Had a chance to check out the second scrimmage between the creatively named “Team White” and “Team Green”* at development camp last night. Here’s a few thoughts on the 5-3 victory for team Green:
1. Fan turnout. Very excellent. I was a little worried that it would just be me, Russo, Aaron Sickman, a few other blogger nerds, and, with any luck, Thomas Vanek making it rain twenties on us from the upper deck (a man can dream). In truth, the Wild had about half of the lower bowl filled, and I put the estimate at around 2-3,000 in terms of turnout when talking to a fan next to me (turned out it was 4,100). Great to see fans so interested, no matter how many of the players on the ice they had heard of and with some other sporting event going on in Minneapolis.
2. Alex Tuch. Personally my first look at the teams’ first overall pick last month, as I was unable to attend Friday’s first scrimmage. I’m trying not to think too much of him based on his place in the draft. Remember a few things about pick #18. For starters, the numbers on a pick outside the top ten in terms of NHL stardom drop dramatically, and to boot, this year’s draft was not considered to be especially deep or talented. With that being said, I thought Tuch was a mix of good and bad. The good: He’s huge, and seems to love parking himself in front of the net, which is just where he should be. He scored a very well taken goal snagging a pass that was behind him (in truth I don’t believe it was even intended for him), wheeling and stickhandling past the fallen team green goaltender Brandon Whitney, and roofing his shot. The bad: he seemed to float at times, and when he was forechecking and backchecking he never really seemed like he knew exactly where to go, and as a result his feet stopped moving. Take heart in the fact that at Boston College, he won’t be able to get away with that type of play. Jerry York seems to do a pretty good job of developing pros, which is heartening. Overall, Tuch looked like what he is, a big, talented, very raw specimen. I sat multiple places in the stands, and everywhere I went I overheard Tuch being compared to David Backes. Let’s hold off on that for ten years, but if he turns out to be half the player Backes is, things will turn out just fine.
2. Dumba/Folin. The two roster hopefuls on the blueline were both excellent. Folin barely played, as I understand was also the case on Friday, but when he did he seemed in complete control of the game. An NHL-ready player whould look just like that in a setting such as this, where the talent level is so varied. Dumba showed all of the Drew Doughty-esque skills that make him such an exciting player and a potential 40-50 point per season defenseman. At times his riverboat-gambler tendencies, which will get him destroyed at the NHL level, were evident, so there is still work to be done, but a lot to like there. This should be a fun competition in the fall, but at this point I would put Folin a few lengths ahead.
3. Michael Keranen. Best offensive player on the ice in my eyes. Played on a line with Zach Mitchell and Adam Gilmour, who both scored (Mitchell had the goal of the night on a beautiful patient wraparound) but Keranen made it all work. He’s very comfortable on the puck, and with any space at all he’s a very effective playmaker with great vision. I was more impressed by his ability to stickhandle in tight quarters. He’ll be interesting to watch when training camp rolls around. He’s certainly talented, but it should be noted that he was the oldest player on the ice last night, with perhaps more professional games under his belt that everyone else in the scrimmage combined. It would have been a bigger red flag if he didn’t dominate a game like this. If he can do anything like he did last night against NHL-caliber competition, the Wild may have a real find on their hands.
4. Zack Phillips. I’ve covered four of the players from whom the most was expected in a game like last night, and Phillips is certainly the fifth. He, Tuch and Dumba were the three former first round picks that suited up, and whereas the other two were highly visible throughout the game, Phillips was not. His press narrative recently has been that of a player hanging on to his prospect status by an increasingly tenuous thread, and watching last night it was obvious why. He doesn’t seem to have the skating skills to truly affect the game, and if he can’t catch up, his hands and playmaking ability are just a rumor. This was the knock on him when he was drafted, and it still seems like the thing that is holding him back. Like Tuch, we shouldn’t expect stardom just because he was drafted in the first round (28th in 2010), but he seems like he’s going backwards.
5. It was a mixed bag for the Wild draft class of 2014. I’ve already covered Tuch, but six of the other seven picks were present at the scrimmage (only 6th rounder Pontus Sjalin was absent). 3rd round pick Louis Belpedio looked excellent on defense. He’s small at 5-10, 190, but has incredible speed and great ability on the puck. On a night where being noticed (for the right reasons) means a lot, Belpedio was one of the more identifiable players on the ice.
At the other end of the spectrum was Kaapo Kahkonen, the Finnish goaltender picked in the fourth round had a disastrous night. He played the second half of the scrimmage and gave up four of the five goals scored by team Green. The first, scored by current Gopher and former Minnetonka star Vinny Lettieri, was pill0w-soft, leaking through his body. The second goal he gave up was a close range effort by fellow 2014 draftee Reid Duke (one of two goals he scored on the night). Kahkonen missed a poke-check on that one. Duke’s second goal was a mini-breakaway that trickled through Kahkonen’s legs from a bad angle. Kahkonen plays very low to the ground and also very deep, despite being a smallish goaltender, so he doesn’t have much margin for error, which was unfortunately the theme of his night. Take heart in the fact that Kahkonen won’t be 18 years hold for another month and a day, however, so he has plenty of time to develop his game back in Finland.
Two of the 6th round picks, Duke and Chase Lang, made for the most interesting interaction of the game late on. After Duke scored his second goal, he and Lang went tumbling into the corner together, and popped up for a mini-scuffle. Both players seemed to really go at each other for about two seconds, before remembering that this isn’t a WHL playoff game (Duke plays for Lethbridge, Lang for Calgary) and that they were actually teammates. On a night when the hitting seemed like it was about 40% intensity (somewhere in between the All-Star game and the final regular season game, when no one wants to screw up their golf hands) it stood out.
Other random thoughts:
– One of the invitees was a player name Dallas Valentine. He didn’t do much of note, other than a nice goal in the shootout, but that’s ok, because with that name, if he doesn’t quit hockey tomorrow to start a long career making spaghetti westerns, I’ll personally be very pissed.
– A little bummed not to see Mario Lucia play, as he was the only player announced as a scratch in warmups. Not injured, he just had to get back to Notre Dame to attend something called “class.” Sounds like a scam to me, but whatever.
I’ll leave you with a few ranking lists, broken down by a few categories that I made up for capricious purposes. Do with these what you will.
Best actual roster hopefuls:
1. Christian Folin – Clearly the most polished player on the ice.
2. Michael Keranen – Fun to watch. Much more intrigued by his pickup than I was a month ago.
3. Matt Dumba – In five years we are either going to love him or hate him.
4. Gustav Oloffson – If things go well, we won’t see him with the Wild this season, but he played very well and if he had to play I’d be fine with it. Great tools, and time in Iowa will serve him well. Love his future as a steady second pair guy.
5. Kurtis Gabriel – Didn’t see much of the “rat” game that everyone loves about him, but you could tell he would have planted a few poeple if they were wearing anything but Wild colors. If and when he does eventually play of the Wild, people could take to him the way they did Cal Clutterbuck.
6. Zack Phillips – See above. More than worried about his future with the team at this point, but we’ll see.
How the undrafted signees fared (all signed since the end of the season):
1. Michael Keranen – As I mentioned, thought he was the game’s best forward. Very fun to watch with the puck in his hands.
2. Zack Mitchell – Scored twice while riding shotgun with Keranen. Had the game’s best goal when he took the puck around back of the net, stopped, started to reverse back, stopped again, and then finished the wraparound, making Brandon Whitney look a little foolish. Played on a great offensive team in Guelph this year, and could be another good find. Fun to see how he does in Iowa this year.
3. Guillaume Gelinas – Defenseman who jumped up into the play to score a nice goal last night. Had a ridiculous 92-point season in the QMJHL last season, but is another tiny defenseman who will need to prove himself at the NHL level.
4. Brady Brassart – Played on Tuch’s line, and assisted on his goal. Very energetic. Doesn’t look as talented as Mitchell or Keranen, but a decent enough player. I would say the longest shot of the three to ever play for the Wild.
How the 2014 draft class fared:
1. Louie Belpedio (3rd round) – Great on the puck last night. Undersized but still very young. Keep your eye on Miami (OH) this year, as he’ll be suiting up for them.
2. Alex Tuch (1st round) – Didn’t affect the game as much as Belpedio, but he certainly looks like a scorer, so he has something to build on.
3. Reid Duke (6th round) – Two goals and a mini-tussle. Showed some good hands and quick feet. A lot to like in a player who doesn’t have much in the way of size.
4. Tanner Faith (5th round)- One of the few players who was actually physical last night. A good thing to see, since he’s huge (6’3, 211).
5. Chase Lang (6th round) – Outshined by his fellow sixth rounder Duke, but at least the tussle was a draw.
6. Pavel Jenys (7th round) – Didn’t do anything of note, and looked a little lost on the ice.
7. Kaapo Kahkonen (4th round) – I’m thinking of renaming the Wild’s 2015 development camp “Working the poke check: Kaapo’s Revenge.”
Best of the rest (invitees):
1. Alex Gudbranson – Younger brother of Florida defenseman Erik was also very physical, and looked like a grown man playing against kids at times, though that might have just been the beard.
2. Reid Gardiner – Great speed in another smaller forward, made a lot happen, and scored one of team Green’s five goals.
3. Vinni Lettieri – His goal was a bit of a gift, but the U of M forward worked hard and seemed to always be around the puck when on the ice.
4. Zach Palmquist – Former Minnesota St. defender from South St. Paul was notable in a defensive group that included Folin, Dumba, Olofsson, and Belpedio. Can certainly play, despite being tremendously undersized.
That’s all for now. I’m hoping something happens in the next few months, otherwise known as the “hockey blogger’s black hole.” C’mon blockbuster trade! Failing that, enjoy the fine summer weather. Oh, sorry.
*This is why I could never work for the Wild. If I had been running things, these would have been called “Team Jazzercise” and “Team Seven-Minute Abs” just to make the P.A. announcer say those things over and over again. Does that make me a bad person?