The Traverse City Prospects Tournament offers a unique opportunity for a slew of youngsters to leave indelible impressions on various NHL team executives before training camp even begins. For some, such as the free agents invited on a tryout basis, this tournament presents a chance of a lifetime. For others, it's a chance to prove to the organization that drafted them that they are following the right path for their development. Then, there are the select few that will be closely scrutinized throughout the tournament. They are the first-round picks, the cream of the crop, the best of the best. At this year's tournament, 15 first-round picks will be in action. NHL.com will be following them throughout the tournament, but here's a primer so you know exactly who we're talking about over the next week:
Zach Bogosian, No. 3, 2008
Bogosian, who signed his entry level contract earlier this month, had a marvelous developmental camp from July 8-13. Atlanta coach John Anderson
has said that Bogosian's skill set and instincts are better than advertised. Thrashers GM Don Waddell told the team's Web site: "Here you have an 18-year-old player who is going to be a future star in this League. We'll let his play dictate how quickly he comes along." This past season, Bogosian ranked second among defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League with 50 assists and was the only defenseman in the league to lead his team, the Peterborough Petes, in points with 61 in 60 games. In 127 career games with Peterborough, Bogosian posted 18 goals, 94 points and 135 penalty minutes with a plus-2 rating. "I'm out to be the best all-around defenseman possible," Bogosian said. "I like to take care of defense first and then chip in offensively when needed. But really, I just want to be a good team player, capable of sticking up for teammates and myself while trying to help out the team in any way."
Angelo Esposito, No. 20, 2007
Esposito, who also signed a multi-year contract with the Thrashers this summer, appeared in 56 games with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and finished third on the team with 69 points (30 goals, 39 assists). He was second on the Remparts in playoff scoring with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 11 games. Esposito also received the Mike Bossy
Trophy as the best professional prospect in the QMJHL in 2006-07. "We're being positive and patient with his development," said Dan Marr, the Thrashers' director of amateur scouting and player development. "He just needs to get physically stronger to become that good point producer in the NHL. I feel he has put a lot of pressure on his shoulders and he just needs to play his game and be the best he can be. He must understand that he doesn't need to carry the team but play a part in the team."
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Nikita Filatov, No. 6, 2008
The drama surrounding Filatov this summer had nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with bureaucracy. The Russian prospect needed to get a working visa to come to North America before he could even think about starting his NHL career. He got it late last month and will get his first taste of the NHL in Traverse City, albeit against many other players who are also getting their first taste of the League. The Jackets are so high on Filatov that, during a phone interview with NHL.com, coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn't rule out the possibility that he actually ascends to the top line this season, perhaps as the No. 1 center even though he's listed as a left wing. While that's still a shot in the dark, this much is certain: Filatov will be one of the most watched players during the tournament. "He's a dynamic offensive player with a high skill level and great passion for the game," Jackets GM Scott Howson told NHL.com. "You can see that how he plays. He has excelled in the last two or three years in all the international competitions against older players. We hope he's going to be a real good offensive player in the NHL."
Jakub Voracek, No. 7, 2007
The 19-year-old told NHL.com early in the summer that he once thought he had to be lucky to make the NHL. Try good, very good. Voracek, who had six points in Traverse City last season, is arguably the Jackets' top prospect, or at least running neck-and-neck with Filatov. It's not far-fetched to think he'll be the right wing on the second line this season. He's a playmaker in every sense of the word. Last season, while playing for Halifax of the QMJHL, Voracek had 68 assists in 53 games. In his rookie season in the QMJHL, he had 63 assists in 59 games. He also had 56 goals during his junior career, which will end if he has a successful training camp. One knock on Voracek was his strength, but he's added about 20 pounds, so that shouldn't be much of an issue anymore. If he plays with Filatov on a line, it should be one of the more productive lines in the tournament. "He's a lot like Filatov, only a year older," Howson said. "He's a great playmaker and had an outstanding season in Halifax, and a good World Junior. He's going to make a real serious push to make the team."
Ivan Vishnevskiy, No. 27, 2006
"Vishnevskiy is a terrific skater with excellent offensive skills. He's going to have to get bigger, but down the road, he has the potential to be really good."
-- Scott White, professional scout
The Stars have high hopes for Vishnevskiy, the 20-year-old Russian who came to North America during the 2005-06 season. Despite his small frame (5-11, 180 pounds), he's skilled, extremely adept at moving the puck and possesses great on-ice vision. Vishnevskiy had 17 goals and 45 points for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec League this past season and could eventually take over for Sergei Zubov
as the Stars' power-play quarterback. "Vishnevskiy is a terrific skater with excellent offensive skills," said Scott White
, a professional scout and director of hockey operations for the Stars' former AHL affiliate, Iowa. "He's going to have to get bigger, but down the road, he has the potential to be really good. "He's going to need some mentoring and tutoring in the American Hockey League, but the one thing he has is the ability to skate. He can get up the ice, and puck-moving is vital the way the game is going. We just have to work on the defensive part of the game, and that's very coachable. He's got NHL skating ability; now we just have to tune up the rest of his game."
DETROIT RED WINGS
Jakub Kindl, No. 19, 2005
Kindl is entering his second professional season and his stats from his rookie season are quite eye-popping, but for the wrong reasons. He was a minus-34 for Grand Rapids, but if the Wings are concerned about one of their prized defensive prospects, it isn't showing. After finally getting used to the pro game, Kindl showed a further adeptness as a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman toward the end of last season. He finished with 17 points in 75 games, and proved he has a remarkable first pass. Due to the Wings overwhelming blue-line depth, Kindl is most definitely lined up to play another season in Grand Rapids. If he has a big season, he could make the jump for 2009-10, or be a call-up this season. "He has to get physically stronger," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "He's a long shot to make our team out of camp next year because of our depth at defense, but his strength is his ability to go back and get the puck and make the first pass, which is so valuable in today's game."
Thomas McCollum, No. 30, 2008
McCollum, who stars for Guelph in the OHL, will vie for playing time in Traverse City with another hot goalie prospect, Daniel Larsson
. McCollum is still a ways from making the NHL, but a good showing will do wonders for his confidence. He's entering his third season for the Storm and is a star in the OHL after going 25-17-6 with a 2.50 GAA and .914 save percentage last season. McCollum is also one of the top young American goalies. Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting said McCollum is a future franchise goalie. "His No. 1 attribute is his net position," Jensen said. "It's second to none. There are rarely holes and he has a great butterfly. When he is challenging and at the top of his game he is very tough to beat. ... I rarely see him out of position."
Colton Gillies, No. 16, 2007
The 6-foot-4 center, the nephew of former New York Islanders
legend Clark Gillies
, possesses great speed and uses his reach to his advantage on the penalty kill. Gillies enjoys getting physical down low and will use his frame to out-muscle opponents along the boards. He was a member of Team Canada at the 2007 Under-18 Championship, and won a gold medal at the 2006 Under-18 Junior World Cup. After scoring 24 goals for the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League last season, Gillies made the jump to the Houston Aeros of the AHL. In 11 games there, the 19-year-old had a goal and seven assists. "He doesn't have to score points to earn his stripes with us, so that will help him in his attempt to make our team," Wild assistant GM Tommy Thompson said. "We're very pleased with his development. With Colton, you don't just look at the points. He had a very good World Junior Tournament, too, and won the gold medal. He's got size and he's an elite-level skater. He's very aggressive and very coachable."
Tyler Cuma, No. 23, 2008
The Wild spent a 2009 third-round pick to move up one spot in the first round to take the Ottawa 67s defender. It had been four years since Minnesota took a defender in the first round, so Cuma instantly became one of the club's top prospects upon being drafted. After winning Rookie of the Year honors in the OHL for his performance with Ottawa in 2006-07, Cuma was the only member of the 67s to finish with a plus rating in 2007-08. "This is the ninth draft that the Minnesota Wild
has had, and never before have I ever said I was surprised when the guy was there when he picked," Thompson said. "I was very surprised. We're just delighted we have him."
NEW YORK RANGERS
Michael Del Zotto, No. 20, 2008
You may be asking yourself: How did a point-per-game defenseman in the OHL slip to the Rangers at No. 20? It's a question the Rangers were asking themselves a few months ago, but now they're just elated to have him. Del Zotto will be a player to keep an eye on in Traverse City as he makes his first attempt to prove some people wrong. In fact, of the seven other teams in Traverse City, four of them passed on Del Zotto. In fairness, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis and Columbus did take up four of the first six picks of the draft, and nobody thought Del Zotto would go that high. However, this tournament gives him his first chance to could have. Del Zotto was third among OHL defenseman with 63 points in 64 games last season. That's 10 more points than Alex Pietrangelo
in only four more games, and Pietrangelo was the fourth pick. The knock on Del Zotto is his in-zone play, but he'll be given time to develop. "We had held this guy in really high regard as far as how high he could go," Rangers Head Amateur Scout Jim Hammett said. "We think that he belonged in that upper echelon with some of the other defensemen that went higher, so overall we were absolutely thrilled that he was still there (at No. 20)."
Bobby Sanguinetti, No. 21, 2006
"We think that he (Michael Del Zotto) belonged in that upper echelon with some of the other defensemen that went higher, so overall we were absolutely thrilled that he was still there (at No. 20)." -- Jim Hammett, Rangers Head Amateur Scout
Even though the Rangers have a strong stable of blueliners already, Sanguinetti will be given a chance to make the squad out of training camp this year. His training camp starts in Traverse City, where Sanguinetti will have to impress in a big way. For three straight seasons, Sanguinetti, who played for Brampton, finished in the top 10 in scoring among OHL defenseman, including last season when his 29 goals were the most among the blueliners and his 70 points were second. The Rangers like Sanguinetti's development in the defensive zone, but it still has to get better. That's an area where he'll need to show great improvement throughout his time in Traverse City and then in the Rangers training camp. However, the Rangers don't want to see any drop-off in his offense as he furthers his develop in the defensive zone. Sanguinetti, who had a goal and two assists in Traverse City last season during the Rangers' undefeated run, can be an offensive force. "I know what I'm capable of and the reason why they drafted me, the confidence they have in me," Sanguinetti told NHL.com. "I need to continue to show that I'm getting closer and closer to becoming a Ranger and that you want to compete for a job and that you're serious about it."
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Patrik Berglund, No. 25, 2006
Berglund led last season's tournament with 10 points on four goals and six assists. He's back for more, but likely for the last time considering he's nearly a lock to make the Blues this season, possibly as a second-line center. After dominating in Traverse City last year, Berglund returned to Sweden to honor his contract with Vasteras. He had 45 points and was also one of the top players in the World Junior Championships, finishing with seven points and a plus-3 rating. Berglund is a shooter and he's not afraid to go to the tough areas around the net. He creates scoring chances and is a strong skater and puck handler. He'll be, without question, one of the top players in the tournament again. "I know the organization believes in me and I'm going to show them that they made the right choice to draft me," Berglund told NHL.com. "I'm out to be as good as I can be."
T.J. Oshie, No. 24, 2005
After three successful seasons at the University of North Dakota, Oshie signed his entry-level contract this summer and he's ready to make an impact. This will be his first go-round in Traverse City, and if all goes to plan, it will be his last. Oshie is one of those dogged hockey players that fans will simply fall in love with. He's remarkably consistent - 45 points as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore, 45 as a junior - and he's a winner having played in the Frozen Four three times. One of the more interesting things to watch in this camp - and you know the Blues' brass will have a keen eye on it - is Oshie and Berglund playing together. If they're put together on a line, will they have instant chemistry? If so, will Andy Murray use them together this season, with Berglund at center and Oshie on the wing?
"He's been one of the best college hockey players in the country and he was a first-round draft pick," Jarmo Kekalainen
, the Blues' assistant GM and director of amateur scouting, said. "Those are the things that build the expectation and I think he has those expectations for himself, but it does come down to how he does in September."
Alex Pietrangelo, No. 4, 2008
The 18-year-old defenseman signed his first contract earlier this month, taking yet another step toward the NHL. While there is traffic in front of him for this season, Pietrangelo has a unique opportunity to make an impression in Traverse City. He was unable to participate in the Blues' prospect development camp in late June due to lingering effects of mononucleosis, so this will be his first time on the ice in contact situations for the Blues. Because he's 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Pietrangelo has been compared to Chris Pronger
, except he hasn't quite showed that nasty edge yet. That's something to look for in Traverse City. The Blues already know he moves well with and without the puck. He'll have more of a chance to make the squad when training camp opens Sept. 19, but there is no reason to rush Pietrangelo. He has the makings of a 25-minute a night defenseman for a long time, but they usually take time to develop. "The one thing that's different is that Alex plays defense," Blues President John Davidson
told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's not going to be any pressure on him to automatically be here. We can allow a person to develop at his own pace."
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Ty Wishart, No. 16, 2006
Wishart was San Jose's first selection in the 2006 Entry Draft, but was shipped to the Lightning, along with defenseman Matt Carle
and two draft picks, for defenders Dan Boyle
and Brad Lukowich
on July 4. The 6-5, 210-pound defenseman played 72 games with Prince George and Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League last season, recording 16 goals and 67 points in 72 games. He also played in five games with the Worchester Sharks of the AHL to close out the season. "Ty's been a terrific surprise; he's got such good size and mobility with strong stick and puck skills," said Tampa's Vice President of Hockey Operations, Brian Lawton
. "He's a lot further along than we thought when we made the trade for him."