By Daniel Friedman
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The Islanders’ future was on display at Nassau Coliseum this week and it looked pretty darn solid.
Notable recent draftees Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang showed glimpses of what they can be, as did some of the more “veteran” prospects, including Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield.
I’ve been asked several times this week how I can possibly learn anything from a rookie camp. My response is two-fold: By knowing what to look for and, whenever possible, by scouting the players beforehand. As far as most of the Isles’ prospects were concerned, this wasn’t the first time I’d seen them play.
From there, you identify consistencies in a player’s game between what you’ve seen from him in juniors, college or an international league and what you’ve seen from him at the rookie camp.
But even if you haven’t yet scouted the player, you look for certain characteristics — is he making smart passes, is he anticipating rebounds or the flow of play, is he letting forwards get past him on a regular basis or is he shutting them down. If you know what to look for, you can generally discern the building blocks these kids have to work with and how far off they might be from what you’d expect out of an NHL-caliber player.
At the end of the camp, the coaches meet with each prospect and tell him what he needs to work on to get to the next level. There’s a reason why the Islanders had a week of drills and not a pizza party — this is more than just a meet and greet.
Having now clarified the method behind my perceived madness, I’ll share some of my observations (or hot takes, whatever you want to call them) from the rookie camp and scrimmage. I feel obligated to note that these aren’t final conclusions and that player development is a fickle process that can go either way. I’ll tell you which way I lean regarding certain players but I’m measuring potential, not destiny. With that, here we go:
JOSH HO-SANG: He was the best forward on the ice all week, and it wasn’t close. Ho-Sang has NHL-caliber speed, NHL-caliber hands and an NHL-caliber shot, not to mention (maybe a bit too much) confidence. I was especially impressed with him in the scrimmage. He was patient with the puck, made some great plays — of the passing and shooting and stick-handling variety — and, most surprisingly, was willing to fish for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards.
At times he tried to be unnecessarily fancy and lost possession, but that’s something he’ll learn as he continues to develop. Most of these young guns are used to pulling off moves in juniors, but quickly find out that those dekes won’t work in the NHL. He’s a good kid; he’s just a little outspoken. I’m not concerned about him and I think he’ll be a star.
The one other knock on him is that he needs to add significant muscle before he can even think about playing at the pro level.
MICHAEL DAL COLLE: Dal Colle’s been a goal-scorer in Oshawa (OHL) and he displayed all the traits of a goal-scorer this week — good hands, powerful and accurate shot (regardless of shot type) and he’s deceptively fast. He’ll burst ahead of a defenseman in the offensive zone to maintain puck possession and keep the play alive. He needs to bulk up, and even though he does have that second gear skating-wise, I’d like to see him utilize it more often.
TAYLOR CAMMARATA: I walked away very unimpressed with Cammarata’s performance. He was moderately productive at Minnesota this past year, but he’s yet to really bust loose and I think he showed many of the reasons why. Being undersized is one thing, but if you don’t have the elusiveness or toughness to compensate for what you lack in size, you’re going to have a difficult time generating offense. His skating is subpar, his decision-making even more so. He has a lot of work to do if he hopes to play in the NHL.
VICTOR CRUS-RYDBERG: “VCR” (patent pending*) stood out last year during his first rookie camp and I thought he was even better this time around. He’s smart, he’s shifty and he’s competent at both ends of the ice. I compared him to Frans Nielsen last summer and I think that’s still pretty accurate. He got better and better in juniors as the season wore on and I expect that he’ll continue to improve.
GRIFFIN REINHART: I saw exactly what I wanted to from Reinhart. Defensively, he was dominant and virtually impenetrable. He’s also gotten much stronger and now has an NHL frame. He’ll compete for a roster spot in training camp and, though head coach Jack Capuano has already told us the usual “no one’s penciled-in” mantra, I suspect it’s Reinhart’s spot to lose.
RYAN PULOCK: Pulock’s noted offensive ability was back and better than before and he’s shown that he’s quite competent without the puck as well. He also added a ton of muscle, so he’s physically — but not yet fundamentally — ready for the NHL. Give him a year in Bridgeport and he’ll be a pro.
SCOTT MAYFIELD: I came away with the same impression of Mayfield as I have every time I’ve seen him play– he’s a steady presence. I don’t think there’s any particular aspect of his game that will make your eyeballs jump out of their sockets but he’s a very good all-around player. He still has to improve certain things in order to be a regular NHLer, but he’s getting close.
VILLE POKKA: His positioning is sound and the tools are all there, but I have a few concerns about his game. For one thing, and this is something other people have noticed, too (you know who you are) — his skating needs work. He was losing footraces all over the ice; a major issue. His awareness was a bit off at times, though it generally was pretty good. Pokka intends to play in Finland this season if he doesn’t make the Islanders out of training camp and I’m not sure that’s a smart decision on his part. If he wants to fully adjust to the North American game, he should be going to Bridgeport.
KEVIN CZUCZMA: As a late addition to the Isles last season, Czuczman played very well. The size, the physicality, the positioning — it’s all there. I think he needs to work on his discipline in terms of taking penalties, but it won’t be long before he’s truly prepared for the big leagues.
ADAM PELECH: I view Pelech and Mayfield very much the same way. I think they’re smart and steady, quiet and effective. He likely needs a couple of years in the AHL but keep him on your radar screens.
EAMON McADAM: This was McAdam’s second rookie camp and he’s clearly improved his game. He played at Penn State this past year and his numbers were poor, largely because the team in front of him was simply horrendous. I like how quickly he gets across the crease, how he’s square to the shooter and his athleticism. He needs to work on his rebound control but that’s nothing proper development can’t fix.
LINUS SODERSTROM: The last time a Soderstrom played for the Islanders (goaltender Tommy, circa the dark years in the 1990s), it didn’t quite work out. But Linus looked good and used his size to his advantage. He’s definitely a project — raw but talented but could be worth the investment down the road.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI
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