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Camp Expectations Differ For Prospects As Games Begin on Saturday

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
When the Penguins’ top prospects arrived in London, Ontario late Friday afternoon to begin the team’s 2010 prospect camp, each player came with slightly different expectations on what they plan to get from the camp depending on where each guy is on the developmental ladder.

For top prospects who have spent a year or two at the professional level such as forwards Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffey, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait, this camp serves as a chance to get their legs under themselves so they can make a positive impression heading into next week’s main camp, when they hope to claim one of the coveted openings which exist at the National Hockey League level.

“Coming into camp this year, my mindset is probably a little different than last year,” Tangradi said. “This year I plan to come in, try to make the team and go from there. I feel like I have set myself up both physically and mentally this summer to do that. I am planning on leaving everything on the ice.”

“It’s a good way to start off – especially when you are a younger guy like me who is trying to make an impression heading into training camp,” Strait said. “You have a chance to get your legs under you and get some games into you before you have to head into the main camp. You feel a little more comfortable.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, rookies such as 2010 draft picks Tom Kuehnhackl, Joe Rogalski and Reid McNeill, will spend the next week further getting their feet wet at the professional level before eventually heading back to their junior team for another season of development.

While many of the prospects will find themselves feeling “extremely nervous” like Strait said he was last season, McNeill is an exception to the rule.

“I don’t really get nervous when I play hockey,” McNeill said. “It’s the same game no matter what level – the pace is just a little bit faster. It’s also going to help that camp is going to be held in my hometown of London. Being on my home ice will be an advantage in helping to keep me comfortable.”

Speaking of not being nervous heading into prospect camp, forward Joey Haddad suggests that the four players attending on a tryout basis – Tyler Brown, Taylor Peters, Alex Smigelski and Ryan Schnell – take that same mindset as McNeill.

“When you are fighting for a contract you really have to play as hard as you can all the time,” Haddad said. “Teams are always looking for guys to impress them. They want to find players who can help them so if you play the way you can then you can make an opportunity for yourself.”

Haddad knows a thing or two about creating an opportunity because it was his performance at the 2008 prospect camp which led to him receiving a contract with the Penguins after going undrafted his first two years of junior.

No matter what a player’s experience level is or whether they were drafted, Tangradi believes everyone attending camp should have the same mentality.

“The attitude I am coming in with – and what I would say as advice for any player – is you really have nothing to lose,” Tangradi said. “Whatever the organization thinks is best for you to develop as a hockey player – that is what is going to happen either way. If you just go in and show off your stuff, everything will work out for the best.

“I think last year was a great learning experience for me. That brief call-up to the NHL at the end of the season definitely set me up for the summer I had. I have worked hard this summer – probably the hardest I have worked in the summer yet.”

From the sounds of it, Tangradi – who is being counted upon to serve as one of the leaders of prospect camp – shouldn’t have to do too much preaching to get everyone on board with working as hard as he plans to and setting realistic goals for the upcoming season.

“Last year I was extremely nervous,” Strait said. “I really wanted to make an impression on the organization. This time around I can relax a little bit and play the role they want me to play. Hopefully I can show them I am ready for the season. My goal this year is to get to the one game first, which I hope I will. Then I’ll just go from there.”

“My first year, I played extremely well and opened some eyes up there,” Haddad said. “Last year I just didn’t get it done. That led to me starting the season slow and being assigned to Wheeling for the beginning of the season. This year I know what I have to do and I just have to go and do it.”

“I just want to see where I am compared to the pro level,” McNeill said. “I felt really good at the development camp. I have been working hard during the summer to get stronger and faster. I want to be able to compare my game to some of the guys who are already at the pro level like Robert Bortuzzo. I want to show improvement and development and impress the coaches.”

Those impressions begin on Saturday.


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