One step inside the rink at the OhioHealth Ice Haus provided ample indication: it was hockey time once again in Columbus.
Yes, it’s development camp week, but there is palpable anticipation for this group of kids (both the newcomers and the returnees). Sonny Milano, last year’s first round pick, is a year older and preparing to play full-time pro hockey this season, whether it’s in Columbus or Cleveland.
Related: every time I type “Cleveland,” I get really excited. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that the AHL affiliate is two hours up the road. The Monsters’ digital media staff was in today, and they said basically the same thing – a two-hour drive down I-71 is totally worth it and ridiculously convenient.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, he of the 60-goal season in Portland (WHL) this year, is gearing up for his professional hockey debut. Defenseman Dillon Heatherington is in the same boat, and his will be a name to watch as he begins his journey in the fall.
So, in other words, there’s a lot to keep track of, and it was a busy Day 1 on the ice. Here’s a brief summation of what was seen, heard and said:
- One of the first things you notice about Milano is that he’s bulked up considerably. He said he’s added somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18 pounds since last season, and it’s obvious. Milano has spent the summer living and training in Columbus, getting to know the city and tackling some intense workouts.
- Seth Ambroz signed an AHL contract with the Monsters today, and once again, he was a hard guy to miss on the ice. He’s big, strong and is coming off a productive college career at the University of Minnesota. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he was a solid player for Lake Erie this season, and he’s a player to keep an eye on throughout the week and into training camp.
- Pretty cool local story this week with brothers Kole and Kiefer Sherwood accepting invites to development camp. Raised in New Albany, the Sherwoods are products of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program and both will be remaining in the state of Ohio to continue their careers. Kole is slated to play for Youngstown (USHL) in the fall, while Kiefer is playing for Miami University alongside two other Columbus kids: Jack Roslovic, who was drafted in the first round, 25th overall, by the Winnipeg Jets last weekend and Sean Kuraly of Dublin (the Redhawks’ captain), a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks.
- Zach Werenski’s dad, Ken, was in the rink today after an eventful but exciting weekend for the family. After the draft, Zach flew directly from Florida to Columbus but Ken headed back home to Grosse Pointe, Mich., to get his son’s hockey bag and then drove down to Columbus to deliver it. Thanks to dad for coming through in the clutch.
- Keegan Kolesar is a big fella, and he’s got a skill set to go along with a reputation for being a thunderous body checker. We spoke to him after today’s first session and will have a story on him tomorrow on BlueJackets.com.
- Bjorkstrand looks, talks and acts like a pro. He’s right there, ready to break through into the NHL but he knows there’s a long way to go. The goal is, obviously, to make the Blue Jackets out of training camp but he’s going to build it up throughout the summer, starting with this week.
- Chatted with an exhausted but ecstatic Paul Bittner today, who’s reunited with his buddy Bjorkstrand. It’s been a long week for the 2015 draft class, in particular, those who flew from Europe over the weekend, but you can tell that this experience is an eye-opener and one they want to take full advantage of.
- Love the energy from new assistant coach Kenny McCudden, who certainly earned his paycheck today. It was a skating and skills-heavy practice, with a lot of drill repetition and attention to detail. Milano gave him a ringing endorsement after Day 1, and we’ll talk more about McCudden and what he brings to the Blue Jackets later this week.
- Stick tap to Mike Battaglia, Blue Jackets pro video scout, for his performance in net today during the second session. Went better than I expected.