As the Hurricanes’ rookie conditioning camp draws to a close today, the team’s coaches and management can leave with a little more familiarity about the young players who have only recently joined the organization.
Click here for photos from camp
Evaluators are careful not to put too much stock in the on-ice portions of the camp, which come after long, grueling periods of off-ice training. If the legs seem a little heavy at the end of the day, particularly towards the conclusion of the four-day event, no one will find fault in that.
Still, certain things tend to stand out. With his shot and nifty moves around the net, 2010 first-round pick Jeff Skinner comes as advertised. What observers may not have known is that he isn’t afraid to answer or initiate physical contact despite not being the biggest guy on the ice, or that he genuinely seems to love the game, often wearing a big smile during drills and making an effort to keep his teammates loose.
”We’ve got a great bunch of guys here that are all working hard,” said Skinner. “When you go through something like this that’s so tough and demanding physically and mentally, it’s good to try to have a bit of a laugh and keep it fun.”
Then there’s the monster size of Jared Staal, who one can’t help but imagine being a “mini-me” version of older brother Eric, but in reality seems to be the larger of the two despite their similar official listings (Note: Jared's official listing has since been updated to 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, making him the same height and five pounds heavier than Eric). There’s the scoring touch of Justin Shugg, who prides himself on his defense but has a shot every bit as good as Skinner’s, having netted 39 goals in junior last season.
While all of that only serves to reinforce the Canes’ reasoning for bringing these players into the fold in the first place, the real value of the camp is the conditioning aspect.
“When this camp started around 12 years ago, it was strictly off-ice,” said Jason Karmanos, the team’s assistant general manager. “We started doing it as a way of teaching younger players how to work out, because there were so many examples of kids coming right into training camp and having their eyes opened.”
Other teams have similar events with their recently-drafted prospects, but few are as physically rigorous as Carolina’s. Staal and Riley Nash confirm that, having participated in rookie camps with Phoenix and Edmonton, respectively, prior to joining the Hurricanes. Nash estimates spending around four hours on the ice per day during his two camps with the Oilers, while the Canes prefer to spend that time in the gym.
None of this is to suggest that every one of the incoming players is clueless in the weight room. For example, defenseman Danny Biega, who blew scouts away with his fitness at the combine in May, carried that over to this week. In addition to nearly breaking the apparatus used to test grip strength, he wowed Strength and Conditioning Coach Pete Friesen in every exercise designed to gauge leg power, drawing comparisons to the most fit athletes he’s seen at the NHL level.
There’s also the benefit of getting to know a player like Tommi Kivisto, who is the first unsigned European-based prospect that anyone in the organization can remember coming to the camp. The defenseman will return to Jokerit of the Finnish league next season, after which time the Hurricanes will need to make a decision about whether to sign him or let him re-enter the draft. The same call will need to be made with winger Mattias Lindstrom, who is reportedly healthy after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury but was unable to attend this week’s camp due to scheduling conflicts with his Swedish club team.
Karmanos estimates that a handful of this year’s camp participants will be back at the team’s full training camp in the fall, with the exception of Kivisto and the college-committed players in Biega, Nash (unless he chooses to sign with the Canes and forego his senior season at Cornell) and Justin Faulk. Some, including Skinner, will also represent the Hurricanes at the Traverse City prospects tournament in September.“It’s definitely been a new experience and really challenging, but that’s what we’re here to do,” said Skinner. “We’re learning as much as we can about taking that next step.”
When they do so, they’ll be armed with a better understanding of what it will take to be successful and a higher comfort level with their new organization.