Day 3 of 2017 Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp is one that doesn’t feature on-ice practice. That isn’t to say the group in camp aren’t getting a day-off though as today will see everyone being active in the local communities. Being a pro on the ice is one thing. Being a pro off the ice is something completely different and something far more important.
That’s their plan for the day. And Day 4, tomorrow, will be back to practice sessions at Centennial Sportsplex for the final stop before the Future Stars Game held at the Bridgestone Arena Friday night. With this community day set I find it a nice time to give an analysis of some of my first impressions from the opening two days of on-ice practices.
The first day utilized a lot of the practice toys I often poke fun at here in Milwaukee because it is like watching a real life mini-game out of an EA Sports NHL series game. The drills highlighted skate speed, hand speed, puck control, and edge control. Ultimately at the end of the run players would be firing shots on net, often times attacking from different angles which also work the goaltenders in camp for lateral speed and in-tight shots.
For my experience watching the Milwaukee Admirals, who do get to use props such as that to run drills on occasion, I could see some of those players having an advantage to running those drills. Some of those drills would have been familiar and, at the very least, the have worked with the practice equipment before. In addition, those are the guys already honing their skills at the AHL level so naturally they look that much flashier and sharper. Watching guys such as Alex Carrier and Anthony Richard were attention grabbing as a result. They are incredibly quick. The same could also be said of Samuel Girard working through the prop obstacle course. For a defenseman to be as agile on his feel and maintain puck control through such harsh cuts of movement it is amazing. Girard looked every bit as advertised when he made his pro debut with the Admirals at the end of the 2016-17 season. He might have a year of junior hockey left but -mercy- is he good.
While recent Admirals may have experience with the skill drills it did highlight some who looked a little flustered and some who excelled in the moment.
Victor Ejdsell on Day 1 had me holding my breath a bit. He is listed on the roster this week at 6’5″ and looks almost more than that. What was concerning was that he looked to suffer from a term I’d like to refer to as Jonathan Diaby Syndrome: he looks too big, and too lanky, for his own good. Size is a great thing to have but, especially in today’s game, size has taken a backseat to outright skill and ability and primarily speed. If you can play with speed you are going to put yourself in a position to have success. Ejdsell has been playing in the lower tiers of Swedish hockey. He really burst on the scene last season in the second tier of Sweden, Allsvenskan, and produced great offensive numbers: 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 50 games -plus- 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in 10 playoff games. That’s being done on a much larger ice surface where there is more freedom to roam and more runway strip space to rev up to a high gear. Ejdsell’s skating on Day 1 looked awkward. He looked a little more loosened up and smooth on Day 2 in more of the scrimmage style line drills but he is going to need some time to adjust into the North American game.
On the opposite side to that, David Farrance cutting through all the skill drills on Day 1 was a heck of a sight to see. My rapid fire “analysis” was that he can skate really, really, really good. Imagine that, a Nashville Predators defenseman who can skate. But he demonstrated a lot of ability with puck control and a shot behind it on that day as well. On Day 2 they paired him up with Jack Dougherty and the two looked as if they were a defensive pairing last season. Add a dash of Grant Mismash showing a wicked shot these last two days and I cannot say enough good things about the United States National Team Development Program. It works very well.
I feel I’ve said it in each of the Chatterbox columns on Day 1 and Day 2. I want to say it in more blunt terms now. The player who has impressed me the most so far as been Tyler Kelleher. Part of that is seeing how he looked, practiced, and played upon arrival to the AHL late last season.
When Kelleher arrived to Milwaukee last season I could wrap my head around what I was seeing and the term “Hobey Baker Award Finalist” to the way he was skating, shooting, and then playing in-game. I couldn’t see a difference in Kelleher’s game versus Stephen Perfetto who was being thrown in on a PTO Contract from the now defunct Alaska Aces of the ECHL. If anything, I’d have preferred Perfetto to Kelleher based on effectiveness and all I saw during practices in Milwaukee.
That said, it’s a bit too harsh to think that way when in reality he is a 22-year old kid that went from finishing up his collegiate career at University of New Hampshire, signed his first career professional contract, and was thrust right to game action before acclimatizing to the team, the league, and the situation he just found himself in. What I have seen this week out of Kelleher is a player that very much looked the part of someone that was Hobey Baker Award Finalist. He looks much more relaxed, confident, and explosive. His skating skill is evident. His puck handling skills are impressive. And he has been flashing of a nasty range of shots. It’s as if he has been able to slow his world down a bit and settle in. I certainly have noticed a difference in talking with him this week. He’s getting to be himself. And that could bode incredibly well for the Milwaukee Admirals this season because they lost a player this off-season who I think Kelleher very much could emulate: Matt White.
In net, there are a number of prospects in this week and not many of them are necessarily Predators property. Étienne Marcoux, Andrew Shortridge, and Atte Tolvanen are all invitees. Shortridge has been the one in that group who I’ve enjoyed watching the most. He’s a 22-year old listed at 6’3″ who is really quick in net and tracks pucks real well. I think it is his lateral speed for the size which stands out.
Meanwhile, the two Predators prospects in net are both Czechs and both have had moments where you sit back and smile. Karel Vejmelka and Tomáš Vomáčka are both really talented. I’m not sure how close either would be to making a push for the AHL but, if needed, I would love to see Vejmelka given the breakthrough into the North American game. He has yet to do that in his playing career and is looking potentially like a season with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech league is afoot. Vomáčka has been playing in the North American Hockey League and looks set to join the collegiate ranks with UConn after a season spent in the USHL this Fall. For an 18-year old goaltending prospect Vomáčka could be a lot of fun to watch grow as he’ll be acclimatizing to a North American style game in advance of turning pro.
If you have been attending 2017 Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp this week: who are the players that are standing out the most to you?
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