It was tempting to leave Anaheim Ice on Thursday with a broad set of generalizations, but the Ducks’ rookie scrimmage amounted to a one-hour snapshot of a portion of the organization’s prospect pool.
Twenty-two players have been invited to the six-day camp that began Thursday. All but one was at the rink Thursday morning — a team spokesperson said that goalie Igor Bobkov’s flight into California was delayed. Maybe Bobkov knew something the other 21 didn’t: Of the players on the ice for the intrasquad scrimmage, the goalies had the least fun.
The final score was 9-6, apropos for the 4-on-4 game of river hockey that featured no hitting and plenty of uncoordinated improvisation. John Gibson, the 39th overall pick at last week’s Entry Draft, and Iiro Tarkki, whom the Ducks lured from Finland this summer, absorbed all of the burden.
Tarkki gave up the nine-spot, but faced more shots than Gibson (by my unofficial estimate) and made the more impressive saves. The 6-foot-3 netminder, who turns 26 today, is not ready for the NHL, and the Ducks will be happy if he and Bobkov can upgrade the goaltending picture in Syracuse. Gibson struggled early but seemed to settle down. He’ll have up to four seasons at the University of Michigan to iron out the kinks before he ever plays a game in Anaheim.
Goals were scored by Chris Wagner (4), Emerson Etem (2), Joseph Cramarossa (2), Devante Smith-Pelly (2), Andy Welinski, Tim Heed, Andreas Dahlstrom, Brett Perlini and Radoslav Illo. Rickard Rakell was at the rink but didn’t scrimmage because his equipment hadn’t arrived. Neither did Jake Newton, who is battling illness.
Those are the facts. They can be overestimated. I did longer interviews with Justin Schultz and Rakell, and will save their stories for a later post.
Since it was the only scrimmage that will be open to the public, here’s a few snap judgments:
Tarkki let in some easy goals but also stopped some very tough shots. For a big goalie (6-3, 191) he moves very well, almost Tim Thomas-like on a couple occasions. The comparison ends there because he did allow nine goals. It’s still too early to say whether he would be an upgrade over Timo Pielmeier or Jean-Phillippe Levasseur over a full AHL season, but it’s not too early to say that he doesn’t look like an NHL goalie yet.
Emerson Etem’s build has improved tremendously over the last year. He’s not bulky but not skinny, either. The Long Beach native made some spectacular stick-handling moves on the ice, but we saw that from Etem a year ago, shortly after he was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft. The difference now is that Etem’s upper-body strength alone shouldn’t prevent him from earning an NHL roster spot.
Two late-round picks had some impressive highs. Three of Wagner’s four goals were no fluke and it’s clear he has some good hands. The 2010 fifth-round pick had nine goals and 19 points in 41 games last season for Colgate University, which runs a very defensive-oriented system. Those nine goals ranked fifth on the team – not bad for a freshman. Josh Manson, a sixth-round pick Saturday in St. Paul, made a fantastic two-line stretch pass early in the first scrimmage and proved an adept poke-checker in his own end.
Unless it improves dramatically in the next three months, Smith-Pelly’s fitness level will keep him from making the NHL this season. Conditioning has always been the knock on him, and he knows it. “It was good for junior and that’s not where I want it to be,” Smith-Pelly said. “I need it to be at an elite level. … All last summer I worked very hard at it.” The 2010 second-round pick scored 15 goals in 20 playoff games last season for Mississauga (OHL); if he ever gets in NHL shape, he could be dangerous.
Of the players on the ice, the one who looked arguably the most NHL-ready isn’t planning on coming to training camp. Schultz has some tremendous skating and puck-handling skills for a defenseman, but will take them to the University of Wisconsin for his senior season instead. He said the Ducks “offered me a little, but I just kind of made my choice and stuck with that.” At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he must gain weight and hopes to benefit from the shorter NCAA season.