While the Blue Jackets, twitter, and friends have done a wonderful job keeping me updated on the development camp being held in Columbus, I had to take advantage of the mid-week holiday to see first hand what kind of quality the fan base can expect over the coming years. A number of new faces, along with the addition of NHL ready Johansen and Atkinson gave plenty of intrigue.
My first instinct was to hunt for familiar faces in the crowd, but upon entering the arena, I was drawn into the familiar speed and competitiveness of prospect hockey. Suffice to say I was hooked, and found the least populated bench from which to watch the action unfold. Surprising to me was the ability to walk by basically the entire Blue Jackets front office including Scott Howson and Craig Patrick. I didn’t attempt to bother our GM, but there was nothing suggesting I would not have been able to plop down directly beside him and start chatting about the future of the franchise. I love that lack of separation. It speaks volumes for the individual.
Finding my seat, I immediately zoned in on 2012 6th round pick Daniel Zaar. Not the biggest frame at 5’11 170lbs, but a shot with seemingly pinpoint accuracy. Within the first ten minutes, he managed to dazzle me twice. First, he swatted home a rebound off the glass, in mid air, to the top shelf. Second, and more impressive, upon receiving a pass and skating into the high slot (right at the top of the faceoff circles), he beat the goalie (either Forsberg or Ouellete) above his shoulder with a wrist shot, hitting the crossbar and dropping straight down.
While Zaar does not have the frame of a regular NHLer, his speed and accuracy may propel him into the Blue Jackets top six rather quickly. I was fortunate enough to chat briefly with Craig Patrick on Nationwide Blvd. after the event, and while discussing Zaar, all came to the agreement that his speed and his shot were a very pleasant surprise. Kudos to the scouting department for seeing that type of quality in the 6th round.
On my side of the rink were goalies Martin Ouellette and Anton Forsberg. While Ouellette’s mask provided more ‘wows’ than he did, Forsberg was the talk of the first two days of camp. Stable, strong on the puck, and smart with his rebound control. Even on the circus plays around the net, the young Swede managed to find himself in ideal position after multiple whacks at the puck.
After all this discussion about the Blue Jackets needing so many new goaltenders this year, could Forsberg be an AHL solution instead? What a gem that could be.
I expect most attending would look immediately to 2012 1st round pick Ryan Murray to see what the 2nd overall pick could bring on the ice. Admittedly, it took me a few minutes to really zone in on him, but he did not disappoint. His foot work is excellent, especially when receiving poor passes. His forehand puck movement is extremely strong, and he even managed to wow me a couple of times with crisp backhand passes directly on the tape of a cycling winger. While his shot lacked the enormous expectations I had, it was solid, low, and in the right place.
Josh Anderson, selected this year in the fourth round, had some pretty lofty expectations from me. He plays for my hometown London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and while I was excited to see a Knight selected, I felt two of his teammates who remained on the board deserved equal consideration at that selection. Anderson struggled to put much on his shots, and looked a bit rushed in his decision making. I would think at this point that his game is in need of refinement, and considering the comments made after the draft about his expectations for 2012/2013 in London, Anderson feels the same way. I am not expecting top tier talent from Anderson, but there is always room to improve into a reliable depth forward in the NHL.
Another player I have been hoping to see more of is Will Weber. Drafted in the 2007 2nd round, Weber has been cultivating his game playing for the Miami University Redhawks, and captained the team as a senior last season. His decision making seems strong, although he was burned a few times on the two-on-one drills. Listed at 6’4 205, I would like to see Weber add a fair bit of bulk to his frame. He is projected by Hockey’s Future as a top four shutdown defenseman, and the added weight will certainly help him achieve that goal.
Taking some time to watch the 2nd and 3rd round selections in Joonas Korpisalo and Oscar Dansk, I think the timing of the selections were accurate. While Korpisalo looks solid, Dansk appears to have better composure on rebounds and positioning. I’ll limit my thoughts on these players because my time watching them was limited, as were the style of drills they faced, but I do want to point out an entertaining decision by Dansk. They took the two goals and placed them across from each other inside the zone for two on two shorter drills. On a loose puck, Dansk opted to skate out, grab the puck, deke around a player, and take a shot on the opposing goalie. It didn’t go in, but the crowd ate it up, and so did I.
Finally, and arguably my favourite surprise of the day, was Gianluca Curcuruto. Selected in the 7th round by Columbus this year, Curcuruto displayed strong passing abilities, little delay on the transition, and a low, hard slapshot from the point every single time. I put a lot of value in players who can take the low hard blast from the point, and Curcuruto did not disappoint me. I did not see any particular skill from him that truly stood out, but I was very pleased with his handling of the puck, especially for such a late pick.
I did not focus much on Johansen, Atkinson, or Jenner, although I can say that Atkinson seemed to be making a habit of scoring. His shot should be a solid asset to the Blue Jackets this season if he can find the space needed. On Jenner, some are suggesting he will be a bubble player who could decide his 2012/2013 playing destination in camp this year. I look forward to getting a much better look at him later in off-season when training camp begins.
I have to give credit to the Blue Jackets for making this camp so accessible. It’s a great look at what is to come for the team, and it really injects excitement seeing young players show off their skills, especially guys who are recent additions to the organization. I also want to give credit to the Union Blue photography expert @DerDrache (or @CBJBeard) for these excellent photos.
For those who can’t make the trip to Nationwide tomorrow, it seems like the Blue Jackets will be streaming the on-ice portion, so keep an eye out for that!
Carry the Flag!