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Rookie Camp Recap: Who Is Gearing Up For A Run At A Roster Spot On The Big Club

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
Consider Thursday as a type of intermission.

The facility at Centennial Sportsplex was closed and players were mandated to take the day off. So before the main training camp begins on Friday with on-ice and off-ice testing, let’s take a look back at rookie camp.

Craig Smith was the obvious standout after scoring six goals in two rookie games in Florida. The poised and polished forward, who recently turned 22, even surprised himself a bit.

“I guess I was pretty fortunate to be in that position,” Smith said. “My thought going down there was to put as many pucks on net as possible. I didn’t want to go back to the bench saying, ‘I could have shot the puck there.’ ”

Smith was the first to give credit to linemates Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck.

“They are two phenomenal players who made some really nice plays out there,” Smith said. “They were able to find me in some crucial areas and the puck was going in … I feel like we all play the same style. We run and gun and thrive on turnovers.”

First-year Milwaukee Admirals Coach Kirk Muller was equally impressed with the Beck/Bourque/Smith line.

“It looked like a line that had been together for a year,” Muller said. “Smitty has a good release and a good knack around the net, but he works hard to find those areas and he works hard to make things happen.”

When asked to name a particular player who made a big jump from rookie developmental camp in the summer to this week, Muller barely paused.

“I really liked (Michael) Latta,” Muller said. “We worked on his skating in the summer. He went home and I know he had a skating coach and he worked on it. He’s feisty and plays hard, but the game is quick and you have to be able to skate. I was impressed with him in the last two games down there. He wanted to show that he wants to play. That’s what those guys in those games are supposed to do, get noticed. I thought he did a good job of that.”

Defensively, Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton said he liked what he saw from Mattias Ekholm, a native of Sweden who will play his first season in North America.

“Ekholm got his feet wet over here and got to see what it’s like to play on a smaller ice surface,” Fenton said. “He adapted well, especially in the second game.”

Fellow defenseman Ryan Ellis, one of the most-decorated prospects in Canadian Junior Hockey history, earned high praise as well.

“Ellis back there, he is a special player,” Muller said. “He’s smart and skilled and really reads the game well.”

Goaltenders Atte Engren and Chet Pickard also received high marks.

“Both were good,” Muller said. “They both competed and were focused. I thought Chet was quick. He came in at halftime of the second game, which is not easy and he adjusted to that. I think we were pleased with the goaltending. We told the guys first impressions are good.”

The end of rookie camp allowed Muller, who played 19 seasons in the NHL, to reflect on the differences between his first rookie camp as a player to what players experience today.

“In my rookie year, you showed up in New Jersey for the first day, didn’t know anybody, you had your one meeting and you had a scrimmage the next day,” Muller said with a laugh. “I don’t think we had practices. We had scrimmages every day. People watched and evaluated and that was it. Now, they come in for prospect camp in July, they’re being educated on nutrition and training, and it gives them the opportunity for a couple of months to work on whatever it is. They are much more educated now than we were.”
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