the teams are represented here,” confirmed an NHL scout to Hockey’s Future the first day of the tournament. Indeed, most of the teams sent more than one representative in Lake Placid, even though the tournament coincided with the Under-18 World Cup played in Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“It is so bad that both tournaments are played at the same time,” complained the same scout.
The Montreal Canadiens, for example, were well represented in Lake Placid. GM Bob Gainey, head coach Guy Carbonneau, Julien Brisebois (vice president hockey operations) and Trevor Timmins (director of player recruitment and development) were all there when the exhibition games started.
“We are also well represented at the Under-18 World Cup, six of our scouts are there presently,” commented Timmins.
The Habs had just one drafted prospect playing in the Lake Placid tournament, David Fischer. So the management staff was not just there to see him play but also to scout the 27 or so Americans, Finns or Swedes who are not yet drafted.
Chicago Blackhawks Assistant General Manager Rick Dudley was one of the other NHL upper level management staff present in the 1980 Olympic Rink.
“We are here for a multiple purposes, there are some draft eligible players in this tournament that play at a pretty high level and who are probably going to play at the next WJC. On the other side, we have already drafted players that you get to see playing against high-level kids,” said Dudley.
The Hawks had three prospects at the camp – goaltender Joe Palmer, defender Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Jack Skille.
Hjalmarsson, a 6’3 and 194-pound wall, played a very good tournament.
“He did pretty well too at the Hawks Rookie Development Camp,” stated Dudley. “He is smart, he has good feet and closes the gap very quickly. He is competitive and is stronger that he looks.”
The best of all – Jack Skille
Skille, a 2005 seventh overall selection, was arguably the best player of the tournament. Not only did he score three goals and three assists, but his energy and his physical presence were key factors for the USA White Team.
“I’m very happy the way our team played.” commented Skille to Hockey’s Future after his last game, a 7-1 win over Finland. “It is fun to be here, we ended well, our team was great. These camps are really hard, you know. You are playing hockey every day for nine days. There are no other distractions. That is what it is.
“This is hockey,” he said.
Skille, a prototypical power forward, commented his performance. “I wanted to prove myself here. I like the competitive part of the camp. We all want to make the team. I love to compete, going down there, showing that I really want to make the team.”
Dudley was more than pleased with the 6’1, 198-pound forward.
“He is a wonderful kid that just loves to play hockey,” said Dudley of Skille. “He is a high-energy player, he is skilled and has shown his ability here to score like he has shown it too in the past. He was effective here offensively and has shown what you like to see from a drafted player, this sort of speed that can beat defensemen wide.
“He has done that several times in this tournament and that is a good real sign in today’s NHL,” commented Dudley.
The native of Madison, WI will eventually play in the NHL according to Dudley. “Whether it is a second or third line, I’m not sure. If he can score at the pro level as he has done it until now, he will be a top two line player,” he stated.
Skille enjoyed the Hawks Development Camp last July. “I went down there to show that I can play at this level and to prove myself. I put them [the Hawks management] in a great spot, you can say.
“They didn’t know whether they should take me or send me back to school again.”
The scorer of a triple overtime game-winner goal in the last NCAA regional final against Cornell will be back with the hometown Wisconsin Badgers to try to help them win a second NCAA national championship in a row.
“I sat with Wisconsin Head Coach, Mike Eaves, and we both decided that I will move to the NHL only when I’m 100 percent sure that I will make it right away with the Hawks. I will not leave the Badgers for playing in the AHL,” stated Skille.
Pittsburgh and Nashville well represented
With a total of five prospects, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the NHL team with the most drafted players in action. Four of these players were defensemen – Americans Carl Sneep and Brian Strait and Finns Tommi Leinonen and Timo Seppänen. Their lone forward was Michael Gergen.
The Nashville Predators ranked second in term of draftees with four prospects – U.S. forwards Ryan Flynn and Blake Geoffrion, Finn Teemu Laakso and Swede Patric Hörnqvist.
Geoffrion played very well all tournament long.
“I think that I have been stronger every game, I have to be happy with my play. This is the best hockey that I ever played, it was real fast out there,” commented the 6’1, 190-pound forward.
Three generations of Geoffrion played for the Habs in the 1900’s. It seems that Blake would have liked to be selected by the Montreal Canadiens as well. “Montreal had three picks before Nashville had one and the latter selected me on their first selection,” he said. “I guess they (Montreal Canadiens) had their guys in front of me, this is a business you know.”
Geoffrion, who will play for the Wisconsin Badgers next season, is happy to have been selected by his hometown Nashville. “I’m from there, my family is there and this is a great city.”
For the record, born in Florida and raised in the U.S., Geoffrion has not learned French even though his father and grandfather were French Canadians.
2007 U.S. Junior team roster
Phil Kessel, the 2006 fifth NHL selection, has finally decided to sign with the Boston Bruins and may crack the line up next October. He could be released to play in the WJC if he is struggling with Boston.
The Anaheim Ducks second overall selection in 2005, Bobby Ryan, played in the AHL finals for the Portland Pirates last season. He had good success, recording 8 points in 19 games. Ryan will try to fill this year Ducks’ roster.
“I played 115 or 120 games last year, I have played with Portland in the AHL. I think I may reach the NHL as soon as this year,” Ryan said to Hockey’s Future in Lake Placid. “I will surprise them.”
If Kessel and Ryan make their respective NHL teams and then are not released by them to go to the 2007 WJC, that means that only three forwards of the 2006 U.S. Junior team will be on the roster, if they indeed make it this year – Nate Gerbe (BUF), Peter Mueller (PHO) and Skille.
In this eventuality, there will probably be 10 spots opens for newcomers at the forward position in the 2007 U.S. Junior team’s roster.
At the blue line, there should be only two spots open as five defenders from last year should be back.
In the net, Jeff Frazee (NJ) is a returnee of last year U.S. Junior Team, but he has not guaranteed a place in the 2007 roster. The team’s coaching staff will have in mind his average performance of last year’s WJC and also the three goals he gave up in the shootout of the sole U.S. defeat at this year’s summer camp.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.