Yesterday I made my first ever trip to Flames Development Camp and, after finally finding my way in after trying almost ever door in the building, settled in to observe as the youngsters and Flames hopefuls were put through the paces.
The day began with the goalies and defencemen, who skated for about an hour, completing multiple drills. I was focusing the majority of my attention on Tim Erixon and T.J. Brodie, who both skated very well, but Erixon wasn't especially noticeable in a positive or negative way otherwise. Brodie in particular appeared to be working hard and trying to absorb as much advice and constructive criticism from his coaches as possible. According to a couple of the Fan 960 guys, Flames Development Coach Ron Sutter has said that he believes Brodie has a chance at making the team this season, which I don't think is accurate--especially not ahead of an older guy like Matt Pelech, but clearly he's watched him play more than I have. John Negrin, who is recovering from knee surgery, participated in a few drills but was obviously labouring; after sitting out Monday's session, however, limited participation is a sign of progress.
Older defenders like Keith Seabrook and Josh Meyers stood out, which is to be expected considering their seniority; both skated well and completed drills quickly, while the recently drafted Joey Leach didn't particularly stand out either way. He doesn't appear to be the quickest of skaters, which tends to come with the "stay-at-home defencemen" territory, especially one drafted in the third round like Leach, but he's still very young. None of the other 2010 draftees particularly stood at their first Development Camp either. Camp invitee and Hitmen alum Giffen Nyren struggled noticeably in the skating drills. He had trouble accelerating and was generally a slow and awkward skater; if the Heat find themselves desperate for help on the back end once again this season, he could be an option, but he's certainly not going to challenge for an NHL job any time soon, which is probably a blessing in disguise for the Flames and their crowded blueline. Chris Breen actually skated better than I expected, given his size and what I've read about him since the Flames signed him, but wasn't especially noticeable otherwise. None of the four goalies (Irving, Ortio, Lanigan, and Lamoureux) particularly stood out to me, apart from the fact that Irving appears to have ditched his glasses and curly mop of hair, and unfortunately no longer bears a resemblance to Napolean Dynamite.
When the forwards hit the ice, I tried to divvy up my attention as best I could, but I singled out a few players to watch--Mitch Wahl, Greg Nemisz, Ryan Howse, Mikael Backlund, Bryan Cameron, and John Armstrong, in particular. I was slightly disappointed that I didn't see more out of Ryan Howse, who was only really noticeable when I was actively seeking him out, but he is one of the younger forwards in the system and participation in group drills is never the best indication of a player's skill. Mitch Wahl was probably the most visible forward of the group because I spent the majority of my time watching him. He seemed to spend a fair amount of time practicing and chatting with Heat teammate John Rheault, who also stood out yesterday, especially in the shooting and breakaway drills.
One thing I did notice about Wahl is that he seemed to be having some trouble hitting the net and/or getting a decent shot off during the shooting drills. All prospects were separated into four groups and each was assigned a goalie to shoot at, and Wahl's group as a whole struggled to find the twine for a while. Although I was seeking Nemisz out, he wasn't very noticeable and seemed to get lost in the group on most occasions. His strengths are his shot and his size, and he didn't really demonstrate the use of either yesterday, although I'm not sure how much of a chance he had to make use of the latter. As Kent pointed out in regards to Bryan Cameron in his observations from Camp, his skating is still a concern, and the same goes for Nemisz. He visibly struggled with acceleration and speed, and his stride appeared choppy at times. Despite claims that his skating has improved, it still appears to be his primary weakness, and as far as I'm aware, he's fully recovered from the leg injury he sustained during the regular season, which is the only obstacle that comes to mind that could hamper his skating ability. Unlike with Nemisz, Cameron did utilize his impressive shot on a few occasions, which slightly made up for his poor showing in the skating drills.
Neither Backlund or Armstrong appeared to be miles ahead of the rest of the forwards, which would normally be a concern, but again--drills involving large amounts of players aren't the best way to separate out the good from the bad, unless the differences are painfully obvious, which they weren't yesterday, for the most part. I will probably be attending camp again tomorrow, so stay tuned for further observations!