Impressions from the Jackets' Development Camp Scrimmage
First and foremost, my apologies. Obviously, I attended this scrimmage... on Saturday. Why wait until Tuesday to write it up? Mostly the laziness that can only come from having a cast on your broken leg and a holiday weekend during which to simply veg out and rest it. Lame, I know.
At any rate, here we are. I made my way down to the Ice Haus on Saturday to catch the scrimmage to end Development Camp, and managed to hobble my way down to the dressing room afterward to get some audio from a few of the guys. Overall, I liked a lot of what I saw out on the ice. There were a few guys I went in wanting to isolate on and watch, but I also went in giving myself the assignment of finding a player or two I didn't know as much about that stood out to me. There are a couple of those. Finally, I wanted to find some guys that clearly have some work to do to improve. I didn't want this to be a complete glad-handing review.
Obviously, a grain of salt is needed since these observations are from one measly scrimmage, but there were quite a few players who looked solid out there. Some of that is the level of competition, but I think some of it is the nature of the improved depth and development taking place at the lower levels of the organization. Read more about several guys after the jump.
First, I'm going to say that Boone Jenner might have been one of the steals of this draft. He plays responsibly, and even though people say he doesn't look like much of a pure scorer, he showed some hands and some skill on Saturday. He doesn't skate exceptionally well, but he's not a liability.
Jenner made a sick shootout move, and scored another goal in regular 5-on-5 that was skillful:
He's going to surprise some people, and can probably play that 3rd line center and, ya know, SCORE. Plus, when I talked to him, he let me know that he doesn't think the label of just being a defensive guy is necessarily accurate. "Everyone says I'm a two-way guy, and I'm okay with that," Jenner told me. "I know I can put the puck in the net just as well. I've been a scorer...growing up. I take pride in the defensive zone as well. Today I got a couple chances to show [my skills], and I don't know if people were surprised or what-not but I'm confident in my skills that way."
The fans love him, too, and filled the Ice Haus with BOOOOOONE every time he made a play. "It was pretty funny," Jenner said of the chants. "The first goal...it wasn't really that loud, and then the second goal it was really loud. Sometimes I think they're boo-ing me, but I guess they're just saying 'Boone'. It was really cool."
Some other guys that I thought stuck out, for good or ill:
Ryan Johansen - He was obviously one of the guys I was going there to watch. He looks like he's put on the muscle they say he has, supposedly up over 200 pounds now. He looks fluid on the ice, sort of like Rick Nash. It never looks like he's skating super hard, but he covers the territory he needs to and finds his way to the puck. He put a sick finish on Martin Ouellette where he had the puck coming in off the left side, and froze Ouellette for a second with a fake, and then whizzed the puck through the goalie's five-hole. It was surgical.
A funny moment about Johansen: the first interviewer in the dressing room asked him about making the team this fall, and Tyler Wright walked by and yelled, "Slow down! Slow down!" I asked Johansen about it, and he was cliched but realistic. "I'd agree [with Wright]," Johansen said. "It's a long way to main camp, still. It's going to take a lot of hard work for the rest of the summer for me to reach my goal. I'm going to do everything I can to get to the position I want to be at and to the strength level I want to be at. I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer."
My favorite part of the discussion was that he really brightened up when I asked him about laying out Adam Larsson in the World Juniors, and asked him about wanting to be a more physical player. "You always want to have as much of a complete game as possible," Johansen said of trying to be more physical. "If I'm playing the body like that and being able to put pucks in the back of the net and make plays, that's good."
To me, this is my favorite upshot of the Jeff Carter deal: I can't see a scenario in which they send Johansen back to Portland. There's nothing left for him there, and they have the depth at center to ease him in and bring him along slowly while also continuing to allow him to develop his complete game.
Cam Atkinson - You've no doubt read a ton about this guy and about his performance in the entire Development Camp, and having never seen him play live I didn't know what to expect on Saturday. From the looks of it, everything they say about him is true. He can fly, the puck seems to follow him around, and even when much bigger guys try to ride him off the puck they just can't get it from him. "I think being a smaller player benefits me in a way," Atkinson said. "I know critics would probably think otherwise. I try to use my body as my advantage, and obviously speed is my biggest asset. [I try] to shoot as much as possible. If I'm working on those [things], I've got to take care of what I can control and that's what I can control."
He scored three goals (of the four his team scored), and on one he came in down the left wing, had a d-man all over him, still got right to the crease and roofed a backhander by goalie Mathieu Corbeil. Atkinson scored his other two on the Power Play during those drills. He just drifted his way into empty space near the cage, guys fed him, and he buried his chances. In fact, Atkinson played in all three situations, spending some time killing penalties as well. "I definitely take pride in [being able to play in all situations]," he said. "and in knowing that the coaches trust me to be in those situations."
Atkinson is a guy that I believe can hang around in full training camp for a loonnng time, much like Matt Calvert had done the past two years. You just have to look past his size to his skating and skill, and frankly his "will" to play well. It's tough to ignore.
Michael Chaput - He passes the eyeball test. He's a big guy that can skate. He's a legitimate 6'2" / 200 pounds, and he can skate well enough to be an NHL player. I didn't get to see much in the way of his skills, as he was on the team that got worked over pretty good on the score board. I'd like to see more, but in just watching him on the ice he looks like a legit player compared to the guys he was going up against.
"You come to the Development Camp, and you see how hard you have to work," Chaput told me. "I'm going to have to work twice as hard--even three times as hard--because the guys here are strong and fast and you have to be able to compete."
Chaput had some nice words about the fans and the organization, after having come over at the trading deadline and this week just getting his first exposure to his new fan-base and coaches. "It's pretty nice [to see a big crowd for the scrimmage]," he said. "It shows you the fan-base, shows you how much the people of the city care, and if ever I get a chance to play with the Columbus Blue Jackets it'll be a great crowd [to play for].
"It feels good [to be wanted in a trade]," he said. "The team, they trade for you it means they want you. I don't take anything for granted. It's good that they want me, but I still have to work hard to make this team."
Now for some of the players that I didn't know as much about that stuck out:
Petr Straka - I talked about Chaput passing the eyeball test; here's another guy who does as well. Listed at 6'1" and 185 pounds, he plays bigger, and he showed some serious skill. Straka scored two gorgeous goals and set up another in the span of about 10 or 15 minutes, and was a guy that made you pay attention to him when he had the puck on his stick.
Anton Blomqvist - he's a 21-year-old defenseman, and good gracious he looks every bit the 6'5" / 200# they listed him at in the guide. More than that, however, was that the guy could skate. He did a little bit of everything on Saturday, from blocking some shots to taking the puck from inside his own blue-line all the way to the other net 5-on-5. His shot was solid the few times I saw it, and while I must say that some of his passes were a bit inconsistent, overall I came away wanting to see what more he can do with some time and perhaps a little more weight on his massive frame.
Allen York - He played in both sessions, and he looked big in the net and fluid. He was the most polished of the three goalies in the scrimmage, and I thought he looked solid in the shootout drills.
Mathieu Corbeil - He looked to be the biggest in the net, but when they got to playing he was not as polished as York.
Martin Ouellette - The third goalie that saw action, he's listed at 6'2" / 175# and after seeing him without his gear on I'd believe it. He also got positively LIT UP by Team White with Johansen (5-holed him), Straka (his two goals + his assist) and Jenner (beautiful goal) all making him look a bit foolish. The scrimmage was broken into two 25-minute sessions, and he gave up six goals in the second one--the only one he played in. He also got owned a few times in the shootout drill. The Jenner shoot out video above was against Ouellette.
Mike Reilly - I hate to take the cliche, but he looks like a 12-year-old and he didn't skate very well.
Lukas Sedlak - The surprise camp arrival, I found him to be noticeable with some skill. Once or twice he also displayed a wicked wrist shot.
Well, there you have it. These were my overall impressions. It's hard to gauge how "good" these guys all are when they play against each other, but it really does look like the Jackets have done well to infuse some good young talent into their organization.