Utah Grizzlies training camp review

By Jeff Dahlia


When the Utah Grizzlies training camp comes to a close
on Saturday, coaches Pat Conacher, Gord Dineen and General Manager Laurence Gilman will sit down with each player individually and discuss their future in the organization. 
Those not making the cut will remain in Boise with the ECHL Steelheads, while
those making it will go to Salt Lake City to begin the season as Grizzlies.

Below is a player by player analysis of how each player did in training camp, and where each one is most likely headed for the 2004-05 season.

Key: Name, Position, Age, Height, Weight, Last Year’s Team(s)

Keith Ballard, D, 23, 5’11, 200 (Minnesota – NCAA)

If the NHL season had started on time, then Keith Ballard would have been a
contender to be among Phoenix’s starting six defensemen. The Minnesotan product has spent the last three years
with the Gophers and is poised to make a solid pro debut. The slick two-way
defenseman can do it all.

Ballard is a great positional player and defends the attack extremely well. He
correctly plays the opponent rather the puck and can poke check with precision. He has great vision, solid passing abilities and
the sense when to jump in the rush. 

In a league where size matters, Ballard is 5’11 but can defend against the bigger, stronger forwards out there. He will be a definite impact
player this year, holding down the blueline in his first of many pro seasons.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Landon Bathe
, LW, 22, 5’11, 200 (Toledo – ECHL & Milwaukee – AHL)

Newly signed free agent Landon Bathe would have more than likely been headed to Idaho, but an injury to Sheldon Keefe (MCL)
late into the camp keeps his name in the running. As a 22-year-old with room to grow, he is on his way to becoming a valuable asset within the Coyotes system.

Bathe goes all out every shift, every game and every day. He is a monster to play
against but needs to focus on fine tuning his patience. He goes directly to the net on the rush and works around the boards effectively with his linemates. His
has great stamina and has earned the chance to at least test himself in the AHL for the time being.

When asked why he opted not to go to college and turn pro, Bathe stated, “College doesn’t compliment the style of game I play. I am more intense then they [NCAA] would probably allow.”

Projection: Utah Grizzlies by way of Keefe injury

Joe Callahan
, D, 22, 6’3, 220 (Yale – NCAA & Springfield)

Joe Callahan will enter his first full season in pro hockey after his mini debut with Springfield last year. Former Springfield coach Marty
McSorley loved him for his tenacity and the ability to jump in with no prior professional experience.

Callahan is another two-way specialist. He has a great first pass on the breakout and is also able to manufacture excellent chances from the point. Standing at 6’3, 220, he is a bigger version of Ballard and has the ability to be very effective on both ends of the ice. He is able to use his body effectively and is hard to back down.

Callahan knows where is teammates are at at all times. He is calm under pressure and takes a very methodical approach. He is a great passer, who is very patient and lets rushes and/or plays develop to ensure he minimizes the chance for error. Callahan has a booming shot
with great elevation and is consistently on target. He is a positionally sound
defenseman that covers the crease like a blanket.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Frank Doyle
, G, 24, 6’1, 175 (Maine – NCAA)

Frank Doyle should no longer be concerned about having to spilt time between the pipes, as he did last season with Jimmy Howard (drafted by Detroit, 64th overall in 2003) at Maine.
Although it was Howard who lead the Black Bears through the NCAA playoffs, Doyle was as equally as impressive during the 2003-04 regular season.

Doyle is a very effective netminder who follows the tempo of the game really well. His lateral movement is good, but his footwork
is even better. He doe a good job of covering his ground and reducing rebounds.

When the Coyotes signed an affiliation agreement with the Steelheads, they weren’t
sure if they would be able to assign a goalie to Idaho this season. Phoenix gave them the permission to go out and get the goalie they wanted, and the Coyotes would sign that player to a contract. That is exactly what the 2003-04 Kelly Cup Champions
did and they got a steal in Doyle. 

Projection: Idaho Steelheads

Randall Gelech, RW, 20, 6’3, 212 (Kelowna – WHL)

Gelech was one of the first players on the ice and the last players to leave
every day in camp and spent a lot of his free time studying every angle and aspect of the game.
He is determined to progress as a player.

Noted for his ability to be more effective the more intense and physical the games get, Gelech can handle is own. 
He likes to lurk out on the wing and setup his linemates, but he can crash the net effectively and scoop up on a rebound. He would be a good third or fourth line forward right now. Some more muscle wouldn’t hurt him either.

Last month, head Coach Conacher talked about players having a sound mental approach and being a gamer. Gelech is exactly that. He definitely has a good head on his shoulders and is ready to make the jump. Another year in Kelowna (WHL) or the a stint in the ECHL
is not the thing for the gritty winger at this stage in his development. He needs to be challenged and this is the perfect scenario.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Jason Jaspers
, C, 23, 5’11, 184 (Springfield – AHL & Phoenix – NHL)

Jason Jaspers has been on the verge of playing in the NHL for what might seem forever now. After being teased with
short call-ups over the last three years, Jaspers is still looking to get over that
proverbial hump.

Jaspers is a good skater with adequate skills to be an effective second or third line forward in Utah.
One of his best attributes is his anticipation. Overall, he does a lot of things well, but nothing that remotely stands out.

Jaspers will be continued to be hindered by new and emerging prospects if he fails to excel
beyond where is currently is. He is going to have to finally develop some aspect of his game that
benefits the Coyotes.  There is increased pressure coming from the top as well, due to the recent summer acquisitions.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Igor Knyazev
, D, 21, 6’0, 208 (Springfield)

Igor Knyazev is missed training camp due to visa troubles. This is similar to the predicament Maxim Kuznetsov put himself in by not making it to the Los Angeles Kings training camp on time last summer. Kuznetsov hindered his own arrival and had troubles gaining a
visa on time. The Kings had to go as far as getting him over to Ottawa, where he spent about a week training with the 67’s of the OHL
until his papers were in order. He eventually ended up in the AHL with the Kings affiliate in Manchester for further conditioning and as punishment. He finally made the Kings, but didn’t stick around too long. He was out of shape and not ready to play at the NHL level.

Hopefully Knyazev’s situation is totally different and it is nothing more than a mistake on behalf of the United States Immigration Department. The best plausible case would be he is ready, in-shape and he will join the team as soon as possible without skipping a beat. Whatever the case may be, the safe route has him in Idaho’s training camp to get his conditioning in before he joins the Grizzlies.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies by way of Idaho

Jakub Koreis
, C, 20, 6’3, 213 (Guelph – OHL)

After making his North American debut in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, Jakub Koreis looks as if he is ready to take his play to the next level.

His skating ability and fluidness is great for a player that Phoenix head coach Rick Bowness said wasn’t the prettiest skater on the ice a couple years ago. Koreis is getting a grasp for his full potential. His synchronization is key and he has great anticipation for the flow. He has great hands and puts the puck where it needs to be on the rush and down low. Most notably, he keeps his head up the majority of the time which increases his vision. He is a mountain to move off the puck and he can work effectively through traffic.

Koreis is clearly a leader on the ice. His work ethic and skill level sets the bar high for many other players. He is a another prospect that has gone all out,
every day. He has impressed many of the coaches at camp and belongs in Utah this season.

Utah Grizzlies

Ladislav Kouba
, LW, 21, 6’2, 213 (Springfield, Adirondack & Red Deer – WHL)

Like many fellow Czech players, Ladislav Kouba is going to be a hit or miss player. After putting average numbers the last few seasons, Kouba is set to play his first full season in the pro atmosphere. However, he is far from being bona fide NHL or even AHL material as of yet.

Kouba needs to work on his skating and his persistence on both ends of the ice. He isn’t the most composed skater on the ice, but he gets things done from time to time. He also gives up on plays in the offensive zone rather quickly. He needs to learn to stick with it, trust his linemates and trust his own ability. He was constantly out of sync. It shows he is making adjustments to grasp the tempo of the pro style game. He was witnessed cherry-picking a lot, instead of asserting himself on defense and assisting on the backcheck. Kouba needs to steal a page out of Koreis’ book, because the skill and potential are already there.

On a positive note, Kouba is a great stickhandler and has a good array of shots. If he can round out his game and become a more consistent player, he will be more of an effective in years to come. He is only
21 years old, so two to three years of seasoning in the lower ranks will do him some good.

Projection: Idaho Steelheads

David LeNeveu
, G, 21, 6’1, 187 (Springfield)

And for his encore performance, David LeNeveu heads into the 2004-05 as the starting netminder for the Grizzlies. He has been
very impressive this camp, showcasing why he is such a hot commodity.

LeNeveu is all about preparation. He is very precise and constantly finds himself studying the game. He does a good job of calling out the attack and setting up his teammates. He gets down in the butterfly and covers a lot of ground effectively. He has a signature kick save that will stifle many deft opponents, who think they have a window of opportunity to slide one by him. He has great footwork habits and loves to creep out to the top of the crease, take away the angles and challenge the shooter.

With an improved defense in front of him, LeNeveu will have an easier time between the pipes. He might not top his record for most saves in a game, but he will definitely put in quality work the entire season.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Frantisek Lukes
, LW, 22, 5’9, 173 (Springfield)

A mirror image of fellow Czech native and NHL superstar, Ziggy Palffy, Frantisek Lukes can razzle and dazzle with the best of them. He has pro skating ability and will showcase it as he burns past opponents this season. He glides on the ice so graciously and has a great first and second step. For his size, he has a powerful compact stride that fits his physical stature perfectly.

Lukes does a good job of sticking to his assignments and has an uncanny ability to sense where his linemates are on the ice at all times. He can make some of the best tape to tape passes, especially in traffic. He is equally a good setup man as he can be as a finisher. However, he tends to overhandle the puck at times and needs to keep it simple. He is a sniper who can put the puck where he wants and he does a good job of disguising his shot.

Lukes looks very impressive for a eighth round draft pick, a prize for the Grizzlies and the Coyotes.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Darren McLachlan
, LW, 21, 6’1, 223 (Adirondack & Springfield)

The Grizzlies are also awaiting Darren McLachlan’s arrival in camp. Like Knyazev, he also suffered a setback due to
visa troubles. Even though he will get a late start, McLachlan will show everyone why the Coyotes thought he was a worthy acquisition
from the Boston Bruins. He is a hard worker with an slightly above average scoring touch, but is most noted for his physical play.

After spending the majority of his time in Adirondack, McLachlan will land with the Steelheads. If he can get back into form, he will prove to be a valuable asset for Idaho.

Projection: Idaho Steelheads

Kiel McLeod, C, 21, 6’6, 240 (Springfield)

After having a somewhat frustrating year with Springfield last season, McLeod returns to the AHL ready to
show just why he is closer to the jump than many suspect. McLeod clearly has a NHL
wristshot, which is not too shabby for a center that likes to bump elbows and sets up shop in front of the net. He does a great job at moving the puck and he is a decent passer. He hustles all the time and does a good job of being effective around the net and in the corners. He doesn’t have
breakaway speed, but given the timing and opportunity he can take on a goalie using his impressive wrister or beating him with his sound stickhandling ability. He is very reliable defensively and doesn’t mind jumping in on the backcheck.

Even though that road will lead him to Phoenix, he will need to put in his time
in the AHL. He will be a very good second or third line centerman.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Lance Monych, RW, 20, 6’3, 194 (Brandon – WHL)

Lance Monych is a type of player that gets lost in the mix, then all of a sudden, he comes out of nowhere and makes a good play.

Coming out of junior, Monych needs to work on adding some bulk, adjusting to the pro tempo and his gaining some endurance. He is a gifted sniper who will get gritty and work aggressively on the forecheck. He showed a tremendous amount of ability, while working away from the puck in the offensive zone. He likes to
set up behind the net and dish sharp passes to forwards in front or collapsing defensemen.

After five years in junior, Monych will get a better opportunity to adjust and produce with the Steelheads, rather in Utah.
His scoring comes in bunches, and he should develop into a reliable scorer under the tutelage of Idaho head coach John Olver.

Projection: Idaho Steelheads

Martin Podlesak
, C, 22, 6’6, 201 (Springfield)

At 6’6, Martin Podlesak can be a very savvy forward. On the other hand, he gets knocked off the puck way too much. He has trouble working hard down low, on the forecheck and around the net. And this all reflects back to his thin build. Regardless, it doesn’t matter in today’s brand of
defensive North American hockey.

With an excellent stride, he is a good a skater who can beat his adversaries one on one. He does a good job of trying to apply
pressure, going to the net. However, he simply cannot be a finesse player with his frame. He will attract too much attention, which may be a heavy burden for him to
bear. He doesn’t throw his body around enough and when he does, it isn’t all that
effective. Podlesak needs to work his way into the backcheck a lot more frequently. He needs to become an able minded two-way forward.

Podlesak firmly believes that if he adds weight, it will restrict his mobility. He has fought the notion, going as far back as to the end of last season. He will get his chance to play with the Grizzlies under Conacher, but he needs to make a steady and immediate impact to fend off a demotion to the Steelheads.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Fredrik Sjostrom, LW, 21, 6’1, 217 (Phoenix and Springfield)

Fredrik Sjostrom pushed himself extremely hard at camp. He wants to be great and he knows how it get there. He is one of the most passionate prospects on the ice. Once he was comfortable playing with some of the new faces, Sjostrom started to show why he is going to be an elite forward of the future.

He is a flashy winger, an intimidating skater with an amazing set of hands. The only prospect that comes close to challenging Sjostrom’s skills is Lukes. Even though he can be an offensive juggernaut, he needs to be a bit more harmonious with his linemates on the rush and in the offensive zone. Once he gets going, he is a
sight to see.

When asked to best describe his game, Sjostrom added, “It is all about skating. I like to go to the net and be more of a north and south skater. I want to create a lot of chances because I feel I am an offensive threat. It is pretty much the legs that are going to do the work for me.” When asked if he was a more accomplished finisher or setup man, he said, “That is a hard one. With Jeff Taffe around, I’ll probably be more of a
set-up man.”

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Matthew Spiller, D, 21, 6’4, 220 (Springfield & Phoenix )

Matthew Spiller may have gotten a sniff at the NHL last season, but he still has a ton to learn. He needs to take it up a notch and challenge himself. Many times
in camp he didn’t look as if he was asserting himself appropriately. Coming from the position he was afforded last season, he needs to be a bigger leader on the ice and lead by example, rather than taking drills off and giving
a lackadaisical effort. Being that they are both similar style of stay at home defensemen, Spiller is extremely lucky that Logan Stephenson was not attending this year’s
camp as he would have given him a run for his money.

When he is on, Spiller is very effective and is hard to move or back down. He is very strong and protects well, using the poke check and playing his man. He is a solid passer and has a decent shot that carries
some zip. He makes good reads and makes a solid first pass to get the rush started. He is not a offensive threat, but competent holding the
blue line.

Overmatched in the NHL last season, Spiller will have a chance to develop at a healthier
pace this year. He needs to show his desire to persevere and succeed. Hopefully, he was just working the kinks out and he will have a stellar year.

Projection: Utah Grizzlies

Dustin Wood
, D, 22, 6’0, 185 (Springfield and Adirondack – UHL)

Dustin Wood is a gritty defensemen with a hint of offensive talent. He moves the puck exceptionally well and has a good shot. He is a good skater that plays hard and can put in quality minutes. He is very effective defending his zone and he has tremendous physical strength and mental toughness.

If Knyazev is regulated to some sort of a conditioning stint with the Steelheads (because
of missing camp), then Wood will make the Grizzlies opening day roster. However, the safe bet is that is he the odd man out and will play in Idaho.

Projection: Idaho Steelheads

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