The biggest difference between today's session and yesterday's was that it was managed primarily by Ulf Samuelsson. Roddy and Wes were also on the ice as was Cujo. It was only later in the practice that I spied Bill Peters up in the stands watching his staff and his charges at work. In general the day was a little looser, and while structured, seemed to have a slight air of the casual (operative word is slight).
Still there were lots of rushes, lots of hard skating, and a bit more of a scrimmage-like feel. Even though all four of the goaltenders played extremely well, many more shots seemed to find the back of the net (it is practice after all). There were a number of slick passes that led to sweet finishes. There were also a number of muffs and fumbles, which too, should be expected.
One other note, Nicolas Roy was apparently under the weather and didn't participate in the morning or afternoon session. Given his play yesterday, that's a shame.
The Goalies - All four of the young netminders were on their game today. Given that they had jerseys with their names displayed, it was easy get a feel for who was doing well. In this case they all were. Alex Nedeljkovic was again his "sticky" self, not giving up many rebounds and using his glove to great affect. Jack Lafontaine probably had two of the best stops, both involved him making an initial stop followed by an acrobatic sprawl. Jeremy Helvig stopped every shot early, except for two beautiful shots by Warren Foegele. That's significant as the shots were piling up early. Finally, don't forget about Callum Booth. He seems to be the overlooked goaltending prospect. Today, he was seriously on his game and might have been the best of the bunch.
Matt Filipe and Max Zimmer - The two new guys who I didn't see much from yesterday, showed up big time. Filipe can just fly and used his speed a couple of time to get separation for open looks at the net. Zimmer's shot is incredible. Time and again he whipped one-timers past the goalie or rang a post from a near impossible angle. They were both much more visible today.
Janne Kuokkanen - I'll readily admit I'm enamored of this pick and the kid is showing pretty well this week so far. He's a bit like Aho was last year, starting off in an almost underwhelming fashion but doing all the little things. His hands are like butter and his passes are on the proverbial money. In particular he set up Elynuik for a very pretty goal. He seems to excel more in the game-like drills than in the pure skill drills, so Saturday should be interesting.
Spencer Smallman - He was much more noticeable and in a good way. He had a couple of nice looks and buried them. He also seemed to be more engaged overall. In particular he was playing well close to the net, putting in a key rebound as well as netting a near impossible angle shot. This was the first time I've noticed him in the last two years.
Zykov/Elynuik/Kuokkanen line- On a few of the rushes and in some of the scrimmage like drills, these three were tossed out on the ice together. They had some clear chemistry plus it was a prototypical line construction where Zykov was the sniper, Kuokkanen was the distributor, and Elynuik was the crashing power forward. I'd like to see more of these guys as a group.
David Cotton - He's big and he's got a nice pair of hands. I still can't tell if he's a good skater or a poor skater. I just haven't been able to a long enough look. He does have a very quick release. As soon as the puck finds itself on his stick, off it goes. He had a couple of nice goals to prove that theory.
The Very Good
Roland McKeown - He was the best defender on the ice this afternoon. I didn't see him get beaten once and, in fact, he was aggressive in his defensive work to an extent that the play would have gone the other way (in a real game setting). In particular there were a series of what I'd call "back-skating" drills where the defender was to skate backwards for as long as possible while the offensive player was rushing up the ice. Only when it looked like the forward was going to get around the defender was the defenseman supposed to turn and skate back facing the goal. McKeown almost without fail was the last defender to have to turn. His positioning was outstanding and he forced his man to the outside consistently. He also had a fantastic offensive rush where he clearly aimed his shot for a perfect put-back-rebound. His forward partner had an easy job of putting it away.
Warren Foegele - This might sound like a broken record but we got a bit of a steal with this guy. Personally, I think he tops out as a solid 2nd line guy, but he can play center or wing and his skills show up well in both roles. He made a couple of simple but slick passes today. His shot was really a laser (he was the only guy to beat Helvig early). And he looked a bit like a leader out there. Last year I remember this one occasion where he blew past Fleury in a drill where it was clear that Haydn didn't know anything about his speed. There was a similar drill this year, but Fleury was ready....until he wasn't as McLovin again turned the corner on him with a quick burst of speed. There's a lot to like about this kid.
Hudson Elynuik - He was pretty good yesterday but he was very good today. He's a deceptively good skater, but his game resides in his mitts. For a guy his size he can really control the puck. He passes quite well, is up to speed in a step or three, and can put the puck where he wants it. He had the offensive rush of the day where he ended up flipping over the goalie, but not before he put the puck over the sprawled goalie's shoulder (Ned, I believe). This kid is filled with effort and has a fair amount of skill to boot.
Julian Gauthier - He, too, was even better today than yesterday. There must have been half a dozen times where he used a different shot, from a different angle to beat the tender. One time in particular he was coming toward the net with speed, then slowed quickly while getting his shot off at the same time. The end result was something like a change up where the puck easily went over the goalie's right shoulder, but with a little less pace. He also had an break away with Haydn Fleury where they were matching each other's speed. Fleury made the nice last minute dish that Helvig actually anticipated but as he got over, Gauthier rifled the puck over the opposite shoulder in something of an against the grain type of shot. Yup, he was definitely better today than yesterday.
Ben Gleason - This was something of a surprise, but Gleason, who looked a little lost yesterday in the few times I noticed him, really had his game together. He was the 2nd best defender on the back skating drills (full disclosure, I didn't watch Fleury in that particular drill). He's got decent speed, made several nice stick plays, and never seemed out of sorts or out of position. He also made a number of nice passes, the kind where you see the pass, comment on how good it was, and then look up and see that it was from Gleason. There was a reason he was ranked as high as a potential 3rd or 4th rounder.
The Question Marks
Jake Bean - He just didn't look all that comfortable today. For a kid who is supposed to think the game so well, he had a number of errant passes and got down-right used on the back-skating drills. It wasn't that he was bad, he just wasn't anything special.
Luke Stevens - I really want to like this kid but he is so deferential as to be almost timid. He's big, skates pretty well, but looks totally lost much of the time. I think the college coaching and the college game will make or break him. He is still very young.
Steve Lorentz - He skates a bit like Eric Staal, meaning he could be deceptively fast, but he didn't have his best day today. For some reason he had a fair amount of muffs on passes and catches and he didn't pot a single shot that I saw.
Noah Carroll - I just don't see it. He doesn't look like he's got anything special going on at all. He reminds me of a lesser version of Kyle Jenkins.
The guys I didn't mention didn't necessarily have a bad day, they just didn't stand out, or I didn't watch for them as intently. As I said the practice was a little less structured in my mind and had a little more game-like play. Regardless, the kids were definitely winded at the end of the session, even if, at the end of the day, they did stay out on the ice for quite a while shooting on the goalies.
I'll be back again on Saturday to report on the formal scrimmage. Go Canes!