More than 25 Sharks rookies, prospects and hopefuls hit the ice in earnest on Sunday in preparation for the start of the Rookie Tournament against Anaheim tomorrow night (7 pm, tickets available day of the game, starting at 5 pm at Shark Ice).
With physicals, testing and other administrative matters behind them, the focus turned to the three-game series versus the Ducks.
The importance of a tournament such as this has several factors. Some players on a tryout basis are trying to impress the Sharks (or even the Ducks) brass. Others test their mettle and skills against their peer group, which provides a solid measuring stick, and likely will end up back in juniors or with the Worcester Sharks, San Jose’s top development affiliate in the American Hockey League.
For a handful of players on the Sharks roster, they enter this camp with the notoriety of being a high draft selection, likely been through this type of rookie tournament before and thus are looking to really impress. They are keenly aware of the roster depletions that took place with the NHL club during the offseason providing opportunity for advancement at both defense and forwards.
Worcester Head Coach Roy Sommer is in charge of the rookie group, working on the ice with his assistant David Cunniff and offered hit thoughts on how those players can achieve their goal of playing in the NHL.
“(Those guys) should turn heads,” said Sommer bluntly. “They need to be the best players on the ice, period. Not one shift, but every shift, every second, every game, even in practices. They need to make people say, Wow!
“Those players recognize the opportunity in front of them and seem to have taken it seriously in terms of off season training and conditioning,” added Sommer. “They need to take practices and games this week seriously and be the best players on the ice.”
Sharks fans harken back to the 2005 rookie tournament also hosted at Sharks Ice, where in a painful bout of foreshadowing last Spring’s playoff series, Anaheim forwards Corey Perry and, in particular, Ryan Getzlaf (who was named tournament MVP), ran roughshod over the competition. At that time, it consisted of three other teams – San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
“No different from a few years ago in LA,” said Sommer. “Torrey Mitchell
was the best player in the tournament and he followed that with a strong rookie year. Same with Seto (Devin Setoguchi) and Milan (Michalek) in the years they played, they were head and shoulders above the competition.”
The players who rise above and show up on the NHL roster will play for Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan, who enjoys his vantage point high above the ice during rookie camp, observing keenly like the other Sharks scouts in attendance.
“The first few days,” said McLellan, “we are trying to familiarize ourselves with all the players out there. Obviously, many are new to the coaching staff and being able to see them perform from above the ice gives us a broader perspective.”
While the games will provide a more meaningful setting, the entire coaching staff pays attention to all ice sessions.
“The other things we will be watching closely as the (rookie) tournament progresses,” said McClellan, “is how they compete? Are they playing to their strengths? Did they have an impact on the game? But we also pay attention to the details in practices. We want to see their whole experience.”
In addition to performing under pressure, the coaches are looking for players to grasp elements of the system.
“Are they understanding the concepts being taught by Roy,” added McLellan. “Are they using them, putting them into game and practice situations?”