PITTSBURGH PENGUINS DEVELOPMENT CAMP 2013
DAY 1 ANALYSIS
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
The first day was broken into 2 sets of identical practice sessions, with 2 goaltenders and a mix of forwards and defensemen in each session. All drills were primarily centered on the basic skills of passing and shooting, with no contact, 1-on-1 play, or small-area games employed today. It was clear from the nature of the drills on the instructions being shouted by the on-ice staff that there is a strong emphasis on teaching the players how to better support the puck, getting to the right spot with speed, and communicating more to the player with the puck.
The players collectively looked a bit nervous and out-of-sync at the start of each session, especially the fresh faces to the organization. As Assistant to the General Manger Tom Fitzgerald phrased it, “It’s still summer hockey.” But the tempo and crispness of the drills picked up progressively as the players became more comfortable and more focused. The overall skill level on the ice seems well above what the average has been over the past few years of this camp.
*Goaltender Tristan Jarry, the team’s second-round pick in this year’s draft, immediately showed a lot of similarities to Marc-Andre Fleury, outside of the obvious distinction of wearing #29 at this camp. Like Fleury, Jarry stands rather upright as the play develops in his direction and sets quickly once the play is established in the zone. He is very apt to making an athletic save, despite joking afterwards with General Manger Ray Shero by asking, “Is the puck smaller here?”
But aftermath of the shot may not always be so consistent or predictable, as was extremely evident with Fleury in his early exposure to the team and still lingers today. In the shootout at the end of his session, Jarry exhibited a strong tendency to retreat quickly after getting into his initial stance, often putting him right on the goal line as the shot was taken. His athletic nature has likely masked this habit during his early development, but that will be an area of his game he will need to improve upon as he reaches the critical stages of his career.
Manning the other net in the first session was Eric Hartzell, who is in his first development camp with the team but had the luxury of practicing with the NHL club over the final few weeks of last season. Hartzell is much more fundamental in his approach than Jarry, and the weakness in his game seems to be loose pucks around the crease. He doesn’t seem to find the puck quickly, and while he looks to put himself in a good position in these situations, he is often not able to align himself properly to where the puck and potential shooter are coming from. At 24 years of age, Hartzell is easily the oldest goaltender in the camp (and 2nd-oldest overall), so his limitations have a lot less potential to be resolved. Still, he adds value to the strong corps of goaltenders Shero has now assembled in the system.
Bryan Rust showed good, simple skills around the net, which could translate into a third-line role at the NHL level down the road. Rust has steadily progressed since being brought into the organization through the draft in 2010. As a junior at Notre Dame last season, he led the team with a +25; tied for the team lead in assists, power-play goals, and game-winning goals; and was second in goals and points. He played the wing on the team’s top line with 2 other junior forwards, so Rust has the opportunity to be in a familiar situation and take another step forward in his game this coming season.
Tom Kuhnhackl shows a lot of skill with the puck on his stick, but may struggle to find his place in pro hockey due to the inability to win battles on the boards. He finished up his group’s on-ice session by working directly with Bill Guerin on that very thing. Kuhnhackl quipped afterwards about those battles with Guerin that, “He didn’t get [the puck] today!” His lanky stature is still going to require some more strength, but he has a good frame at 6’2” to gain some leverage already. If he can add to his lean 172 pounds, which he has struggled to do the past few years because of multiple injuries, he could progress along the same lines as Beau Bennett did over the past few seasons. Although Bennett is far-more gifted offensively, Kuhnhackl could find his niche by gaining a grittier component to his game.
The second on-ice group immediately offered a contrast in goaltending styles. Matt Murray and Sean Maguire were both drafted last summer, so that and the position they play is nearly the limit to their similarities. Maguire is very technical in his stance and movements, but he lacks quickness in his reactions and recovery ability to bring his game to an elite level. Even though Maguire is 6’2, Murray is actually visibly taller in the net at 6’4”.
Murray goes a good job at getting set then reacts very quickly to the first shot and the rebound opportunity. Murray expressed afterwards that he has gotten stronger over the past year to improve his quickness and aid in making a few extra saves. “To combine the size and the movement, if I can get in the right position, a lot of pucks are going to hit me,” Murray added.
Philip Samuelsson has come a very long way since being drafted in the second round in 2009, particularly in his skating. He’s just a few days shy of his 22nd birthday and seems to be maturing accordingly with his size, skills, and poise. This will be an important season for the big defenseman as he looks to solidify his place among the plethora of talented defensemen in the Penguins’ system.
Derrick Pouliot has been hyped as a swift, explosive skater, but he did not show that as an elite strength on the first day. His stride seems a bit short and his recovery does not find his feet getting completely back underneath him. At merely 19 years of age, those are flaws that can easily be corrected, especially as the player continues to mature physically. The power-skating session scheduled for Thursday morning should serve as a great stage for gauging Pouliot’s true abilities and shortcomings in this area.
At age 20, Scott Harrington already has the build to establish a presence on the ice at the professional level. Those physical numbers are impressive at 6’2” and 205 pounds, but his offensive production was not where it was hoped to be last season in the OHL (19 points in 50 games). This is already his third development camp, and he seems ready to make the leap into pro hockey due to his size, skating ability, and quick release of the puck.
Jean-Sebastian Dea put up huge offensive numbers in juniors last season with 45 goals and 85 points for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL. That failed to get his named called at the recent draft – likely due to his small stature – but it did earn him an invitation to the Montreal and Pittsburgh camps as an undrafted free agent. On Day 1 in Pittsburgh, the young centerman seemed a little out of his element in the early stages, often struggling to control the puck and make a crisp play.
But it takes a lot of skill to post 45 goals in the Quebec league, and he seemed to find his game as the session progressed. He should be an interesting player to watch as he continues to settle in over the course of the week as the only French-Canadian in the camp. “Maybe I’ll earn a contract over the summer. If not, I’ll keep working hard to have a good season again,” commented Dea.