With center Evgeny Kuznetsov successfully signed on Monday to a two year contract with a $3M annual average salary, the Washington Capitals brass turned their attention to this week’s Caps Development Camp. Over 35 of the organizations prospects were split into two groups and took part in drills on Tuesday afternoon at Kettler IcePlex.
The key word there is drills. The forwards and defensemen were separated on opposite ends of the ice on the two rinks and each spent time doing various hockey and skating drills. The forward drills were heavily focused on play off of the backboards, the corners, and into the slot where close in shots were practiced, including rebounds. These forward drills, run by Hershey coach Troy Mann, were very structured. On the defensive side of the ice, the blue liners worked on going D to D behind the net and shooting in different situations, including one timer’s off of D to D passes. In addition, keeping the puck in at the blue line and then handling the puck in the neutral zone and passing it to a forward after it exited the offensive zone were practiced.
Only one scrimmage is scheduled this week, for Saturday (Fan Fest), after just two were held the previous summer in the first year of the Coach Barry Trotz regime. In previous years the focus was more on scrimmages, with up to four or five of them occurring during camp.
From what I saw, it looks to me that the Trotz plan is a better one for development, especially since scrimmages can be difficult when players are in varying degrees of condition.
“It’s just the middle of the summer so it’s hard, a lot of guys haven’t been skating that much, so it’s tough…I think that playing games is a good thing, but I also like what they are doing here, teaching more and making sure you know what it’s going to take to get to the NHL. It’s definitely more teaching now, but that’s what you want as a young player,” said Riley Barber.
My focus at development camp was to get a look at some players that will likely play key roles in Hershey this fall and have the potential to be future NHLers. Specifically, the line of Chandler Stephenson (2012 3rd round), Jakub Vrana (2014 1st round), and Barber (2012 6th round) as well as defensemen Madison Bowey (2013 3rd round). In addition, I paid close attention to the play of goalie Vitek Vanecek (2014 2nd round).
Vanecek looked solid in net and he tracked the puck well. He isn’t big, he’s only 6’ 1”, so he relies on his positioning, athleticism, and quickness. The 21 year old Stephenson, who had five points in 10 AHL playoff games in his first season with Hershey, isn’t flashy, but he seems to be a well rounded player.
As for Bowey, Vrana, and Barber, I was able to catch up with them after practice and asked each to describe their game.
“I’d say a two way defensemen, first and foremost I like to take care of my own zone, that’s the key in this day and age. I try to help out offensively…I think my best aspect is probably breaking the puck out of the end, either using my speed or making that first pass…what I need to work on is being a little more physical in the defensive end and making sure I close on guys quicker than normally. I know that you really have to do that more here in the pros,” said Bowey, who averaged a point or more per game in both the regular season (60 points in 58 games) and playoffs (19 points in 19 games) this year for the Western Hockey League champions and Memorial Cup runner-up Kelowna Rockets.
“I think it’s offensive stuff, pretty good skater, I think I can make good goal scoring chances…it’s a smaller rink than Europe so you get more chances…you can shoot from everywhere, more goal chances…you can score from everywhere and at least you can have rebounds…it’s little details, like wall play [I can improve on], I can work on everything, of course, you can improve everything,” said Vrana, who has great hands and a sweet shot with a quick release. Vrana had five assists in three regular season tilts with Hershey and then followed that up with two goals and four assists in 10 games in his AHL playoff debut.
“Responsible in all three zones, but more of an offensive guy. I like to score goals, I like to get my feet moving, create chances and utilize my shot as much as I can. I think I have a good shot and can bury pucks. I think just bringing my speed, playmaking, and scoring goals [in Hershey] is what I would like to do…shot, playmaking, and speed…making plays and just getting pucks to the net,” said Barber, who can play either wing, and had 20 goals and 40 points in 38 games at Miami (Ohio) last season.
As for Stephenson, Vrana, and Barber, well they seemed to be put together on purpose and in drills looked like a potential scoring line in Hershey this fall.
“Those two guys are really good players, they’d be awesome to play with, we had some good chemistry out there, moving the puck pretty well, it was pretty exciting,” added Barber.
Clearly these players have a lot of work to put in and experience to gain before they are able to reach the NHL. However, the opportunity for them to succeed and move up on the depth chart is in their hands. Based on what I saw from the five players I’ve mentioned, the Caps and Hershey have some good young prospects in their system.
Notes: Both Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson have not agreed to contracts as of this posting and have filed for arbitration. In over 95% of these cases the players and their respective teams agree to a deal before the actual hearing. I expect that to happen with both, although if I had to pick one that might make it to arbitration, it would be Johansson…by splitting into two groups, the players are getting a lot of individual attention from the coaches. During the hockey drill portion of the practice, there was a ratio of one coach to two players…practices are open to the public at Kettler and as mentioned above, the only scrimmage will be held on Saturday morning, July 11th.