Wild.com Managing Editor Mike Doyle was at Wild Development Camp last week, observing Minnesota’s top prospects in action. Here are his Five Takeaways from the camp:
Wild Special Advisor and former NHLer, Andrew Brunette, might’ve said it best last week: Development Camp is not an evaluation, it’s meant to enhance the development of the club’s top prospects. How much ‘development’ can a young hockey player get in a week? Well, aside from the strenuous on-and off-ice workouts, the NHL hopefuls participated in a number of classroom-like seminars geared towards helping them in their path to professional hockey. The prospects learned about nutrition then followed that up with a cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. They learned team building from JB Spisso and played paintball for their final off-ice hurrah as a group. The Wild PR staff held court on improving their media knowhow and many were interviewed throughout the week. Wild Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir set up the sessions so that they would learn a skill and then apply it in a real world setting. Nurturing homegrown NHL players has become paramount in the salary cap era, and Minnesota’s Development Camp was a great look at the lengths a club will go to help improve its young prospects chances of making it to the League. We’ll see many of these prospects turning pro soon…
Mathew Dumba is one player who was closely watched during Development Camp, as many wonder if he’s ready to make the leap to the NHL next season. The club’s first round pick in 2012 turns 19 later this month and was impressive at camp. He has a big shot from the right side and skates well. While last season he was more of a wide-eyed spectator, this summer Dumba seemed more focused, measured and matured. He said that skating with the Wild at training camp and then the club’s American Hockey League affiliate at the end of the season was an eye-opening experience, one that taught him what it really takes to be a pro.
The Wild’s top brass has shown that it is willing to be patient with its prospects, not wanting to rush them into the League before they are ready. Playing scarce minutes in the NHL can be detrimental to a player’s confidence and have a negative impact on his development. Now, can Dumba be the next Jonas Brodin? Maybe, but what Brodin did last season was more rare than a lightning strike. If you ask Dumba, he’ll tell you he wants to make the Wild next season and the club will give him a good look in training camp, but Minnesota won’t rush him into the NHL if it will be detrimental to his development.
The other three players that many State of Hockey fans have been curious to see are Brett Bulmer, Erik Haula and Zack Phillips.
Unfortunately, Bulmer was injured and was only able to participate in off-ice activities. The 2010 second-round pick played his first full season of pro hockey last year with the Houston Aeros, but it was an injury-plagued debut. He’ll look to get back on track this year and will look to make a splash at training camp, after skating in nine games with the team in 2011-12.
Phillips also played in his first professional season with the Aeros last year. After a slow start, the forward played well down the stretch, doubling his season point total in the last two months of the season. Phillips has a soft set of hands, scoring a beautiful backhand goal in the shootout after Saturday’s scrimmage. As he becomes stronger and continues to work on his skating, he’ll become more of a threat to crack the Wild’s lineup as an offensive player.
Haula was the most recognizable player at camp, coming off three stellar seasons with the University of Minnesota. The 22-year-old signed an entry-level deal with the Wild after his junior year and skated with the club’s AHL affiliate at the end of the season. Haula was the most polished player at camp and will be a player to look out for in training camp and throughout the season.
Development Camp was a little different this year, and the plan was to have a 3-on-3 tournament in place of a full-ice scrimmage. While it was cool to see the prospects playing in a small-ice competition, I’m glad the club decided to change Saturday’s session to a full-ice scrimmage. In a small 3-on-3 game, you get to see the players’ skills because the puck moves so quickly and there is a lot of room to maneuver blue line and in. However, it doesn’t give a full sense of what they are capable of like watching them play a full-ice game. Granted, the Saturday scrimmage came after a long week and the heavy legs were apparent, it was cool great to see Haula streaking down through the neutral zone and Dumba stepping up for a hit. Fans were also happy to come in from the July heat and watch a little puck, as about 2,600 people attended the scrimmage.
When you watch the prospect’s perform on the ice, sometimes you can forget that most of them are under-20 years old. Then you see them in their street clothes and realize that they are, still, really just pimple-faced kids. They still have to mature both mentally and physically. The responsibility laid upon these youngsters is a heavy burden, but a lot of them handle the pressure like a 10-year vet. It is the mental side of the game that separates many of the players who will make it to the NHL and those that will toil in the minors. The Wild wants to afford all of its prospects with the tools to one day make the big club, and every July Development Camp is the first step prospects take in the long and winding road to the NHL.