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Prospects Looking to Impress New Coaches at Rookie Camp

Twenty-nine players are attending this year's event trying to get noticed

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

GLENDALE -- Coyotes rookies skated at Gila River Arena on Thursday, the first day of their weeklong camp to start the 2017-18 season.

"We've got a new coaching staff in Tucson and a new coaching staff up here, so it's a chance to make a first impression," General Manager John Chayka said regarding the 29 prospects who were invited to the camp. "As coaches and managers, we try to stay away from making too quick of judgments, but it's tough. Things that they do always catch your eye and it sticks, so it's important that they get off on the right foot and get some momentum because that's how you make this team. It's a marathon, not a sprint, but at the same time you've got to build momentum and build a bit of a profile in these camps. I'm curious to see who kind of jumps out early."

Video: Keller, Strome & Joseph dicuss Day 1 of Rookie Camp

All eyes will be on recent first-round draft picks Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome at this camp. Both are expected to turn heads this week at practices and at a four-team rookie tournament in San Jose that starts on Saturday. 

"I don't want to put pressure on those guys," said Head Coach Rick Tocchet, who watched both practices on Thursday from a seat in the lower bowl next to assistants John MacLean and Scott Allen. "They don't have to, every second they're on the ice, try to impress everybody. They've just got to play."

Nevertheless, Keller and Strome likely will stand out at this camp. Both played for the Coyotes briefly last season.

"This is my first training camp so it's going to be a lot of fun," said Keller, the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft who played three games for Arizona in 2016-17 after completing his freshman season at Boston University. "I stayed here (in Arizona) all summer to prepare for this next couple of weeks and I'm just really looking forward to it." 

Keller was asked if he'd take Rookie Camp lightly so he'd be fresher for the main training camp next week.

"I'm going to play my game regardless of how many practices or games that we have," Keller said. "I'm not going to go easy just because it's Rookie Camp. I'm going to have the same mind-set here as I will at the main camp. I know how to take care of my body and how my body reacts to things so I think I'll be fine." 

Strome, whom Arizona drafted third overall in 2015, also worked hard this summer, especially with Skating Coach Dawn Braid, to prepare for training camp. He played seven games for the Coyotes in 2016-17 before going back to his junior team. This is his third NHL rookie/training camp.

"I felt like the past two years I've had great camps and then come the seventh preseason game, you have a little slip up in a game," he said. "My first year, I got sent back and I felt like that was one of the main reasons. Last year, I felt like I didn't start the regular season because of it."

Strome was asked if he's nervous about trying to make it to the NHL for a third time.

"You're not normal if you don't feel a little nervous and anxious to try to make the NHL," Strome said. "I'm trying to live a childhood dream here."

Other noteworthy prospects looking to make good impressions on the new coaching staffs include forwards Christian Fischer, Nick Merkley, Ryan MacInnis and Conor Garland, defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Cam Dineen and Kyle Wood, and goalie Adin Hill. 

Tocchet, whom the Coyotes hired just two months ago, will be using the camp to get to know the prospects as people. He'll also be watching them to see their work ethic, hockey IQ and skill level. 

"Simple is better, especially early on for these guys," Tocchet said of the Rookie Camp's philosophy. "I don't think it's fair to give kids a lot of points and structure right now. It's too confusing. So I think you give them a couple points and let them go play."

Mike Van Ryn, the recently hired coach of the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League, and his staff conducted Thursday's on-ice sessions. They'll do the same on Friday morning at the Ice Den in Scottsdale when the camp continues starting at 9:30 a.m.

After Friday's practice the team will fly to San Jose for the rookie tournament vs. the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche.

Video: Rick Tocchet on Day 1 of Rookie Camp




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