Development Camp Notes 7/7-8

After two days of development camp practice sessions, the stage is slowly being set for a Friday scrimmage. Fans looking to catch an early glimpse of 2009 first round pick Zack Kassian have been disappointed due to the winger's absence from a foot injury. Tuesday's main rink activity began with the forwards going through a series of drills emphasizing skating, agility, and puck handling. After starting with simple accented crossovers both forward and backwards, the group moved to biscuit control. Three pivots through two zones, backwards arcs, and so on. Meanwhile on the second rink, the goaltenders and defensemen were being put through through similar sets. Roughly 45:00 later, the groups would split for shooting work on both sides. Wednesday's main rink session saw half of the squad focus on puck movement drills. Three-pass breakouts. D-to-D, up-ice and go with 2-1s, and 1-1s. The session would close with a 3-3 shinny (with goalies) between the bluelines that has proven to be the closest simulation of game action thus far. I've seen more of some than others to this point (and it's only been practice sessions) but here are some basic observations from Tuesday and Wednesday drill work. I've tried in include every player in camp. There isn't much to focus on with players like Chris Butler, Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Mike Weber. They're participating in full, doing what they do well. Gerbe looks to be working on his shiftiness by adding more flip-passes to himself to his budding repertoire. Kennedy looks well-oiled galloping with the puck. All five will help dictate the pace of the scrimmages. Interesting line combos from Wednesday's practice included Adam-Foligno-Kennedy (note Kennedy at RW and not C) and Whitmore-Byron-Gallimore (note Byron at C and not W). Fine-Payerl-Orpik rounded out the forward run, while Schutz skated between rearguards Weber and Butler in short-lived drill work. D combos for left/right purposes included Southorn-Kostka, Crawford-Myers, Adams-Fienhage. Tyler Myers is bigger and better. The bulk of his passes have been crisp. Now it's time to add a little mustard to his shot. Still, he's going to be a stay-back, shutdown guy who plays simple offense. His reach and skating ability transcend any level of competition, making a transition to the bigs this fall a very real proposition. He's already thrown out a first pitch at a Bison's game. Can any other Sabres blueliner make that claim? Tyler Ennis stands out with his exceptional crossover and stick skills. It's been well documented, but it's worth another mention because he'll challenge soon. His direction with it relative to his body is impressive - it's on a yo-yo - an essential skill for a smaller player when taking a guy one-on-one. Marcus Foligno has impressed with a first class effort. He's not a hands guy, but it shouldn't matter if he keeps grinding his gears, striding low and hard on every shift. He's going to make his cake in front of the net where he'll score a few gutty, ugly goals before his career is over. Definite blue collar roots at play. Corey Fienhage is built for the rugged NHL. He's very fluid and uses his excellent size in 1-1s to lean and rub players out. Elements of Derian Hatcher with better feet. Very no-nonsense. Even looks mean in drills. Aside from enjoying the physical contact (I compared him to a safety's patrolling mentality in the back field when he was drafted), he's good at getting in front of shots. For his efforts, he was stung inside a shin guard on both days. From the point, he's shown his hard rising right-handed shot on a couple of occasions. He's set to blossom in Grand Forks. Andrew Orpik has steadily improved his feet. He had a good camp last summer, and looks more AHL-ready this go round. Similar vibes are coming from Maxime Legault. Good mobility, good technique, good frame, good hustle, good depth. Despite recording the first fall of the day on Tuesday, Jacob Lagacé's approach is beginning to conjure up images of J.P. Dumont with less body fat. He's not the biggest player and he's not the most gifted skater, but he knows what to do with the puck when near the net. Facing Crawford, he labeled a low wrister past Lamoureux. Good instincts. Mark Adams can certainly move well. Like Nick Crawford last year, he's keeping his stick on the ice and playing things simple as he adjusts to the quick flow. It will be interesting to see how his heads up game heats up in a scrimmage setting against a faster, stronger peer group. Not a ton brewing with Crawford. He has a quiet, steady demeanor and just focuses on the basics. I expect the same in the pick-up. It's good to see Luke Adam back to full capacity. He looks to be in good shape and ready to strap it on. There isn't marked improvement to his skating, but he's going just as hard and his goal scoring touch is still in tact. That's good enough. Coming down the left side, he's shown a slight preference for the short-side. Known for getting in low, his accuracy from the dots has been understated. Phil Lamoureux - shoot high. Jhonas Enroth - shoot low. Both have been faring well against the shooters. Enroth flashing leather, and Lamoureux ditching his stick in Hasek-ian style on a few occasions to make some nice stops. I've seem more of them than Connor Knapp and Nick Eno. Knapp got torched a few times in a breakaway session, but it's not a performance indicator at all with it coming at the tail end of a long session. Knapp is on my Thursday radar. Jordon Southorn continues to demonstrate a three-zone skill set. He moves well laterally and plays the chest, but can be beaten by solid handlers. He's made a couple of nice decisions to break-up 2-1s over the past two days, only to get jocked by Justin Jokinen and Tim Kennedy with slick underneath moves during 1-1s. Jokinen looks a shade bigger than when he entered Mankato last fall. He relies greatly on his stick at the moment. One thing I'll be looking for next season is confidence in the size he's building up. Paul Byron's playmaking ability has been pretty sharp in the limited work. He ducks in and out of spots, initiates contact when playing the puck, and has put the puck on the stick of his mates in scoring position. Similarities to Tim Connolly's vision and distribution. Corey Tropp continues to exhibit the game of a projected third-line player. Nice hard turns, real good with the puck in pivot drills, good hands. It all translates well to what we've seen him do with the Spartans. No need to be concerned with him missing time last season. Brayden McNabb has shown tendencies of a steady, collected defender. It's been a limited viewing situation thus far, but he looks just as sturdy in person as he did on this monitor over his WHL season. Plenty of room to fill out, too. T.J. Brennan and Drew Schiestel are two other guys whose progress will come out in scrimmage environment. I've had limited viewing to this point, but Schiestel is a great skater who is still improving his defensive game. Brennan has gotten better year-over-year while sacrificing his rush-joining lusts for a stronger defensive foundation. Philip Gogulla and Dennis Persson are in this bucket as well. I only watched them in skating drills on Tuesday. Both looked to be going through the camp motions with ease at that point, and will be looked at more on Thursday. Alex Biega looks a year older. Same as last year - excellent skating, head up, good leverage. Drew MacKenzie continues to show a good two-way set of skill as well. Also from the 'more of the same' file - Mike Kostka, Felix Schutz, Derek Whitmore, and Matt Generous. All smart players who show their experience in the camp environment. Schutz is often nonchalant in his approach. The oldest play in camp, Whitmore got dumped on his can by Butler at the right post during a 3-2. Invitee Chris DeSousa is showing why he's there. Some players dance, and others go right at the defender with a "go through" mentality. Again, consistent with prior viewings. Michael Fine has a well put together frame for the pros. Longer upper body with a good center of gravity. He's not standing out for one special thing, but he's right in line with the players who the Sabres chose on draft day. Even if he remains in Soo, he'll be a player worth tracking next season in the OHL. Adam Payerl made some crafty plays in tight during Wednesday's session. He's a heady guy who works hard. Igor Gongalskyi seems to skate better when he has the puck on his stick. You can see that he's worked on his fundamentals since his OHL days. Burke Gallimore has been an adequate line filler. He has shown offensive wherewithal, especially as the middle-man on a solid tic-tac-toe play with Byron/Whitmore, but I'm not feeling the same overall energy level as the other invites. Brayden Irwin looked well engaged on Tuesday, but I didn't see him on Wednesday.
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