Saturday, July 12, 2008

Camp Comes To A Close

It may just be one week, but it may be the most important week for these young players to make their NHL dreams come true. It is also a week Caps management can play with the new acquisitions, and truly evaluate their depth and future. But all good things must come to an end.

The Capitals wrapped up their development camp today at the Kettler Iceplex centered around Fan Fest that featured a moon bounce in the parking lot. No, I did not go on the moon bounce. They wouldn't let me. The final scrimmage saw the most people at Kettler this week. There were 3 to 4 deep on the glass and just about every bench in the stands was cover in Caps fans' butts. It was a sea of red, Caps home jerseys, rock the red shirts, so on and so on. Plus there were a lot of cute families. It seemed the younger kids were more interested in the moon bounce than the Capitals' future faces, but I probably would have been too at that age.

Due to other obligations, I was only able to stick around for warm ups and a little bit of the first period. But I have been to every one of the morning skates this week and attended the previous two scrimmages. I heard the game went to another shootout with Blue team eeking out the win. Here are some of my thoughts of the camp overall.

In terms of goaltenders, the Caps are in good hands. Michal Neuvirth has grown leaps and bounds from a year ago. Last year at development camp, Neuvirth looked like a kid in his dad's clothes at times. Compared to this year, besides the knee injury he is recovering from, he has filled out more and has more confidence since we saw last. This year he looked like a goaltender.

Simeon Varlomov looks like he is ready to take the next step. Which is to go to Hershey. A very athletic goaltender, he is a expert rebound handler. His control is impressive, able to either gobble up the shot from the point or safely route it to the corners. His look is intimitating too, he just looks like he knows he is going to stop you.

Dan Dunn had a good camp. His size is impressive, he is just looks big in net. Besides Neuvirth and Varlomov, he was the most consistent goaltender. Braden Holtby had some great moments, but I think nerves got the best of him throughout the week. And Joe Howe, to me, looked great, but he is a smaller goaltender. Let's see if he fills out next year.

As far as the Caps properties, Karl Alzner looks ready. When we saw him a year ago he might have been overwhelmed by the process. This year, he has this determined look. His sights are not just on development camp, he is looking beyond that.

What impresses me most about Alzner are the little things he has done during camp. For instance, at the end warmups at all the scrimmages Alzner was the first on his team to help pick up the pucks. During the practices, he would often be the one to go to when the other defensemen had questions or looked lost. All those little things a good leader seems to have.

Oskar Osala is a good talent, and was heads and shoulders (both figuratively and literally) above everyone else at camp. A big kid with soft hands. My only beef with him would be his failure to use his size more. I saw glimpses of that in the second scrimmage, but I felt if he could be a bit more physical he could make his own room on the ice much like Dustin Penner does for Edmonton.

Mathieu Perrault and Francios Bouchard were not as impressive as we saw a year ago, but it's likely both will make it to training camp in August. Bouchard apparently had a better scrimmage today, although I was not there to see it. In the previous two, he just got lost in the pack and often times took lazy penalties. In the drills he looked okay, but I guess I was expecting more out of him.

Perrault looked fine in the drills and in the one and only scrimmage I saw him in, he too seemed a bit lost in the woodwork. But you can't deny his speed and his instincts around the net. Perrault has all the characteristics of a pure goal scorer. Just needs some seasoning.

There were a couple of players that made an impression (to me anyway). Jake Hauswirth had a great camp. He scored in both scrimmages I saw and he looked very confident on the ice. He is tall and a bit gangly, but he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. On the defensive end he needs a little work, there were a couple of times he cleared the puck out of the rink (a penalty in the big leagues).

Andrew Gordon and Andrew Glass both looked pretty good. Both were sort of the gritty role players for their teams and played physical and created havoc on the forecheck. Micheal Dubuc was another talent that impressed me in the one scrimmage I saw him in.

Defenseman Sasha Pokulok had an okay camp. While he did well in the drills and morning skates, during the scrimmages he was beaten like a rented mule. Players easily stepped around him and he didn't look too solid back there. Another defenseman, John Carlson seemed good in the drills, but in the scrimmages he was a bit wreckloose with the puck at times.

There were several other players that seemed to just be there for the sake of getting other players to fill out the rosters. Which is the point I guess. Overall the talent seems to be there in many of the players. But this is rookie camp, when training camp comes around you will see the big difference from this level to a professional level. You will see more confidence in the play, the hits are bigger and harder and the passes are more on point.

But now we are moving on to the douldrums of the off season. Just about the only news we are waiting on Shaone Morrisonn's arbitration/signing in the next week or so. Other than that, not too much more is going on through the Capitals system until training camp starts in August.

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