I checked out the Lightning’s Rookie Camp yesterday and came away very impressed. I caught the evening scrimmage that capped off a full day of practices.
While the camp scrimmages can be fun to watch, it’s often challenging to get a full read on a player in those games. Always take them with a grain of salt. For example, last night’s scrimmage started off as a four-on-four, then switched to a three-on-three. Even when camp scrimmages are five-on-five the games are usually more wide-open than preseason games – and certainly more so than regular season tilts.
Still, the level of play was high and it was easy to see why these young men had been picked to participate in the camp. First round pick Victor Hedman was there, and much has been written about what he will bring to the Lightning this year. But without taking anything away from the other players in camp, there were two guys who caught my eye last night: Dana Tyrell and Carter Ashton.
Tyrell, a second round pick in 2007, attended the Lightning’s abbreviated camp last year and performed very well. Last winter, however, he suffered a season-ending knee injury while trying out for Canada’s World Junior Team. Just before the injury, incidentally, he earned accolades for a thunderous check he laid on Hedman, to whom he’s giving up several inches. And that check sums up what’s so compelling about Tyrell’s game. He’s a bulldog out there. He hunts down pucks and isn’t afraid to initiate contact. Even though he’s not the biggest man on the ice, he’s strong, sturdy and hungry (in a Marty St. Louis-kind-of-way). Last night, he scored a goal on the first shift of the scrimmage. It was a sequence in which he got the puck in front of the net and fired two or three shots in a row before he beat Dustin Tokarski. In other words, he didn’t give up on the play. There’s been talk that Tyrell, who will begin his first pro season this year, not only could contend for a spot with the Lightning, but might even land the team’s coveted top-six forward position.
Ashton was the club’s other first round pick this summer. The Bolts traded up from the second round to take him 29th overall. Unlike with Tyrell, I had never seen Ashton play before last night. I had heard that he scores the bulk of his goals from the front of the net and it didn’t take me very long to conclude why. Every time he got the puck, he headed for the same destination. Whether it was off the rush, down the wing or getting the puck in the corner, it seemed that Ashton had one thing in mind – getting to the net. This is the sort of mentality that head coach Rick Tocchet loves to see in his players and obviously why the team coveted Ashton so much last June. If he doesn’t earn a slot with the Lightning, Ashton would return to his junior team. But it will be interesting to see how much of an impact he makes when the big camp starts this weekend.
By the way, the rookie camp continues until Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
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