The Florida Panthers made life easy on their new selections, and started their development camp a mere two days after the 2015 NHL Draft concluded. Unlike past years, the team is keeping it a young camp, and not taking second-year professionals or anyone who has proved themselves at the NHL level (such as Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad).
Less people meant more space and opportunities for the prospects present, and several of them looked impressive in practice.
First up are the obvious players that impressed.
Thoughts from #CatsCamp: Lawson Crouse is big and fast, Jayce Hawryluk looks good, and Mike Matheson is still an incredibly talented skater.— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
Rocco Grimaldi also looked very good.
If possible, Mike Matheson's skating has improved. Which is insane. The guy gets going in a hurry, and never seems to stop getting faster. I don't know how NHL ready he is, but I doubt it takes more than one or two seasons in the AHL before we see the former Boston College captain on the Cats' blue line.
As for Rocco, he was Rocco. First on the ice, last to leave the ice, never stopped moving, all the usual stuff.
Rocco! :D pic.twitter.com/TlFLklyFfF— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
Rocco Grimaldi is so quick pic.twitter.com/nh6Pjzi1tE— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
#FlaPanthers Rocco Grimaldi is the last one off of the ice at #CatsCamp pic.twitter.com/RI1aXFrNhV— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) June 29, 2015
Jayce Hawryluk looked solid along the boards, and showed a bit of his skill during a two-on-one drill. He eyeballed the goaltender the whole way down the ice, and then, without adjusting his gaze, slid a perfect pass over to Chris Wilkie, who was almost caught off-guard by the pass. Needless to say, the puck found it's way into the back of the net.
@pilchino99 Hawryluk stared into the goalie's soul, prepared to shoot, and then passed and fooled everyone. It was an interesting sight.— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
Now on to Crouse. The team's first rounder definitely comes as advertised; the guy is a massive freak of nature, and when he gets moving, he's impossible to stop.
Crouse moves fast for his size. Kind of scary. pic.twitter.com/badlBOBkUM— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
At one point, he went one-on-one with Wayne Simpson, a 5'11", 200 pound 25-year-old who put up 55 points in 65 ECHL games last season.
Crouse didn't even bother making a move. He came down the wing, cut to the middle, maneuvered around Simpson, and buried the shot. If you want video of the play, here's the best I've got for you:
What a physical specimen that boy is.
Lawson Crouse (67) is huge pic.twitter.com/L4KSkGBew9— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
Lawson Crouse using his size to do work along the boards pic.twitter.com/Xjo1zcENoP— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
That guy being tossed around like a rag doll in the .GIF is Thomas Schemitsch, who is 6'3", 200 pounds. Strength along the boards is something that Schemitsch needs to work on, but that is still 200 pounds of human being effortlessly shoved off of the puck by Crouse. Yeesh.
Lawson Crouse almost has trouble fitting between the pylons pic.twitter.com/MbSUlAytML— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
One thing I did notice about Crouse is that his feet don't move fast. In a drill similar to the one above where each forward had to take quick steps while stick handling back and forth at the blue line, the power forward's feet didn't move very quickly. His size means that he usually just has to take one step to equal the average player's two steps, so he still accelerates rapidly, but his first five steps were slower than I expected. I doubt it'll be an issue, but it was still interesting to note.
In a fun moment, Grimaldi, Kyle Rau, and Crouse happened to fall in place in a perfect line, going from smallest to biggest. It's one of the best pictures I think I've ever taken, and is pretty funny to look at.
If you look closely, there are actually 2 people behind Rocco: Rau and Crouse. It's like a staircase pic.twitter.com/0e2wpA8by6— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) June 29, 2015
Other prospects who impressed:
Miguel Fidler - Based on his mediocre USHL season, it doesn't look like Fidler is going to be more than a career minor leaguer. He's got time to develop, however, and one aspect of his game that doesn't need work is his shot. While other prospects were getting stopped by the goaltenders, Fidler was lasering pucks into the corners and putting puck after puck into the twine.
Patrick Shea - The 192nd overall pick on Saturday had a good first showing, and did exactly what Zach Hyman did to me last year; he'd make a great play with the puck, and I'd make note of his number, and find it on the roster sheet, expecting it to be a big name. It was surprising each time to see Shea's name, and not the name of a higher rated prospect.
Though it was just the first day, I'm excited to see how the University of Maine commit looks in the rest of camp. If he's impressive, he might just be a late round steal for the Panthers.
Tomorrow is an off ice day for the prospects, but the players will be back on the ice Wednesday, at 9:30 AM. Be sure to follow along on Twitter (@shane1342o), and check back here for the recap of the day's action.