Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bruins Development Camp Day 3: Power skating notes and a look at the defensemen

The second day of on-ice work began with dedicated power skating work in the first hour. The team broke up into forwards, defensemen and goalies and worked different skill sets/received specialized instruction today. It all wrapped with a nice scrimmage that gave fans in attendance a few things to talk about, especially Ryan Button, who was the best player on the ice today.

Given Joe Colborne's experience and familiarity of being in his third B's prospects camp, he had the task of demonstrating the various drills to the forwards

It was pretty interesting to see the varying levels of skating proficiency in the Bruins players.
Nicholas Tremblay really stood out. What he was doing out there for those who saw him, epitomizes the meaning of the scouting term describing someone as a "plus-skater." He not only had the speed, but the balance and excellent edge control to go with it. Hockey isn't just about the skating, so if Tremblay could round out his game more, he's certainly a guy to watch at least in a checking role.

Tyler Seguin was very good as well. He just strikes you as one of those guys who is a quick study and good at everything. If he wasn't executing the drills precisely the first time, he had it down pat on the second run. Jared Knight wasn't the fastest guy in his group, but he was precise and his technique was flawless. I mentioned that observation to one of the members of the Boston Bruins brass in attendance and he concurred, noticing Knight's excellent form as well.

Contrary to some reports I've seen, I felt that Jordan Caron struggled with the skating drills today and was one of the weakest I saw in the forward group. He's not a "bad" skater, but he lacks a strong first couple of steps and is not as good on his right side as he is his left. On one particular drill, when the players had to make 's' cuts on one skate while lifting the opposite skate in the air, Caron did not do well while cutting on his right. Once he changed direction and had to cut on the left skate, he did much better. But each time the forwards did drills to isolate the skating legs, I noticed that he had distinct difficulty mastering his edges and mobility on the right foot/leg. Now, I didn't see Milan Lucic when he was at development camp in 2007, but someone told me Caron was far more effective and agile than Lucic was. So, you have to take this all with a grain of salt. That said, Caron himself has said that he needs to improve his skating. And after watching him today, I agree.

As far as the defensemen went today, Button was outstanding in the skating drills, as was Tommy Cross and David Warsofsky. The d-men focused most of their work on pivots, turns and backwards mobility. Button has a fluid stride and makes extremely tight turns, essential qualities for a two-way rearguard. Because they were on the far side of the ice, it was tougher to see who was doing what, but it seemed like whenever I noticed a player in a black practice jersey (the defenders wear black, forwards white) moving well it was either No. 78 (Button) or No. 82 (Cross). I thought Steve Kampfer (No. 88) was also pretty smooth as well.

Button's signature moment came during the scrimmage, when he showed off what I heard from scouts about in his draft year: an underrated offensive ability. He doesn't have a lot of help up front on the Prince Albert Raiders, but if his confidence can grow after making a play like he did today, then maybe he will carry more of the offensive load for that club than the previous couple of seasons.

The play started when Button took a pass at the left point. He started to pull it back as if to fire a slap shot from the point, sucking Jordan Caron to him. With the open ice in front of him, he then deftly pulled the puck away from Caron and kicked in the after burners, zooming around the left circle before cutting in on Mike Hutchinson and firing a bullet that beat the right-catching goalie on the shortside and popped the water bottle into the air.

"It was kind of funny actually; I shot the puck and didn't know if it went in or not," Button said to me while suppressing laughter, clearly enjoying the moment. "I've been telling everyone that'll never happen again. I've been working on my shot, so it was nice to have it pay off with a nice goal."

Warsofsky is explosive and quick, with high-end speed in a straight-line, but also the agility and elusiveness that an undersized player must possess at that position. He appears to have outstanding vision and the ability to read the developing play. During the scrimmage, he picked off a pass in the neutral zone and exploded up the ice before wiring a wicked laser that Adam Courchaine managed to get his glove on, otherwise it too, would have been a Button-esque highlight goal.

Cross has showed off the tools that saw the Bruins trade up in the early second round in 2007 to land him. He's big, strong and skates well. During the scrimmage, he kept things simple and on one play, he stapled Justin Florek to the wall and didn't let him move until one of his teammates was able to pull the puck from the scrum and then transition it out.

"It's great, I'm enjoying this as opposed to other years," Cross said when I asked him for the umpteenth time this week how it felt to be an active participant as opposed to the previous iterations of camp, when he was on crutches or in limited skating activity as was the case in 2009. "It's a fun experience and it makes it that much better to be out there on the ice with the coaches and trying to get better."

A member of the reigning NCAA champion Boston College squad who captured the crown in Detroit last April, Cross got through the entire campaign without an injury setback for the first time since the 06-07 season, when he became a top-35 selection by the Bruins out of the Westminster School in Connecticut.

"It was just a really valuable year," he said, reflecting on his national championship run with the Eagles. "Just to be on a team that goes through a playoff run and goes through ups and downs over the course of the year. To learn what it takes to win and how tough it is. It's just a valuable thing.

"Individually, I made some big strides this season. I certainly have a long way to go and I'm ready to make those jumps."

Zach Trotman also skates pretty well for his size. He's a bit gangly and will need some work on his pivots and turns, but his overall mobility is solid. And he assisted on one of the goals when he threw the puck in on net from the point. I believe it was Tyler Brenner who deflected it in past Matt Dalton, but couldn't be sure as I was screened from seeing the front of the net. Dalton verified after the scrimmage that the shot was deflected.

Yuri Alexandrov hasn't done a great deal in the two days I've observed him. On the first day, he looked a bit gassed and spent time hunched over catching his breath. I'm not sure what he is at this point. There are times when I can see his smooth passing and vision, but I've also seen him swiping at the puck ineffectively and not making the kind of aggressive plays that a defender of his experience would in this kind of setting. I'll be interested in seeing how he plays in more of an extended scrimmage, because the limited action drills don't play to his strengths.

Kampfer scored one of the scrimmage's goals when he walked in with the puck and rifled it past Courchaine. It was a nice play on what appeared to be a defensive breakdown by the penny-wearing side. I like his wheels and he's kept things pretty simple thus far.

Matt Bartkowski is a player who is the epitome of the KISS acronym in hockey: Keep It Safe, Simple. He's an OK skater, and he plays hard along the walls, but he's not leading any rushes and when the puck is on his stick, he's making the safe outlet play and throwing it into the corner. I'm going to make a concerted effort to watch him Friday, which is tough, because he doesn't do much to stand out. When you're talking about a stay-at-home shutdown defenseman that's not at all a bad thing.

As far as forwards go, the Seguin-Knight-Caron line showed some skill, but weren't able to find the back of the net. It'll be interesting to see if they get another chance to form a trio and get after it tomorrow.

All in all, a good day. Will be back with more thoughts tomorrow night after Friday's activities.


  1. Interesting comments about Caron's skating... sounds like something that he should be able to improve on, right? So it would be more of a short-term than long term problem.

    Dissappointing comments about Alexandrov (is he the Zach Hamill of defensemen - a guy whose lack of tools will hold him back?) but very encouraging about Button and Cross.

  2. Kirk, if you were to now project Button for his future, would you give him a number 2 ceiling?

  3. Caron's skating should be correctable, yes. But, I now have a better understanding of where the "needs to work on his skating" reports came from. Good kid, though- he said it himself that he's got to work on it, and he will.

    As for Button, he could be a No. 2 based on what we're seeing here this week, but have to reserve judgment till we see him more in a training camp/preseason setting. But, he's really boosted his stock this week. Great guy to boot- impossible to root against.