GLENDALE – The Coyotes dropped the puck on their annual Prospect Development Camp on Monday with two on-ice sessions inside Gila River Arena.
For several, including recent first-round draft picks Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun, it was the first opportunity to skate on the team’s home rink wearing Coyotes practice equipment.
“It’s awesome to put on those colors and put on all the gear,” said Keller, whom the Coyotes selected seventh overall at last month’s NHL Draft in Buffalo. “I’m just really happy to get out there for the first skate, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week and spending time here with a lot of good players … It’s awesome to be out there with such good players. Everyone has skill and speed.”
|Clayton Keller. Photo by Norm Hall. |
The 43 camp participants have been divided into two teams for the five-day camp, and each squad skated separately for about an hour with General Manager John Chayka, Head Coach Dave Tippett and other team executives watching from seats in the arena’s lower bowl. Similar on-ice sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But the on-ice workouts are only one component of this camp. Its primary objectives are to introduce and welcome the recent draft picks into the team’s culture and to gauge the progress of past participants.
“It’s hard to judge players in the first week of July, they’re not in game shape,” Tippett said. “It’s really just to get to know their skill set. There’s an evaluation process, but the evaluation is more on how they carry themselves, how they interact with their teammates and just the skill level they have. It’s not win or lose a game … It’s a lot of orientation and a lot of meetings teaching them how to be pros, especially for the new players who haven’t been here before. It’s good for them to come in and get a feel for everybody in the organization and get a feel for the surroundings.”
All eyes were focused on Keller and Chychrun as they skated on Team White in the first on-ice session. That’s because they’re high draft picks looking to make a big splash right away. Both said they are excited to soak up information from the staff and their older peers.
“It’s what we’ve been working for for so long, so just to be out there wearing Coyotes colors is really special for me,” Chychrun said. “I want to wear them with pride. At the end of the day I want to learn from this camp and do everything that I can to hopefully be wearing these colors come October.”
|Jakob Chychrun. Photo by Norm Hall. |
He added, “It was a great first day. I think we all had a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build on that.”
In addition to Keller, Chychrun, and the three other 2016 draft picks, the camp roster features many familiar faces with impressive resumes. Forwards Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak, for instance, are attending this camp for a third year, and Dylan Strome is here for a second time. Each of those players is eager to show they’re on course to challenge for roster spots this fall, a la Max Domi and Anthony Duclair from last year’s camp.
The camp will conclude on Friday with an intra-squad scrimmage that will pit the two teams against each other.
“We’re going to end the week with a mock game day where they’ll go through what an NHL player will go through on a game day,” Tippett said. “There'll be a pre-game skate in the morning and a pre-game meal, and then (the players will) show up and play a game. It’s a good way to finish the week. There’s a lot of young players here and on that last day they can try to impress the organization (and) impress the fans that we have here, so it should be a good night.”
Of the 43 players invited to camp, all but two skated on Monday. Forward Nick Merkley and goalie Marek Langhamer did not and they’re expected to stay off the ice for the entire week as they recover from injuries.