|Ryan Spooner (photo: Getty)|
WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins opened up the team’s 5th annual development camp Thursday at Ristuccia Memorial Arena, their first such event as Stanley Cup champions.
The 24 players in attendance ranged from first-round draft picks to undrafted free agent signings, with several undrafted invitational players also on hand to take in the experience.
The jersey numbers started at 50 (Alexander Khokhlachev) and went as high as 90 (Eric Robinson, a forward participating on an invitational basis). The prospects completed morning off-ice testing and a vigorous afternoon skate led by new Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy, assistant GM Don Sweeney and goaltending coach Bob Essensa.
Sweeney has been a driving force behind what has become an annual summer rite of passage for the youngest of the prospects in Boston’s system, helping to implement the first camp back in July 2007.
“I think overall we’ve got fresh faces in here,” said Sweeney. “We got older guys that are returning. You hope that you blend that together right away and that maybe some of the older guys kind of give them a little heads up because some of these kids coming in here are wide-eyed; they don’t have any idea.”
Boston’s primary player developer talked about the initial team meeting and introduction Wednesday evening, and imparting expectations and the team’s philosophy on the newest players right away.
“You try to take away some of that nervousness,” Sweeney said, “and tell them that, as I’ve always said, the Bruins are here to learn about you; you’re here to learn about the Bruins and how we do things, and then learn about yourself and where you need to go between now and September when you come back here or you go to college or back to the USHL or OHL or wherever you’re going to go play.
“And be a sponge throughout the course of the week, because there are a lot of teaching moments that happen over the course of this week that you should file away and learn from.”
One of the most eagerly anticipated players to hit the ice was No. 9 overall selection Dougie Hamilton, an 18-year-old rearguard who starred for Niagara of the OHL with 58 points and a reputation for playing steady defense.
“(He’s a) big boy,” Sweeney said of his team’s top draft pick. “(He) moves really well for a kid that’s 6-4. I like his overall approach to the game; he looks like he wants to get up ice and is conscientious about his 1-on-1 play. It’s a small sample size obviously, but based on all of our games we watched him play, he’s a well-rounded player that has a lot of room for continued development.”
Sweeney referenced two of the camp’s more “veteran” players in Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) and Ryan Button as guys who are expected to be leaders for their peers in 2011. Cross is the captain of the 2011-12 Boston College team and Button will begin his rookie pro season with the Providence Bruins in the fall after completing his major junior career with the Seattle Thunderbirds last spring.
“I wanted all the kids to feel very comfortable,” said Sweeney. “We’ve had players make our hockey club coming out of the development camp and going to the rookie camp and going to the training camp. I want everybody to realize that they get to know the staff and they just feel comfortable when they come back.
“They’re part of this organization now, even in the capacity of an invite that we have a few of these kids here. They’re here because our staff that works ridiculously hard to identify who are the best players have earned the right to be here. They should feel good about that and hold their head high and go about their business.”
In addition to the on-ice work and off-ice conditioning this week, the Bruins prospects will engage in a paintball match at some point for team bonding and get a chance to see a bit of Boston along with some community service work.
“It just feels great; first practice with (an) NHL team,” Khokhlachev told New England Hockey Journal. “This is something in my dreams and I’m just happy to skate and play today.”
Spooner and Knight shine
Ryan Spooner reminded everyone in attendance why he was a second-round pick with a dazzling display of speed and puck skills. He victimized netminder Zane Gothberg on some snipes and at one point, saw all but one of his shots find the back of the net, the lone exception being a puck he rang off the crossbar.
“It’s great to be back,” Spooner said after the session. “I knew a lot of guys who were here last year and knew what to expect, so just getting out there after doing the testing was a lot of fun today.”
Spooner’s speed and puckhandling skills are worth the price of admission, but his fellow second-round pick from the 2010 draft, Jared Knight brings a little something different to the table.
“I think both those players (Spooner and Knight) have matured first and foremost,” Sweeney said. “Ryan, I’ve talked to numerous times during the course of the development role that I kind of play in some areas away from the ice as well as on the ice, but most importantly, away from the ice and the challenges that the professional ranks will present to him.”
Spooner looked like he had added some muscle mass to his 5-foot-10 frame, but the added weight did nothing to slow him down, as he skated with a lot of power and explosiveness.
Knight showed off his wicked shot and release, beating the goaltenders numerous times top shelf. At one point, he violently collided with goalie and former London Knights teammate Mike Hutchinson.
“Obviously, Jared drives to the net and that’s probably typical,” Sweeney said afterward, referencing the incident. “I was talking, actually, to Doug (Hamilton) and Marc Cantin, two guys in the OHL, it wasn’t any surprise to them that it was he that ran into Hutch. Mike’s fine and Jared’s not going to change his game.”
Hutchinson confirmed that although his head struck the crossbar and the left post in the collision, he was not injured on the play. He was held out of the rest of the session more because only a limited amount of time was left than as a medical precaution.
When Knight returned to the locker room, the first thing he did was check in on Hutchinson to apologize and make sure that his teammate was feeling fine.
“Jared’s a little bit more ready-made in terms of his physical stature and what he’s going to be as a physical player,” said Sweeney. “The cerebral part of the game for him is what we’re going to continue to work upon and I think we did that in Providence when they got a snapshot.”
Trotman benefits from experience
Defenseman Zach Trotman has nice size at 6-foot-4 and is an agile skater coming off of his sophomore season at Lake Superior State, where he led all Lakers blueliners in scoring with six goals and 20 points in 38 games.
Trotman, who turns 21 later this summer, was the last pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (210th overall) by the Bruins and demonstrated his raw upside in the skating and shooting drills.
“I think it’s a little bit easier,” Trotman told New England Hockey Journal after the on-ice session. “I know a lot of the guys, there’s not a lot of new guys, but I think anytime been somewhere before and met the guys it’s a lot more comfortable coming in.”
Trotman said that he was glad to get the fitness testing portion of the camp over with.
“It was good,” he said. “(I mean) the bench and pull-ups and then the dreaded run tests that everyone talks about, but it was all right. I did it last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. I was happy with my scores.”
Trotman said getting on the ice soon after testing was the best way to get things going this year.
“It’s nice to get on the ice the first day and get all of the kinks out from the summer and get one under our belt right away,” said Trotman. “As you could tell, some of the guys’ legs were getting pretty sore at the end there, but we’re done early and can get some recovery in and be ready for tomorrow.”
Birthday celebration, Bruins style
Defenseman Robby O’Gara turned 18 on July 6, the day he reported to Wilmington for the team meetings and orientation.
The Milton Academy standout and fifth-round pick looked strong in his first on-ice session with the team, displaying his trademark long stride and fluid footwork. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he’s lanky with a lot of filling out to do.
Because he’s played at lower levels, O’Gara is a project player who is on the long road to Boston.
“Robby’s a piece of clay right now,” said Sweeney. “Albeit it’s a big piece, at 6-4 and change, things have come at him a little quicker here in the last I’d say eight months. I had a chance to see him a lot; he’s in our backyard. We went down and spoke to him and he’s excited.
“This is probably catching him a little off guard in terms of the preparation aspect of it. As I mentioned, you come from the prep school ranks and there’s a lot to digest here in a short period of time. The good thing is there’s no timetable for him and he’s not going to get any smaller.”
Sweeney confirmed that O’Gara will be at Milton one more season and then is off to Yale University under head coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.).
“He’ll be one of those kids that walks out of here hopefully, and learns an awful lot,” said Sweeney. “And takes some of this stuff going forward.”
Kirk Luedeke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.