Remember that first-day-of-school feeling?
Perhaps the excitement levels are ramped up even a bit more when hockey is the subject of choice, but those same sentiments were prevalent as the Nashville Predators began their 2016 rookie camp on Thursday at Centennial Sportsplex.
Nineteen skaters, three goaltenders and six coaches hit the ice for the team’s first practice, one of just two they’ll have together before heading to Florida to participate in a rookie tournament in games against top prospects from Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington.
For Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason, who will oversee the Preds this weekend, there was plenty to like after the first skate.
“All the coaches, as soon as you start yelling that first day, you lose your voice in a hurry,” Evason joked. “But it’s great, the players are excited, the coaches are excited and management as well.”
It’s been more than two months since the Predators hosted their annual development camp, with most of the same players in attendance, and Evason saw a noticeable difference in a number of participants, namely a first-round pick in 2014.
“That’s the exciting thing for us as coaches and management is you can see development, even in that short amount of time,” Evason said. “You can see the guys that have put the work in since the development camp. In particular, Kevin Fiala looks great, looks really good; his skating is real good, and there’s a lot of guys clearly [who have improved].”
Forward Justin Kirkland, who is expected to join the Milwaukee Admirals this season, isn’t just glad to be back in Nashville once more – he’s also looking forward to the chance to perform in front of those who will continue oversee his development.
“I was talking to my family just before I left, and I just said I’ve been itching to get back into the swing of things,” Kirkland said. “The summer was long enough for me, and I’ve prepared myself to the best of my ability to come in here, show well and make a good impression. Hopefully, I can do that throughout the next month or so.”
Rookie camp presents a unique challenge with a quick turnaround to game action, but a number of Preds on the roster, including Fiala and Kirkland have done it before and found success. So what needs to happen between now and puck drop on Saturday night in the Sunshine State?
“Coming together as a group and trying to find some chemistry right away is a big thing,” Kirkland said. “But no one has really played games, so it’s going to be maybe a little sloppy at the start. but I know everyone’s getting ready to get into the swing of things.”
“Just getting acclimated to each other is important,” defenseman Jack Dougherty said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys here this year, so it’s important that we all get to know each other’s personalities and tendencies, kind of gel and get down to Florida and win some games.”
Evason knows what he and the coaching staff are looking for as well. And while the excitement levels were high on Thursday, no one plays the game to just practice. Come Saturday, the Preds will be ready to go.
“You want to get them into a flow, try to get back into a team atmosphere and practicing together, because we want to see their individual skill, but we want to see them play as a team,” Evason said. “We had some success last year at this tournament because our group came together as a team, and the quicker the team does that, the better opportunity they have to succeed… We’re excited to watch the skill level but we want to see them be a real good teammates and a good team as well.”