For much of day two at the Lightning Rookie Camp, the rink was littered with orange traffic cones and hockey gloves as the prospects in both groups dug their blades into the ice as they wove furiously around and through the obstacles.
Today’s sessions were primarily about technique and skill. And that was no accident as Lightning management had made a conscious decision to stress the basics.
Last year, the prospects gathered in Traverse City, Michigan to compete in four games over a five-day period, facing the prospects of three other NHL teams. This year, the Lightning concluded that it would be more productive to work on the skill sets of each prospect individually.
“We’re trying to build a base so these young players know what our program is about and what they need to work on,” explained Assistant General Manager Tom Kurvers. “These players are our future and we need to help them develop and improve.”
Of course, the prospects need to help themselves, too. That means catching the eye of the ever-watchful management group gathered on the mezzanine level at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
“We want there to be the chance for a player to surprise us,” Kurvers continued. “At this time of year the players that are ready, that have made the commitment over the last three months of the summer, they’ll show us.”
It’s no coincidence that the veterans of the club are scrimmaging daily on the second rink. There is a lesson there for the prospects to absorb.
“Built into the culture of hockey is a great respect for people that have played the game. They can watch the NHL guys skating and working very hard – maybe working harder than they are. For some, a switch goes off in their mind and they get better and make the jump. They have to approach it as if they have a chance and are ready for it.”
One of those hoping to show he’s ready is forward Chris Lawrence. After his on-ice session finished, Lawrence grabbed a spot on the mezzanine and watched the veterans go through their paces. After two seasons in the minors, Lawrence, a third-round selection in the 2005 entry draft, was no stranger to the competitive atmosphere of prospect camp.
“Every year is just a little bit different,” Lawrence said. “But you still have to play as hard as you can and try to have the best year that you can and see the way things unfold.”
As he continued to watch the scrimmage below, he reflected on his prospect camp to date.
“I feel pretty good about how I fit in,” Lawrence said. “Hopefully, the brass feels the same way.”
One thing for certain, he can be sure that the brass has been watching; and not just since camp opened on Tuesday.
“We have a gauge on how each player worked during the four or five months of summer, so we have that in the back of our minds,” Kurvers explained. “Some have made great progress and great commitment. We want every guy to come in here and show themselves in the best light, but that’s not always the case. Some want it more and it will show.”