July 8, 2011

Bruins 2011 development camp Day 2 notes and observations

By Kirk Luedeke

WILMINGTON, Mass.– The second day of Boston Bruins development camp started out with a full hour session dedicated to power skating, led by new B’s skating coach, Besa Tsintsadze.

The 24 players including three goaltenders were put through the paces by the compact, yet explosive and dynamic Georgian coach brought in by the Bruins after spending about five years with the Pittsburgh Penguins as their skating instructor.

“The skating part is always interesting because there’s a lot of edge work and you’re not sure what guys are at what level,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’re going to do that at especially development camp and throughout the year with Besa. I think he’s real good at what he does; very energetic guy.”

In the U.S. since 1997 when he left the former Soviet republic, he began working with individual hockey players to improve their skating until joining the Pens from 2005-10.

“Besa came in late in the year,” Cassidy said, adding that Boston management handles changes in coaching personnel. “Everyone brings a different element. Besa certainly has ability to skate– the way he zips around out there– they should sign him. His motivation for the players, I like what he does with the guys. He keeps them moving, he mixes in edge work with puck skills work while you’re working your edges and balance.”

After the skating portion, the B’s prospects reconvened for drills and foundation work.

“We’re not doing a lot of systems here per se,” Cassidy said. “It’s more about skill development, building in some habits. Back pressure, some of the things the Bruins pride themselves on, so we’re working on that everyday.”

Cassidy was encouraged by what he saw in the first two on-ice days of work from the assembled group of prospects.

“As whole they’re doing very well, they tested well for the most part,” he said. “They’re in pretty good shape and they’re going to get lots of work and demanding work. So far, I think they’ve been great.”

As was the case the first day, both Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight shined up front. They were early second round picks for a reason, and Cassidy is encouraged by what he’s seen from the both of them.

“These are the guys you’re kind of waiting for September to really watch, because you know they’re going to be the best guys out here,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve disappointed anybody. Those are the guys you watch down the road because I think they have a legitimate shot to push some people for jobs here.”

The numbers game may or may not work in their favor come September main camp because they don’t have the option of shuttling between the NHL or AHL- both must return to junior hockey in the OHL if they don’t nail down a spot in Boston. Next season, Spooner and Knight will be AHL-eligible to start the 2012-13 season and just might do enough to win NHL jobs then.

Regardless of whether they make the B’s right away or not, the pair of prospects who have become close friends off the ice despite playing on rival junior teams, should make things interesting for the fans.

Observations:

Dougie Hamilton, D: The more you watch the ninth overall pick in 2011, the more you come to appreciate his mobility. He showed off his impressive leg drive in the power skating session, but also has excellent crossover ability and is a superb backwards skater. Today was not a day to see all that much from a passing and shooting standpoint, but Hamilton showed exactly why he’s such an intriguing prospect given his blend of size and mobility.
Bruce Cassidy: “For a big guy at 6-5, he moves pretty well. He’s very fluid. Most guys 18 years old are still growing into their body; they’re a little bit clumsy. But he’s got very smooth feet for a big man and gets around the ice very well. I haven’t seen him play, obviously, I don’t do the scouting, but I imagine that’s going to translate and that’s why he was the ninth pick because (of) the skating- he looks like a heady player and has a good stick. Again, he’s one guy for sure that I’ve noticed that looks good. You don’t know until September comes around and he’s playing against men but he sure looks like the real deal out there for the past 48 hours.”

Alexander Khokhlachev, C: A solid, but most uneventful day for the 40th overall pick last month. The small, stocky Russian is a good skater, but lacks high-end speed and pure jets to separate. However, he’s strong on his skates and demonstrated good edge control throughout the first session. When you watch him closely, you can see he has the quick stick and vision to be a strong offensive player. He’s undersized, but has the look of a player who could bring another dynamic element to Boston’s offense eventually. After both sessions, he told New England Hockey Journal that he was very tired from the work put in today, which is a good sign, but also gets to the conditioning factor that Cassidy mentioned in the post-practice presser.
Cassidy: “Watching some of the in tight drills, especially the small ice games, he’s got excellent hands tight- he freezes goaltenders. He gets pucks up in tight, so certainly the skill and goal scoring ability is there. His conditioning needs to get better, but he’s one of the- what usually happens- these young guys, it’s an eye-opener their first camp and I don’t think they truly realize how good a shape professional players are (in). He’ll get that down, but like I said, I like his instincts around the net.”

Ryan Button, D: The strength of Boston’s third-round pick from 2009′s game is his skating and mobility. He showed the wheels and quick turns, agility and rapid change of direction off again today. He doesn’t do a great deal of things in a flashy way, but he’s steady and dependable with the ability to add an offensive element to any defense pairing he plays on. He got a chance to skate for his new AHL coach in Providence at the end of the season and could develop into a solid middle-pair defender and special teamer in time for Boston.
Cassidy: “He’s very mobile, can push the puck up the ice. He’s got decent hockey sense. That’s an area (where) most kids coming out of junior- if they’re good skaters- get away with certain things because they can recover. And that’s what we saw last year. Some of the things he probably got away with- cheating up in the neutral zone to try and pinch off some plays- he got exposed a couple of times. He knew it, and he learned. We just want to see him- again, we talk about consistency in a defenseman- because every mistake gets magnified when you’re back there. So, he’ll have to go through that process. He’s stronger than he has been, and that’s natural- every year at that age, guys get a little stronger. So that will help him in his battles. That’s an area that he’s going to have to be a good contributor in as a defensive shutdown type of guy. And then maybe he’ll grow into the other part of it offensively.”

Ryan Spooner, C: Another standout performance from the 19-year-old who is probably the most dynamic and skilled offensive player of any in the entire Bruins system. He can hit any part of the net at will and terrorizes defenses and goalies a like with his high-end speed, shiftiness and shot/release. B’s prospect Zane Gothberg said today that Spooner hides his release point very well and then on top of that, puts the shot in a space where the goaltender is forced to move to make the save. Those are hallmarks of a pure scorer and Spooner has it. His overall game is still a work in progress, but offense is what brings people out of their seats, and the kid has that flair.
Cassidy: “Spooner is a playmaker as advertised. He was always making something happen. A lot of times good things, making plays. A lot of times, turnovers that were high-risk. Those are some things that will be addressed over the years with him. But you don’t want to take the creativity out of his game.”

Mike Hutchinson: Looks like the senior goaltender in camp. Mature (a recurring theme as you will read from coach Cassidy), focused and composed. The B’s drafted Hutch because of his size, athleticism and character and you’re seeing a much more polished, take-charge player in these early sessions than in years past. Be sure to read today’s blog entry about the threesome of goalies at development camp- they all are big, prototypical players in terms of their physical attributes.
Cassidy: “It’s very rare you find a guy that has goes like this all year and climbs, there’s usually some peaks and valleys and (Hutch) had his. He’s a mature guy for his age as far as goaltenders go. Sometimes, you hear it all the time- goaltenders can be a little goofy- I find him to be very mature for his age. Pretty focused guy, hard worker. It’s just a matter of that big body and developing his technique and athleticism to a level it needs to be. I would assume he’s going to have a good year for us just because of what I saw last year, he’s a mature guy, he’ll get better. I don’t think you’ll see him go backwards- he’s a pretty focused guy.”

Other notes

Marc Cantin: Looked fluid in his skating and movements throughout the second day. He did try and line up Eric Robinson for a big hip check during one of the drills and completely whiffed, but you can see the style comparisons with him to Mark Stuart and Cantin has the look of a guy who could make it as a hard-nosed shutdown guy in the NHL one day.

Steve Spinell: Miami University camp invite will turn 21 in September and is another fluid skater who looks like a pretty smart defensive player. He stood out during some of the 1-on-1 drills where he controlled several skilled prospects, including Spooner by maintaining his gap control, keeeping his stick active and staying with his man while backing up.

Alexander Fallstrom: Rising Harvard junior looks to have improved his skating since a year ago. He’s still a little sluggish coming out of the blocks, but his edge work was better and he’s developing more power in his stride and leg drive as he grows into his 6-foot-2 frame. Fallstrom’s got the stick and shot to put the puck in the net, so if he can get quicker, he’s got potential as a bottom-six NHLer one day.