Panthers 2007 Rookie Camp review

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

From Sept. 7-10, the Florida Panthers hosted a Rookie Tournament in Kitchener, Ontario inviting rookies from the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs to take part.Below is an account of the goings on at that tournament from a Panthers perspective.

September 7th Game #1 Florida 2 Ottawa 1 (Shots: Florida 28 Ottawa 25)

This game served as the coming out party of Mike Duco, a product of the Kitchener Rangers on an Amateur Tryout (ATO) with the Panthers. In the lineup due to a groin injury to Brady Calla, from the time he first stepped onto the ice to the end of the game he laid on the body in a big way, changing the momentum in Florida’s favor every time he’s out there. That he also ended up scoring the winning goal in the second period was a bonus. Other forwards making a positive impression were Michal Repik, who scored the other goal, Shawn Matthias, who made the first line a threat with his play making and quick decision making while proving to be a very able penalty killer. Michael Frolik also displayed very good offensive skills, but by the end of the game it seems like the top line of Frolik, Matthias and Repik while good, could have done more. Among defensemen Martin Tuma and Bret Nasby showed themselves to be very good at bringing a physical kind of defense to the game. Peter Ashton showed very good decision-making and a penchant for getting his shot through. Tyler Plante played a very solid game in goal, several times coming up big on screen shots. On the downside Corey Syvret got taken to the cleaners a couple times on defense.

Commenting after the game was Florida Assistant Coach, Guy Charron, handling the bench for this tourney.

HF: Did anyone stand out for you tonight?

GC: I think is very difficult to pinpoint one or two individuals, I think when you win a hockey game it’s usually a collective effort from the hockey club. What I mean by that is our goaltender made the save when we needed to have the saves, during the course of the game you are going to have some breakdowns but I thought for the better part or the most part everybody kept their composure. There was a good work ethic, for some of the kids it was their first experience. There’s always a few jitters early but I thought they dealt with that situation very well. As an organization we were encouraged by the fact that we had a good collective effort and we found a way to win.

HF: Is there anyone to whom you’re saying ‘Well, he can improve his game by doing a bit more of this’?

GC:  Well at this stage, especially at this tournament, yes because you have tryouts, you have free agents you have draft picks. You look at the overall situation, a tryout or a free agent will hopefully get himself a contract professionally so you observe how he plays and how he handles himself, those kinds of things. As far as your prospects, you’re encouraged to see for example Repik was our second-round pick this year and I thought he did some real good things. I think he has great potential so we’re encouraged by that. Frolik, who was a pick from last year, showed some improvement. You’ve got Matthias, that line if you isolate, those three kids are all prospects of the Florida Panthers and all three played really well.

HF: What did you think of Duco’s game?

GC: We’re very excited and very encouraged with his acquisition because sometimes it’s good how that can turn out for a player because of an injury and those kinds of things. We’re really excited by his effort; he brings a lot of enthusiasm, his physical presence and tenacity. A lot of times teams need players like that and then he ended up scoring the winning goal tonight. He was able to help us out and I thought he did a tremendous job.

September 8th Game 2 Pittsburgh 6 Florida 3 (Shots: Pittsburgh 39 Florida 30)

This tilt had a bit of David and Goliath to it as it pitted the oldest team at the tournament (Pittsburgh) against the youngest. David Shantz got the start (later it is revealed that Tyler Plante had an injury that required him to go to Florida for re-evaluation). There were three main themes to the night, the first being the work of what for the most part was the line Charron threw over the boards to start every period in Kenndal McArdle and Keegan Danserau flanking David Brine. The line accounted for all three first period Florida goals with Brine netting two and Danserau one. Also of interest was Shantz’s first action in the tournament. While he had a good first period, he did let out a couple of juicy rebounds. By the time the second period came around Pittsburgh had figured out that the ‘shot and a rebound’ tactic would work and used it to perfection against the young goalie. Additionally, what chemistry there had been between Frolik, Matthias and Repik in the first game had faded by the third period and Charron began shuffling lines. He kept Matthias and Repik together but rotated a series of wingers with them in an attempt to find something that would work. As for Frolik, he didn’t play as much but when he was on the ice it was with different linemates.

After the game Florida Goaltending Coach Pierre Groulx took the time to answer a few questions:

HF: This wasn’t the game you had hoped for. Did you see any redeeming parts to this game?

PG: Oh yeah, the effort of our guys was there, the bounces just didn’t go our way. We just got to stop running around in our D-zone. All around you have to learn from every game you play, you just got to learn from it. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes, we’ll probably talk about it tomorrow, but it’s a learning experience.

HF: What did you think of Michael Frolik’s game?
PG: Michael tries to create things offensively, that’s what his job is, he’s going to try to create things offensively. He was alright, he’s an offensive player who tried but it just seemed like the puck wouldn’t follow him. He seemed a bit frustrated but sometimes that happens with offensive players.

HF: What did you think of Dave Shantz’s game?

PG: I think Dave started the game well, started the game very well actually, but there was a bad break on the second goal where there was a tipped puck that went right through his legs. He battled all night, it was just one of those games where the puck didn’t seem to hit him, it was just one of those nights where they would get a rebound from (a shot), you forget about it and move on. Sometimes the puck hits you every time, sometimes it doesn’t. He knows that there were probably a couple of goals he should have had, but that’s hockey. He’s just got to bounce back the next game he plays.

A good time to check out a practice in a tournament such as this is after a team’s first loss. After the next practice, Coach Guy Charron answered the following questions.

HF: I noticed in last night’s game during the third period you didn’t play Michael Frolik as much as you were in the first two. What was the reason for that?

GC: The reason for that is basically we felt we had a good first period and then the team kind of did not play as well and we just thought making line changes would start something in a positive way. He has played center before, he’s capable of playing both positions. It was just sometimes when things don’t go your way you try to do things to change the rhythm or the momentum a little bit. He was maybe caught out not playing with the same line so maybe lost a rotation here or there but there was no particular reason we were just trying to make some changes with the lines.

HF: I noticed with the line drills you were running today he was playing center as well. Does this mean we’re going to see him at center tonight?

CG: That’s correct.

HF: Although the game didn’t go like you thought it would, was there any shining beacon of light in the game, was there someone who didn’t quit when the game got out of hand?

GC: I don’t think so, I mean it is pretty easy to compliment or say that we had a pretty good first period. We took a 3-1 lead and we had one opportunity by one of our defensemen that might could have eventually made it 4-1 and that might have eventually changed the momentum of the game but it wasn’t. So at 3-1 a team that’s got some experience, that came back on Toronto the night before from a 5-2 deficit with 10 minutes to go (Pittsburgh beat Toronto 6-5 in that game) so we knew they were capable of doing that. They probably built up some confidence even though they were down 3-1 and they came out in the second period and put some pressure (on) which you know during the course of the game it’s not always one way. There’s going to be a time when the other team is going to get some energy and then whether it’s through their specialty teams a power play here, a power play there. So the biggest thing is they did capitalize. They put on the pressure to get us disorganized and we didn’t handle the pressure very well and consequently when we might have needed the big save or something to really pull us together, it seemed that probably scored. That really takes a lot of momentum out and on a inexperienced team, you know we have the youngest team in the tournament, these players sometimes don’t react the same way the veteran guys that played AHL hockey the last year. That’s basically what we felt had happened. They played hard and when they did come hard we weren’t able to sustain pressure.

HF: How would you rate David Shantz’s game last night?

GC: Without a doubt it was below average for David as a goaltender. It’s a position that you know every game in the tournament has pretty well been dictated by the performance of the goaltender. When we won 2-1 (in the first game versus Ottawa), Plante played very well for us. He was able to handle the pressure when the other team took advantage of our team and made some big saves to keep us in the game and consequently we won. To Dave defense, he wasn’t busy in the first period and that’s probably the biggest mistake there because goalies like to be busy right from the get go. When they did come with the pressure we didn’t really support him as much as we should have consequently the other team was able to capitalize. So his performance to his defense was he wasn’t busy in the first period but again that’s the job of a goalie. He’s got to find a way to come up big when needed and for him last night was perhaps an off night and we’re confident he’s going to play better tonight.

September 9th Game 3 Toronto 6 Florida 3 (Shots: Pittsburgh 39 Florida 30)

This match saw the continued struggles of netminder Shantz as well as further line shuffling from Coach Charron as he tried to find a third player for Matthias and Repik while trying to fit Frolik in somewhere where he would make an impact. For the first period Tanner Glass was the lucky recipient of first line ice time but later both Mike Duco and Kenndal McArdle see action there. In any case Matthias and Repik continued to gel with Repik scoring twice and Matthias once in the game. For Frolik’s part his partners changed constantly throughout the night as Charron tried to find something that worked. In addition to that, we saw right winger Dan Collins line up for the first time at the left point on the power play. While he did get off some good shots and make some nice passes, there were times when the puck was muffed and his defensive shortcomings (at least when compared to a defenseman) are in evidence. Shantz was plagued by bad rebounds all night long and a bad goal at the end of the first between the legs that could have been prevented had he had his stick in position seemed to be a precursor of things to come.

After the game Coach Charron answered some of HF’s queries.

HF: I noticed that there were up to six different combinations of left or right wingers to go with Matthias and Repik. Could you comment on that?
CG: A lot of the changes that you saw, different line combinations were powerplay combinations, that’s why you saw as many changes as you did. Otherwise they basically tried to stay with the players they were assigned to from the beginning, except in the third period we made a few changes, like McArdle had played well with Matthias and Repik so in the third period he played with them. But the other combinations you saw were probably just power-play combinations where we have bits and pieces of different lines to compliment.

HF: I’ve noticed you’ve been using Collins on the point on the power play. Is this something he’s done before?

GC: Yeah, he’s done that with his junior team and last year at the rookie camp we used him a little bit so we knew he was familiar with playing that position. With the amount of power plays we had, we ended up using him. Let’s face it, we are definitely lacking in producing offense so that’s why we use a forward, it could potentially help our production.

In addition to Coach Charron, Goaltender coach Pierre Groulx once again talked about Florida’s netminders.

HF: You’ve had a chance to take a look at your goalies for three games. What do you think of them?

PG: I really like Tyler’s athleticism, I think he’s a good reaction goalie and he’s got a lot of potential, he’s got a lot of skill. As for David, I like David, he’s got a good technical style but right now it’s just a matter of being more assertive in his net, taking more ice and being more of a goaltender and letting the puck hit him. It’s stuff that is easily fixable, you just have to remind him to challenge and take away the angles the players have and be assertive, be there, take your ice.

HF: Is he playing too far back in his net do you think?

PG: Yeah, he’s not playing assertive. He’s got to challenge he’s got to take away that ice, he’s got to take away the angles from the shooters and he’s not doing that right now. It’s just a matter of maybe being nervous or having the jitters. The potential is there, he is a good goaltender. It’s just a matter of doing that

HF: How would you rate his rebound control?

PG: That comes hand in hand with being aggressive. If you’re being aggressive then the rebounds are controlled better because you’re higher and you have more leverage control. If you’re deeper the rebounds go where you don’t want them to go. And rebound control comes with being anxious a bit, not being sure, not being assertive. So it’s hand in hand, everything goes hand in hand.

September 10th  Game 4 Toronto 4 Florida 0

The rematch between Florida and Toronto was to decide third and fourth place (Pittsburgh and Ottawa would play later in the day to decide first and second). This time the Panthers decided to dress all seven of their defensemen and 11 forwards in an effort to take one last look at their blueliners. For the first time in the tournament Charron elects to start the game with something other than the McArdle line trotting out Repik, Matthias and Duco for the opening faceoff. Other things in the game that deserve comment are the improvement of Shantz’s rebound control, at least for the first half of the game. When Shantz’s confidence dips, rebound control goes out the window. Matthias and Repik combined on a few good chances during the game, there is definitely some chemistry there. Although they lose the game it wouldn’t be for a lack of a physical game. Even though Frolik got injured halfway through the second and was lost for the game, the club had several good hits throughout the last 30 minutes despite playing with 10 forwards. Collins shows himself capable of playing the point on occasion shutting down a two on one. Among full-time blueliners Ashton and Henry look the best.

After the game Guy Charron answered some questions for the last time this tournament.

HF: This was the final game of the tournament. What were your views of the tournament?

GC: I think it’s a good experience for the younger guys. For a lot of our guys they had to play against some of the teams (that) had players that had more maturity than they did, more experience as far as playing at the minor pro level. It’s a tough competition, so for them for the tournament itself, I know I’ve been part of it for probably four or more years even with this organization the last four years. I think there’s certainly some benefits. If there was a downside it was the lack of success we were able to generate. I think that’s always more difficult to deal with it, but the overall format of these kinds of tournaments, I know for my part, I find them an enjoyable opportunity to see the young prospects that are in your organization and see the young prospects of other organizations.

HF: Is there ever a problem of maybe a confidence loss when you don’t have the success you’re hoping for?

GC: That always comes to mind but the selling point is not the lack of confidence, it’s learning the experience but I think that’s a valid point what you’re saying is that you have to reassess sometimes when you’re having difficulties. If you can’t find a way to be at the level of having some success then maybe we have to reassess our situation. But I think we were capable of having success at this particular tournament, a few things might have gone against us, in some way that maybe the performances were wrong, some of the time where the team played well something else was wrong or whatever it may be or we didn’t capitalize. On a day like today we played well enough for 40 minutes and we never got the lead. They scored the first goal and then in the third period I think the difference was we had a few injuries and we were down to three lines and they kept throwing four lines out there. They’re an experienced team so I think the score in the third period was just an indication that our guys were getting tired. They kept throwing four lines at us and we had a tough time keeping up with that.

HF: Can you elaborate at all on the injuries?

GC: Well we lost Frolik, he had a collision in front of our bench actually and hit the side of the glass, he had to have repairs in his mouth. That’s basically the only forward that got hurt but we had seven defensemen tonight and we had 11 forwards so when he went down that put us at 10 forwards. These are just little things that sometimes things go your way sometimes they don’t.

HF: Throughout this tournament you’ve had ample time to kill penalties. Who stood out in that regard for you?

GC: Well we used everybody, certainly the more experienced guys like Brine probably does that at the East Coast level, McArdle is certainly the type of player that can excel because of his speed. We try to use everybody on every line. Matthias, who’s a young player, killed penalties, Repik, Frolik, they all did. Killing penalties is having good awareness and the ability to make the right decision with the puck. Most players are capable of killing penalties so to say that any particular ones excelled more than others, I think some of them might have fit that role more than others but overall everyone had opportunities and overall I don’t think it was a major problem.

Making it to main camp: Michal Repik, Dan Collins, Tanner Glass, Shawn Matthias, David Brine, Adam Taylor, Michael Frolik, Mike Duco, Kenndal McArdle make it among the forwards. From the rearguards Franklin MacDonald, Jordan Henry, Martin Tuma and Peter Ashton make the cut. Both goaltenders, Tyler Plante and Shantz, are named to the big camp.

Below are comments on each of the players who attended the Florida Panthers Rookie Camp:

David Brine – Showed good two way skills, would have liked to see a bit more finish as all of his offense came within 10 minutes

Brady Calla – DNP-Injured

Dan Collins – Showed versatility in playing the point on the power play as well as taking a regular shift up front but lacked finish

Keegan Danserau – Good penalty-killing ability, but needed more finish

Mike Duco – Changed the momentum of the game in favor of Florida whenever he hopped over the boards. Real fireplug in the Chris Neil mold

Michael Frolik – Showed great skill but couldn’t find chemistry in the short time

Tanner Glass – Gave a good effort

Grant Goeckner-Zeller – Didn’t do enough to stand out

Shawn Matthias – Was an impact player every time they called his number

Kenndal McArdle – Showed amazing versatility in playing different roles on different lines

Mike McLean – Did nothing to stand out

Michal Repik – Was a threat whenever he was on the ice, meshed well with Matthias

Adam Taylor – Showed good penalty-killing skills, faceoffs were also a plus

Peter Ashton – Very intelligent player, could stand to be a touch more physical

Jordan Henry – Does everything well, nothing outstanding

Paul Kurceba – Didn’t do anything that got him noticed

Franklin MacDonald – Showed good offensive skills but needs to be more physical

Bret Nasby – Was very physical, showed adequate decision-making.

Corey Syvret – Was overmatched a few times, needs more seasoning

Martin Tuma – Was very physical, showed good decision-making

Tyler Plante – Showed very good technique, was great on screen shots

David Shantz – Seemed to lack confidence, rebound control needs a lot of work

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