The Nashville Predators just finished off their annual Development Camp. If you have never been to a camp before, I highly suggest you go next year. Every year in the beginning of July you can come and watch the Predators of the future hone their skills on the ice. Multiple sessions are open to the public and it all culminates with a scrimmage between two teams: the Blue Team and the Gray Team.
It’s a time-honored tradition. These two formidable foes duke it out every year in a tradition unlike any other. The fans and players know what’s at stake, and there is absolutely no love lost between these bitter rivals.
Okay, that might be overselling it a bit, but it’s still hockey! And it’s in the middle of the worst time of year for a hockey fan, the summer. It’s 95 degrees and you get all sticky just trying to walk around outside, but it’s nice and cool in the rink.
I was able to make it for a few days of the camp and a few things really jumped out at me.
- Jonathan Ismael-Diaby got big. That’s an understatement. The 20 year-old looks like he’s put on a solid 20 pounds of muscle. He’s definitely grown into his body quite a bit and doesn’t look nearly as goofy out there doing drills. Last year he looked like a giraffe on skates out there. His skill level with the puck has really increased and that’s promising to see, especially from a defenseman who is listed at 6’5″, 246 pounds.
- Kevin Fiala is the real deal. At least among the other rookies. It was noticeable every time he went through drills on the ice. His puck handling skills are unreal. He’s very smooth moving the puck and can set up a lot of plays. It looked like he might want to keep working on his shot though. But his decision to stay in town throughout the summer has earned him some huge points with the fans. Should he make the team this fall, his jersey will be flying off the shelves fast.
- Juuse Saros is short, but SOOOO quick. He’s listed at 5’11” and if that’s true, everyone else out there is over 6 feet tall. He looks really short standing out there, but when he gets between the pipes, it’s incredible how fast he moves from side to side. He’ll need some polish, but the kid’s got skills, that’s for sure.
- Yakov Trenin is very, very good. This year’s 2nd-round pick, who just signed his entry-level contract yesterday, really impressed on the ice. He’s probably not going to have a shot this year, but look for him to really challenge for a spot on the Predators’ roster in the near future.
- Jimmy Vesey was the talk of the camp. Yeah, no surprise there. Absolutely everyone was talking about the soon-to-be Harvard senior. There was good reason for that. Vesey looked like a man among boys out there. His passing is really something to behold, and hopefully the Predators will be able to behold it late in the season, after the college season is over.
The scrimmage itself is the culmination of a week of work and this year was held at the Ford Ice Center, which is an absolutely amazing facility. If you haven’t stopped by yet, what are you waiting for? Everything is state-of-the-art and feels very professional. The only complaint I have is that there wasn’t near enough room. I even saw a few fans leaving because it was so crowded. It’s unfortunate that Bridgestone wasn’t available, although it does speak to the rise of the fan-base lately that a scrimmage in the middle of July, featuring mostly players who will never wear a Predators uniform, can draw such a crowd.
The format for the scrimmage was three periods with a running clock, and a shootout between each period. The first period was 25 minutes of 5-on-5. The second was 15 minutes of 4-on-4. The third was 15 minutes of 3-on-3.
The game started out as you would expect, with Yakov Trenin potting the first goal of the day a few minutes after the game started, giving Gray the 1-0 lead. Nick Saracino, a camp invitee from NCAA Champion Providence college made it 2-0 shortly after. Before the end of the period, the Blue tied it up 2-2. Both goals were set up by beautiful passes by Jimmy Vesey.
Two goals were scored by both teams in the shootout to enter the 2nd 4-4. I do have a note about Saracino. He played pretty well for a guy who’s never been drafted. He also took a couple of hits that you wouldn’t expect to see during a scrimmage, including one from Diaby that almost put him clear over the boards. Not sure what that means overall, but I did find it interesting.
The second period opened up with the Blue team dominating play, but unable to score. The Gray team took it from there and pretty much controlled play from that moment on. Saros was in net at that point for the Blue team but there wasn’t much he could do. There were too many defensive breakdowns in front of him. Trenin scored another in the second, as did Alexandre Carrier, a 4th round pick last year. After the shootout it was 9-7 Gray.
3-on-3 started quick. Blue tried to make a run, but 21 year-old free agent Brandon Whitney made some pretty nice saves and kept them off the board for a while. In fact, Whitney seemed pretty good in net overall, especially for a kid who doesn’t have an NHL team. Vesey’s Harvard teammate Tyler Moy finally got one past him with less than a minute, but by then it was 11-8 Gray. The shootout that followed was exciting when Vesey scored out the gate for Blue, but alas that was all for them and the game ended with the score GRAY: 12 BLUE: 9.
It’s the first time I’ve had a chance to watch the 3-on-3 format in person and if the kids are any indication, the fans are going to absolutely love it. It’s incredibly exciting and very back and forth. However, one issue I saw was that once a team entered the zone cleanly, it was difficult for the defense to recover and find the right kind of pressure to put on. With Nashville’s faster, puck-moving defensemen they should have an advantage over other teams in being able to defend and then immediately attack once they gain possession.
Predators Prospect Week is a lot of fun. It’s hockey in the summer time, it’s free, and it gives fans an opportunity to get up close and personal with how hockey players train. If you missed it this year, don’t worry, there are still other events soon around the corner. If you have the chance, it’s well worth your time and money (again, free) to check it out.
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