The first weekend of Training Camp has passed, while it's way too early to make definitive statements on positional battles, there are just two more days of practice before the Preseason Opener so first impressions are critical toward determining pairings for the first couple preseason games.
So what did we learn from the first three practice sessions of camp?
1) Patric Hornqvist
answered a lot of questions in his first few practices. The offensive skill was never in question; he's scored 41 goals in 102 games in the Swedish Elite League the past two seasons, plus an additional eight goals in 18 contests at the World Championships. And he's only 21-years old. So it was a given that he knew how to score. The questions revolved around his abilities to adjust to the smaller ice surface and more physical style of play in the NHL. The early returns look very positive. In Sunday's scrimmage he was physical along the boards – and didn't back down against the likes of Jordin Tootoo
– and looked very comfortable making plays in high traffic areas. When he's been on the ice, the puck has seemed to gravitate toward him, which is definitely a good quality for a goal scorer. Hornqvist's two linemates, JP Dumont and Rich Peverley, were both very complimentary of the young Swede's performance thus far.
2) Pekka Rinne
looks the part of a NHL goaltender. It's clearly Dan Ellis's team – just talk to any of the veterans and you instantly see the confidence they have in Elly between the pipes – but the young Finnish netminder is determined to make the incumbent earn it every step of the way. Rinne big, mobile, and calm in net and through the early going has been very sharp with his rebound control. Ellis is already established as one of the best puck moving goaltenders in the league, but Rinne's showed himself to be similarly adept at moving the puck.
3) The competitiveness of the team is already taking shape. Returning veterans Tootoo, Nichol, and Smithson have been scrappy already in camp, and the young guys haven't backed down as Antti Pihlstrom
and Ryan Jones in particular have shown the same flair for playing the body. And in general, the defensemen have all shown an eagerness to throw a few hits. Even the usually reserved Dumont slammed his stick after being denied on a quality scoring chance late in Sunday's scrimmage (Dumont would atone with the go-ahead-goal on his next shift).
4) Jonathon Blum
has looked as good as advertised. With the glut of talented defensemen in training camp, it's difficult for any of them to really stand out; there are a lot of defensemen playing at a very high level in camp. Still, Blum, the youngest defenseman in camp by a good 17 months, has looked very comfortable through the first weekend of play. He was solid in Monday night’s Rookie Game and created some offensive chances from the point during Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage. His performances haven't been lost on the coaching staff; Coach Trotz has mentioned Blum's play in his media sessions each of the past two days. He's almost assuredly going to be reassigned to his Junior team for the start of the season, but the only discernible difference between him and some of the NHLers is the goofy training camp number on his back (wearing #56).
5) Michael Ryan and Joel Ward got off to good starts. Ryan drew the attention of the coaching staff for his solid play in Sunday's scrimmage, which is always a good thing for a non-roster invitee. While Ward, written off by many fans to be an automatic addition to the Admirals, very quietly put together a solid start to camp. He's showed a strong puck control presence in three-on-two drills during Saturday's practice session and carried it over to Sunday's scrimmage, especially when he took shifts with Antti Pihlstrom
. If they want to earn consideration for the NHL team, both Ryan and Ward need to continue their strong play through the remainder of camp, but their first weekend performances give the coaching staff some options to tinker with over the next few weeks.