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Rookie Camp Opens, Gives Young Guys Chance to Shine

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE – Twenty-nine players – including five first-round draft choices – took the ice inside Gila River Arena for the first skate of Coyotes Rookie Camp on Saturday afternoon.

The skate marked the start of a new season for the Coyotes and their fans after a long and frustrating one in 2014-15.

“To get them a little bit educated on how we want to play and get them in a couple exhibition games … and give them the best chance to be successful when it comes to main camp, that’s what (rookie) camp is all about,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said after the skate. “It’s giving the young guys a chance to shine and the ones that shine a little brighter will get a little longer time at main camp.”

Before the skate began on Saturday, the players underwent medical exams and vigorous physical testing. The skate itself lasted about an hour.

Nick Merkley shoots on Adin Hill. Photo by Norm Hall.

“We joke about it but some of us say it’s the hardest day of the whole training camp experience just because you’re getting your feet wet and it’s new faces and you’re nervous about fitness testing and it’s your first skate,” forward Max Domi said. “It’s a lot to take in but we’re glad it’s done now and now we can get to business here.”

Forward Brendan Perlini agreed that the first day of camp can be challenging.

“It was a good skate today and I think everyone is pretty tired,” Perlini said. “It’s always tough, no matter how hard you train, and I think with the travel and stuff it kind of effects you a little bit. But it was a lot of fun and I’m glad it’s done now. It’s good to get the first skate out of the way. I think everyone’s legs were not the best out there today so I think everyone is going to be pretty sharp the next couple of days.”

All of the players are looking to make an impact at this camp before the veterans report to training camp on Friday.

“To get to the NHL you have to earn your way there and you don’t earn your way by where you were drafted you earn your way by how you play,” Tippett said. “Every one of those kids, the best thing for them is to be here. Some have a little more experience than others but none of them have played in the NHL on a full-time basis yet so the more education and more learning they can get the better off they are.”

The prospects will skate again on Sunday and Monday in Glendale before heading to Los Angeles on Tuesday morning for a two-game series vs. the LA Kings rookies in El Segundo, Calif.

Anthony Duclair and Max Domi skate. Photo by Norm Hall.

Ron Rolston, whom the Coyotes hired as head coach their new American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield (Mass.), led the on-the ice session as Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney watched from seats in the arena’s lower bowl.

Domi and Anthony Duclair, who are expected to make the Coyotes roster this season, are headlining the rookie camp, along with Perlini, Henrik Samuelsson and Dylan Strome, whom the Coyotes grabbed with the third overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

Strome got his first taste with the organization back in July at the annual Prospect Development Camp, but this time around he senses things are more business-like.

“Now you’re trying to make the team and make a good first impression,” Strome said. “Whether you’re the third pick or the 63rd or the 103rd, everyone is vying for a spot on the team and that’s what we’re working towards.”

Duclair is the prospect with the most impressive experience. He played 18 games for the New York Rangers last season before coming to the Coyotes in a trade in March. This is his third rookie camp overall and he’s thrilled to attend.

“I’m very excited,” Duclair said. “It’s my first skate here at the rink and I’m feeling pretty pumped... I think we’ve got a great bunch of guys here.”

Photo by Norm Hall.

Despite his NHL experience, Duclair is assuming nothing as camp begins with regard to making the team.

“I’m still getting adjusted to the new system here and the coaching staff and the players as well,” Duclair said. “I’m just going to work hard and compete and see where it goes.”

Duclair partnered with Domi and center Christian Dvorak on Saturday on what will likely be the No. 1 line for the games vs. LA. Strome centered Perlini and Samuelsson on the second line, or Line 1A, if you will.

NOTE: Fans are invited to attend all rookie camp workouts at Gila River Arena at no charge. For those planning to attend Sunday’s workout from 11 a.m. until 12:50 p.m., keep in mind that the Arizona Cardinals are playing a home game that day and the Westgate area will be very congested. Plus, fans should be prepared to pay to park.

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