Training camp opened in Fort Worth today, and I was able to get out there to see some of it. There is a lot of unknown on this roster and with this coaching staff. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, honestly, so I went in with few assumptions.
While one day isn't fair to draw conclusions from as far as what kind of team this is going to be, I will say there seems to be a lot of determination in this camp. I think there's a lot of guys on this roster that have some things to prove -- to themselves, to the staff and front office, to national team executives, to the media, to the fans. I don't know that a lot of people are expecting much from this group, and maybe that's a point of motivation in the locker room right now.
The pace during today's drills and scrimmage was very fast -- closer to game pace earlier in camp than in other camps I've seen. The guys didn't hold back, often going after one another hard in the corners. The play was physical and the emphasis on forechecking and backchecking strongly was definitely part of the action today. Lindy Ruff didn't have a lot of downtime in the on-ice sessions.
I don't think we can read too much into line combinations used today -- they had an even split of prospects and NHL veterans among the different groups. However, there are things that can be said about individual skill sets. So here we go...
- You could tell some rust was being shaken off today, as passes were not always crisp. There were some turnovers, and the game conditioning isn't quite there yet. However, the team looked like they were having fun while working hard at the same time.
- Jamie Benn was part of Group A. He led his group for stretching, and was often discussing drills with the other guys. He had a big grin on his face for most of the morning -- something tells me he's excited to be back out on the ice. The reports that he's put on a few pounds of muscle are legit. He looks leaner than he has in past years, and looked stronger on his skates as well. The work he put in during the summer is apparent.
- Valeri Nichushkin had a little bit of a rough start in the scrimmage at first. He got caught up in a few scrums along the boards and was slow to get up after the second time it happened. He adjusted in the second period and didn't seem to have that problem as much. He had several quality scoring chances, and was on a line with Tyler Seguin and Brett Ritchie most of the time he was out on the ice. That line showed a lot of speed, and was very bullish in the offensive zone. Seguin's speed combined with Nichuskin's hockey sense and Ritchie's hard drive to the front of the net led to a number of chances.
- Sergei Gonchar didn't look like he's going to have any trouble fitting in with these young guys. Some watchers were surprised to find that he's out on the ice with guys nearly half his age.
- Seguin at times looked like he was thinking hard about how to play out on the ice. What I mean is, there were times where it looked like he had to actively think to look for the pass instead of shooting like a winger would. He adjusted as time wore on, and his line seemed to click a little better once they settled in.
- Alex Goligoski's backskating looked stronger than I remember it being last season. His first stride seemed to be a tad faster as well. It's most likely a product of the focus on his leg strength in offseason training. He had several nice crisp passes to break out of the defensive zone as well during the scrimmage.
- I know we keep remarking on it, but the Dallas prospects are pretty large dudes. Nichushkin, Jamie Oleksiak and Alex Chiasson are really easy to pick out on the ice.
- Ritchie impressed today. He seems to have a similar style of play as Benn -- he powered into the offensive zone, wasn't afraid to go to the dirty areas, and went to the front of the net on a lot of his play today.
I'll be out at camp again tomorrow, and there will be more to see. Planning to come out? Make sure to say hi if you are! Camp ends Saturday with a free intrasquad scrimmage. Information can be found on training camp here.