Ty Wishart has been touted as one of the Tampa Bay Lightning's best young prospects since the former first-round draft pick was acquired in a trade with San Jose last summer. After a week of Norfolk Admirals training camp, coach Darren Rumble can see the 20-year-old Ontario native's skills, but wants increased intensity to go with them.
“He's got some talent but I'd like to see him get a greater sense of urgency,” said Rumble, himself a former NHL and AHL defenseman. “He's got great composure with the puck under pressure and he's got a hard shot that he gets through to the net. He just needs, like all young defensemen, to bear down in his own end.”
Asked if he remembered himself at Wishart's age, Rumble chuckled.
“I played one good period and one where it looked like I'd never had a pair of skates on before,” the first-year bench boss recalled. “I'd sit a game because I was so bad and then be back in.
“I only played 51 games my first year because I was so inconsistent. You have to make mistakes so you can recognize situations and what you have to do in them.”
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Rumble said he looks for certain things during exhibition games. The Admirals dropped their first two on the road last weekend and host Philadelphia this weekend for two more preseason tilts.
`”You want to see who the wingers are who can get the puck out of your zone at the blue line every time,” Rumble said. “The guys who make responsible plays through the neutral zone every time and will go into traffic for a rebound.
“Guys you're looking at as energy guys, will they finish every hit? If you are hoping a guy will fill an energy role and he's only doing drive-bys in the exhibition games, he's probably not fit for that role.”
Rumble said top Admirals forwards like Blair Jones, Wyatt Smith, Zenon Konopka and Peter Zingoni aren't likely to play both games this weekend. He suspects he'll suit up the likes of Jay Rosehill, Brady Leavold and Brent Henley twice to help with their conditioning and to take a better look at their play.
“There wasn't a ton of positive competition at every position last year,” Rumble said. “But this year, there are tough decisions to make and that's good.”
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Rumble pursed his lips and rubbed his forehead when asked if an Admiral's status as a top prospect would help him make the team.
“You'd like to say it doesn't, but it always has been and probably always will,” he said. “We will try our best for that not to be the case here. We're going to put the best players on the ice regardless of who you are and what you signed for or where you were drafted. If they tell me otherwise, we'll go from there.”
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Admirals defenseman Andy Rogers, a 2004 first-round draft choice, has averaged fewer than 40 games per season during his last four years of hockey. But the 6-foot-5 blueliner is confident he's shaken the injury bug once and for all.
“I did a lot of injury prevention this summer with my trainer and the Lightning organization,” Rogers said. “As of now, I've never felt better.”
A bone scan last January showed Rogers had stress fractures of two vertebrae and ended his season after 30 games. He wasn't cleared for full exercise until June and focused on strengthening his core muscles so they could handle what's going to be a pivotal season for the Calgary native.
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Goaltender Craig Kowalski is a long-shot to earn a spot on the Admirals' opening night roster but the Northern Michigan University product already has a Stanley Cup ring and should soon be receiving a Calder Cup ring as well.
The Michigan native had split the 2005-06 regular season between ECHL Florida and AHL Lowell and was recalled to serve as a practice goaltender for the parent Carolina Hurricanes during their run to the Stanley Cup.
“I had unbelievable two months practicing and watching from the press box,” Kowalski said. “We were down, 2-0, going into Montreal and I figured we'd be starting our summer soon but they went on a run and it's something I'll never forget.”
After going 29-11-2 in Georgia for ECHL Gwinnett last season, Kowalski got a similar call to come up and join the AHL's Chicago Wolves as they stormed to their league's title.
“Five weeks was a long time to postpone the summer and it didn't compare to the time in Carolina,” Kowalski said. “But I met some good guys and had fun.”
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Former Admirals and Lightning forward Norm Milley is skating in Germany this season for a team with the unlikely name of Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams. Named after the movie character, the team has lent its support to a nearby bear park. Milley led the team in scoring with 16 points in its first eight games.