Kukla's Korner


Rookie Tournament Closing Reviews

Rookie Tournament player reviews, Kuba’s recovery for the season ahead, and Foligno’s battle for better results, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Senators (and OC, OS), on the rookie team’s development following a Battle of Ontario,

Power-play goals by Mike Hoffman and Eric Condra in the third period lifted the Senators past the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Tuesday night at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont. It was the rookie tournament finale for both teams and for the second straight game, the Senators used a rally in the final 20 minutes to earn the victory.

On Sunday, the Senators trailed 3-1 after two period but erupted for six goals in the third to cruise past the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3. The deficit was only 2-1 tonight but Ottawa showed the right kind of finish one more time.

“The best part was, we battled,” said Binghamton Senators assistant coach Steve Stirling, who was behind the bench with B-Sens head man Kurt Kleinendorst. “Two nights ago, we fell behind (against the Hawks) with not a great goal in the second period. We had a little bit of adversity again today. A good first period, (but) the second period we got a little lazy and we were behind coming into the third. Then we came out and played hard. So there were a lot of positives.”

With a 2-1-0 record and a 13-10 goal differential, the main camp roster is now set, and the reviews are in.

Of the two goalies, six defence men, and fourteen forwards selected to the rookie tournament roster, one goalie, four defence men, and twelve forwards have earned their not-quite-golden ticket to the main training camp. Who made the cut, and who was left behind?

Made the cut

Robin Lehner: The “goalie of the future” was always assured his spot at main camp, though in his first appearance he did not help himself out. Against the Penguins, Lehner was a mix of good and bad form. He kept himself calm, not overadjusting to shooter minutiae, preventing himself from opening holes in the process. As the game wore on, however, Lehner seemed a bit sluggish, not able to make the larger, required adjustments as quickly as he should, and losing sight of the puck on more than a few occasions, though his defence did not help him out much in this opening game. Against Toronto, Lehner’s focus was regained, and his positioning was improved, as well as his timing in dropping to the ice, or covering the sides of the net. Given his billeting, the main camp experience should help to boost his ability to challenge Brodeur in Binghamton, as well as for the call-ups to Ottawa.

Jared Cowen: The team’s answer to the departures of Volchenkov and Chara, Cowen worked hard to live up to expectations in the tournament. While not a stranger to the puck, Cowen focused his game on playing the back end and supporting his teammates on the ice. Against the Pens, Cowen tried to show some of that Burke-ian truculence, with a hefty amount of physical play and using his size to move opponents around. By the end of the tournament, Cowen would be the last man out of the zone, covering for rushes by his more offence-inclined partners. His vision was always good, head on a swivel, to allow him to make the right moves or plays to keep the puck out of danger. Unlike last year, when Karlsson was dodging every hit, Cowen’s ability to take them all with almost no sign of movement added to his presence, frustrating opponents and even driving some to take foolish runs around the ice.

Patrick Wiercioch: The other highly-touted blue liner, fresh out of college, brought more of an every-man quality to the game. There was no brutal crunching coming from Wiercioch’s hits, nor were there constant end-to-end rushes, but Wiercioch was noticed when he should be. He showed great patience in letting the game unfold, taking opportunities without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities to make a hit or a play. That said, when appropriate he was able to smoothly carry the puck through the neutral zone, and showed good awareness on the powerplay when trying to get a rotation going. The skills are all there for an all-around Kuba-esque defence man, with just some more seasoning needed.

Eric Gryba: While not as celebrated, Gryba showed that he will have a chance in the future to step into the capital lineup. While not scoreless, he should be seen more as a shutdown defender. His size was matched by a great smooth stride, not only up the ice with the play, but a strong back stride as well, able to keep up with any opponent’s rush while staying well in position. As other defence men focused more on matching the offensive style of much of Ottawa’s current lineup while playing the Pens rookies in the opener, it was Gryba showing the most determination to watch out for Lehner, and to cover him when he needed a block or a puck cleared. Against the Leafs, after Kadri’s do-I-call-elbow-or-do-I-call-charge run at an Ottawa player behind Lehner, Gryba made sure that Kadri would not get a free pass to rat around the rink due to his draft position or his sub-six size, though he would have to settle for a hug with Liambas instead.

Craig Schira: Signed last season, Schira is further from NHL status than the others. Often paired with Cowen, he showed good confidence carrying the puck up ice, while failing to make himself a defensive liability. Also showed confidence on the point and in rotation while on the power play. Will need to take more action at both ends to stand out from the pack and move up the depth chart.

Bobby Butler: Less noticeable during his two-game stint in Ottawa last season, Butler impressed a great deal at the tournament. Was one of two offensive standouts for the Sens, developing chemistry quickly with the other gun in Mike Hoffman. The important notes were that Butler never took a shift off. Without the puck, was not opposed to being the first man in hard on the forecheck, or taking abuse along the boards to protect the puck. Had good cycle work, and awareness of opportunity to work the cycle or generate opportunity from a pass to the point. Opportunistic goal scorer, and also against the Pens was one of the few Senators who could calm the oft-wobbly passes of the first game. Has done much to show that even if he can’t earn a full preseason on Spezza or Fisher’s wing, he can spend games in a checking role looking for opportunistic moments.

Kaspars Daugavins: Has the AHL experience, but less consistent rookie tournament showing. Tenacious on the puck and quick to move it along the boards as he is to get to the dirty areas around the net, he took a while to start using his teammates. Less aware or confident in chemistry, he often took the puck and play on his back, attempting to do too much, and until the final game showed a lack of effort without the puck and for defensive play. Needs to work better with teammates, gain confidence in sharing the puck and the workload of a full shift.

Erik Condra: Showed great leadership, working hard from a non-scoring line. Never backed down from a hit or a responsibility, never took a shift off. Decent hands and good positioning, he will serve Binghamton well, but faces severe competition for Ottawa’s bottom six slots.

Jason Bailey: Was in Binghamton, was injured and not in the tournament; obviously will get another shot to show himself off.

Jim O’Brien: Much patience has there been with O’Brien. Unlike Lee, who has pushed to be a part of Ottawa’s roster, Jim has been patient with his development and his spot on the depth charts. Improved showing a great deal over previous season. Showed Fisher-like style, always committed to playing a responsible game, he would not neglect his defensive responsibilities, nor let himself drift into position and hope that he would not be too late. Good positioning on the penalty kill, attacking the puck when prudent. Decent offensive instincts, with some missed tips near the net that could have improved his totals, as well as a couple good take aways. Incredibly hard worker on the boards, and good at generating a cycle and rotation on the power play to generate chances. In tough to crack Ottawa’s roster, but could take a more offensive twist to Kelly’s position in future.

Jakub Culek: Less visible on the ice than hoped for. Good offensive skills, but despite coming from the QMJHL, has not shown a full handle on the physical game, attempting at times to skate through or around opponents and shying away from contact at times. Needs more seasoning and is a long-term prospect, requiring offensive style adjustments.

Colin Greening: Did not stand out on the ice, but did good work when given the opportunity, covering the wing for Butler and Hoffman. Kept play in check at both ends, but not an impactful performance.

Corey Cowick: Dependable at both ends, added energy to his line. Expected more physical and offensive play, but seems to need time to find mix between his physical game and 30-goal OHL season, and the more checking-only game management projects him as. Offensive instincts will help him on the cycle.

Tim Spencer: Pleasant surprise of a beast, Spencer showed good toughness in his fights, never on any lopsided loss. More surprising was his speed for his size, as well as good work on the cycle with both his stick and kicking the puck when tied up. Not immediately viable for Ottawa, but could turn out in a few seasons to be versatile in ways that other pugilists haven’t been.

David Dziurzynski: Another two-way player who is a few years from potential challenging, Dziurzynski needs a little more effort on the ice, but overall good responsibility in defensive zone and willingness to seek opportunity in the offensive zone and high traffic areas.

Mark Stone: Did not show the offensive instincts as well as his WHL seasons projected, but did show willingness to battle at both ends for the puck and position.

Mike Hoffman: The other offensive standout, Hoffman showed great potential for a season in Binghamton. In the first game, looked a little too much like Heatley in the offensive zone at times, waiting for a pass. With the puck, was wise distributor to continue cycles or generate high or low chances, with Butler as well as wingers and defence. Overall good eye on the ice for developing plays at both ends, later games showing better ability to sneak in for the snipe shot, such as on the opening goal against the Leafs. Good distributor on the power play, with excellent saucer passes at times and excellent zone entry. Knock against him was his defence, but he was on the ice to hold off the Leafs for the final draw, though O’Brien took the face off. On a Leafs goal, showed his defensive instincts are improving, by not taking himself out of position on a two-on-one and using his stick to block the passing lane, but showed his need for improvement, by keeping stick in the lane too long, causing the deflection that scored the Leafs’ goal.

Many of those who made it showed it by doing what you do at a rookie tournament: play to your strengths, and follow directions. Some players would avoid working with linemates, and when you are coming from one team, being coached by a new AHL boss, and hoping to work under Clouston, ability to follow instructions, however short the notice, is critical. This may have hurt some prospects, even ones who made the main camp.

Also important was to play to your strengths, and to play responsibly. The worst moment was when David Dziurzynski took Alex Grant into the boards. An awkward and ill-timed check, one that did not seem to possess overt intent to injure, led to Alex Grant breaking his wrist and getting whiplash just minutes into the tournament’s first period. The desire to make an impression may have been too strong, just as the desire to show truculence in front of Burke often is for Leafs prospects, and the jarring moment put a damper on the whole team, leading to reduced aggressiveness, physical play, and possibly hurting their chances at a good showing for that game.

From the Ottawa Senators (and OS), on Kuba’s recovery from last season’s injury,

“The rehab went fine,” Kuba said earlier today after an informal skate with a number of his Senators teammates at the Bell Sensplex. “I worked out all summer and I did all the things I’ve done in previous summers. I didn’t have any problems. So far, so good ... I’m happy I’m 100 per cent now and I’m looking forward to the next season.”

That certainly wasn’t the case last season, with his back pain becoming so unbearable by season’s end that Kuba had to finally pull the plug on his year.

“It was a struggle for me at the end of last season with the injury,” he said. “I tried to play with it and it was frustrating to not be able to do the things I wanted to do on the ice. The surgery (performed in Los Angeles) was the only option.”

Kuba has been skating since the beginning of August and believes he’ll be able to play his game right from the get-go in the season ahead.

While many hoped that the towering defence man would bring a more physical touch to the game, the sway of Ottawa’s defence towards his, Gonchar’s, Karlsson’s, and Campoli’s offensive stance, coupled with a healthy season, should renew confidence in Kuba. As well, where one might have hoped to see Kuba run an opponent into the boards, they might now appreciate his positioning, and how taking away the chances keeps the game flowing through Ottawa’s puck movers, rather than having it bunch up on the boards, where those same puck movers will not shine so bright.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on Foligno’s goals coming into the main camp,

“At the year-end meeting (with the coaches), we had talks about getting the legs stronger, working on my leg strength and speed. I think any 22-year-old needs to work on that. It’s about just continuing to grow into my body. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but I felt like I (improved) this summer. I feel really strong in the legs, especially, and I have that power to carry me through a whole game and still have that energy,” [said Foligno.]

Considering that Foligno has already played 21/2 NHL seasons, it’s easy to forget just how young he is. Foligno is actually younger than 23-year-old Bobby Butler and 25-year-old Roman Wick, the pair of forward prospects receiving some pre-training camp buzz as they attempt to crack the lineup. Even Peter Regin, who turned heads as a rookie last season, has already turned 24.
“Obviously, you shoot for where you believe you can play, and I believe I can be a top-six forward in this league,” Foligno said. “It’s just a matter of what the team sees right now. I know they have a plan. I’m going to come into training camp and work hard, and hopefully that plan includes what I see for myself.

You can see the thought process going on when you watched Bobby Butler at the rookie tournament: for the hands he showed, he matched it with a grittier play than you’d expect when away from the puck, trying perhaps to show the versatility that management would want from Foligno, and might debate should both names come up in roster discussions. As I opined on yesterday, this discussion would be a little more open were the Senators to opt for three lines with scoring chances than a 50-50 split between offense and energy/checking. Maybe the young guys can force that to be a part of the discussion with the exhibition games coming up.

And they can’t come fast enough.

Filed in: NHL News, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | SENShobo | Permalink


Leo_Racicot's avatar

Outstanding summary, thanks.

Between Karlsson, Cowen, and Wiercioch, the blue line for the Sens looks extremely enouraging for the upcoming 5 year window.

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 09/15/10 at 01:00 PM ET

SENShobo's avatar

And David Rundblad. Good competition to be had, after years of what can only be described as just hoping that: A) a great, young UFA would agree to sign here, or B) that someone down in Binghamton would floor us out of nowhere (without then going back to Europe like Mattias Karlsson).

Posted by SENShobo from Waterloo, ON on 09/16/10 at 01:39 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Most Recent Blog Posts

About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net