PITTSBURGH PENGUINS DEVELOPMENT CAMP 2014
DAY 1 ANALYSIS
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
Coaches on the ice:
Staff in the stands:
Other members of the scouting staff
Stephen Mastalerz (G)
Injured, not participating:
Derrick Pouliout (shoulder surgery)
Jaden Lindo (knee surgery)
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Team White took to the ice first. Team Black came on about an hour later on clean ice to repeat the same sequence of drills. The players from Team Black were available to the media after the on-ice sessions.
Mike Johnston was easily the most-active coach on the ice – drawing the drills and shouting out a majority of the instructions. All of the coaches – including the 3 guys on the NHL staff – were on the ice for the duration of both sessions.
Team President David Morehouse sat alone in front of the staff in the stands, mostly as a casual observer. He was present for a majority of the first session and much of the second session.
Controlled breakouts had the weak-side winger moving across the ice into the neutral zone to push the play up the ice and add support to the puck side. It was only evidence in one drill, which was the only drill with any resemblance to a hockey system. It fits well with Johnston’s emphasis on puck possession.
Scott Harrington first player on the ice, by several minutes. He was also the first player to start actively working on individual skills when the formal portion of the session ended, teaming up with Adam Payerl to shoot one-timers for a few minutes. In between, Harrington was impressive in all facets of his game, especially in one-on-one situations. His quickness is clearly among the best on the ice and likely only rivaled by Derrick Pouliot among the prospects on defense.
Defenseman Jeff Taylor is sleek skater and smooth with the puck. His finesse talents look very good, but he needs to add overall strength to his frame, but looks to be a nice selection in the final round of the draft.
Reid McNeill has clearly improved his agility and coordination. His skates are under him more, and he is able to make a quicker jump towards the puck or into the play. He still has some work to do on his stride and puck skills, but his continuous improvement shows why he exceeded expectations last season.
Stephen Mastalerz, a camp invitee as a goalie, tends to get deep in his crease and does not have enough quickness to make up for it. He had a decent season of college hockey but still has some work to do before making it to pro hockey. But having a few goalie prospects still in the junior and college ranks, the Penguins need to give some looks to more options to fill the system down to Wheeling.
Matia Marcantuoni consistently grabs attention with his top-end speed, but his puck skills are still a bit too lacking to convert that asset into production on the offensive end. His future in the organization will be as an energy guy and penalty killer, which is on-par with where he was projected coming into the week.
As could be expected, the best forwards on the ice in the first group were Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Josh Archibald, and Oskar Sundqvist. Adam Payerl and Tom Kuhnhackl were solid but not yet as impressive as the Penguins are surely hoping for. Those two will have a better chance to shine when there is more focus on physical play and generating offense from the forecheck.
Goaltender Matt Murray looks far more athletic than he was a year ago. He is exceptionally improved on low shots from getting his pads in place far more quickly. And his recovery is remarkably better than it was last summer.
The expectations on Bryan Rust have shifted over the year to him being a physical, defensively-responsible forward instead of a scoring, power forward. But his scoring touch is starting to show more promise again. He has an improved backhand shot and a good sense for finding loose pucks around the net.
Center Oskar Sundqvist seemed to wear down physically over the hour-long session. Surely the time change from Europe to Pittsburgh this week played a major factor in that. Just as last year, he is still expected to steadily raise his performance throughout the week and prove his value as one of the top young forwards in the system.
Jake Guentzel possesses the best offensive abilities of all the forwards in his group. He handles the puck with speed and finesse, creating shooting and passing lanes nearly every time he controls the puck.
The overall offensive talents were clearly better in the second group, with Anton Zlobin, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Conor Sheary, and Scott Wilson headlining the group. The lack of a top-end prospect among the forwards was still quite noticeable.
Looking to fill the void of elite forward prospects, first-round draft pick Kasperi Kapanen took to the ice for the first time in a Penguins uniform. He is smooth in his fundamentals, and while he executes well, he did not yet display the overall speed in his play that is considered one of his strengths. His ability to make things happen immediately places him among the top forwards, with plenty more to show over the next 5 days.
Brian Dumoulin was a man among boys for this session. With Pouliot unable to participate, Dumoulin ranks as the top defensive prospect on the ice this week. And he solidified that title with exceptional performances in every drill and in all of his skills, including a few goals in the drills. Without much doubt, he was the best player on the ice today.
Jean-Sebastien Dea continues to be an intriguing prospect, especially with the addition of some size and upper-body strength. He is naturally gifted with the puck and has plenty of north-south speed to make things happen. He showed a few instances of being able to gain body position with his speed and maintain it with his new-found strength.
Conor Sheary will rarely make a strong first impression because of his size (5’ 8”, 175), but his tremendous AHL playoff performance alone will make the Penguins’ staff watch him longer. His skating stride is short and overly-deliberate, but he executes well with the puck on his stick. He seems to possess a knack for quickly reading the situation and making an accurate pass to the open man.
Teddy Blueger has made the necessary physical improvements to his game, looking much stronger on the puck and more willing to drive the net. The hope for him is to begin a late – but much-anticipated – ascent into a play-making center.
Tristan Jarry immediately appeared far more confident today than he did in his first go-around last July. He is considerably better in his technical skills – getting square to the initial shooter and keeping towards the outer edge of his crease – while looking a step better in his athletic skills. The addition of physical strength to his body seems to have benefited both of those areas quite nicely. He still struggles to stay square in recovery situations and got beat a few times on quick shots to the glove-hand side.
Defenseman Ryan Segalla has accelerated his development, starting with more body strength and more confidence in one-on-one situations. He is aggressive at the puck/play without sacrificing his defensive positioning in the process. He is still a half-step too slow and needs to rely too much on the reach of his stick against speedy players.
No longer the youngest player on the ice as he was a year ago, Dane Birks looks intent on being more aggressive for this year’s camp. Aiding that, he seems to have gotten considerably taller over the past 12 months. But a risky play in the small-area game at the end of the session resulted in a bad turnover and a subsequent puck in the back of his net.