Sunday, July 11, 2010

Isles Prospects Show off for Long Island

There were no surprises for Scott Gordon from last night’s scrimmage, but he was happy with what he saw. With the mixture of new draft picks and those returning for a second year, Gordon said "We saw what we expected and there is a varying level of talent and ability and where they played and how old they are. There are certainly no disappointments. Some of these guys who are only 17 years-old will be a lot different when they are 19 and 20 and they turn pro.”

While the ages on the ice ranged from 17 to 22, no one looked out of place or overwhelmed. Hockey is a game you play because you love it. It’s apparent they all do. “This whole week isn’t about anyone coming to make the Islanders, it’s about building team unity so that when they come to camp, they know the coaches, the training staff they know the players. It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to be a pro both on and off the ice in the weight room how we do things as coaches here and give them a feel for everything so that when the time comes for them to turn pro they have a better understanding of what it takes to be a pro.”

Kirill Petrov did not take part in the scrimmage as he “...banged himself up in the pregame skate this morning.” This was only prospect camp in the middle of summer and no one wants an injury here that could jeopardize a player’s development in the fall.

However, watching Matt Martin play this scrimmage the same way he did the playoff games against the Calder Champion Hershey Bears, I asked Scott if he should have held up a little. “That’s Marty’s game. This is a contact sport and you have to be physical. The players can’t think that they can go out and it’s going to be shiny hockey. We encourage checking and you’ve got to play the game with the idea that you could get hit. You can’t go out there thinking no one else is going to touch you. And if it was like that, it wouldn’t be the type of look we would want to see anyway.”

The returning attendees, especially those who spent a year in Bridgeport made sure the kids knew this was physical hockey. A year in the AHL certainly has made a difference as Scott Gordon pointed out.

“Well, some of the Bridgeport players like Justin DiBenedetto looks like a better pro now. He’s leaned out a little, he’s a little quicker on the ice. He’s skating more, he’s not standing around. I was encouraged to see that. It’s good to see our goalies where they’ve come in a year. And even some of the college guys, like Aaron Ness, to me he looked a lot more comfortable in the game than anything I saw last year. And even the two practices it was a good setting for him to show what he can do. I could go down and have my comments about each guy. But the biggest thing is, it’s not about where they are today. It’s where they’re going to be and this is all part of the process.“

Being “pro” also means facing a crush of media with lights and recorders all vying for attention. Not one of them flinched. Each prospect seemed comfortable even while the interviewers at times did not. It seemed the more main stream media (read that as Ms. Katie Strang) headed off in a different direction, the group of more “new media” types grouped together in a clump. However, without the presence of a main stream media reporter whose job it is to speak out as quickly as possible to get their questions answered so they can meet their deadlines, us internet types are trained to be more accommodating of each other. The respect we offered up to each other often left a pause in the questioning.

Kirill Kabanov did not have to translate for his fellow countryman last night. He faced the recorders alone and was quick witted and talkative. His English is excellent and he answered each question with ease. At the young age of 17 (he turns 18 next Friday) he has a full understanding that hockey is not just a job and a game, it is entertainment. “It’s like a show It must be fun for people.”

The unexpected crowd of 5,024 were indeed entertained “It was pretty cool. I really like Islanders fans. They’re like crazy. I like Long Island a lot. Everyone asks me how bad am I with all my tattoos. In less than one year I’ll make a big one here (over his heart) a map of Long Island. No, really. Right here.”

Whether he was joking or not, the sentiment was real. He is happy to be here and looking forward to showing who he truly is. His ability to charm is evident. When asked who his favorite player in Russia is, he rattled off a name and repeated it three times for us. However, as none of us were familiar with him, he immediately made a reference us North Americans could relate to.

“I have the same coach as Ilya Kovalchuk. I have the same number, 17. I got the first letter in the last name, K. But my favorite is Valery Kharlomov. You’ve heard of him? Everybody heard of him? He was a great guy.” (No. I had not heard of him and it just took me five minutes to find him on the web as I was having difficulty spelling his name.)

Kirill has enjoyed the other activities the camp has provided such as the Mets game but missed out on the fishing trip as he was having his wrist checked out. At the Mets game, he enjoyed being in the crowd of Season Ticket holders but “It was a little bit boring because the game is so slow, it was like three hours.” He was lucky it wasn‘t a Yankee game. That may have lasted seven.

Kabonov was asked if camp had taught him what it was like to be a pro and he agreed he has changed his attitude. “I learned not to be late for practice, for buses, for everything. Just trying to be a good boy. I am a real good boy.”

This is a young man looking desperately to change his image to attain what he wants. “I have to work hard and do my best and try to make the team as soon as I can.”

Nino Niederreiter shares the same ease with the press as Kirill with perhaps, far less to prove. Nino models his game after Vinny Lecavalier and Ilya Kovalchuk. “He’s just a fantastic skater. I would love to be like that.”

While he didn’t know much about Scott Gordon before this week, when asked if he found anything surprising about prospect camp he was quick to say “Just that the coaching staff is fantastic. They do everything for you.” I don’t believe that meant they were being coddled, I do know it means they are being TAUGHT.

Nino said he was surprised that so many fans showed up for hockey in July, (So was the Coliseum staff.) and is enjoying his time on Long Island, including the fishing trip. He did not have to eat the fish he caught as was indicated in the website article. “No, I don’t like that fish I caught.” But it did make a great photo op. “Yah! Big smile I guess.” Nino has enjoyed the weather here but was reminded it will certainly change come Hockey season.

Brock Nelson is only a few weeks removed from high school and last night played in an NHL arena. “It’s pretty awesome. I know it’s a big jump but it was fun to be here in the Coliseum and play with the guys here. It was a great experience.”

You would think that someone so young would seem out of step with the 22 year olds who already have a year of AHL experience under their hockey shorts. “I felt I did pretty good. I know it’s a little bit quicker They’re bigger guys, faster, stronger. But I felt right there. So I just have to bulk up a little more and I can contribute a little more.”

As John Tavares had offered advice to all the prospects, the biggest item on their agenda should be getting stronger. In every interview Tavares did this year prior to the draft, that is the one thing from his rookie year that stood out -- how much stronger NHL players are.

These mini-camps are designed to cultivate the stars of the future. As Scott Gordon said, it is not to see who will make the Islanders come September, but who has potential to in a few short years. Some of these prospects will return to their Junior teams in the fall, some will move on to College. Perhaps a select few will remain with the Islanders as Josh Bailey did in his rookie season. (John Tavares was a given that he wasn't going anywhere except Uniondale.)

I am going to go out on a limb here. While I was thoroughly against that move for Josh Bailey and was pretty vocal about it, after seeing the 2010 first round draft choice -- Keep him up. Nino Niederreiter will do just fine.

Next up, following up with 2009 prospect Casey Czizkas.

1 comment:

Dr. Generosity said...

Ah, Kharlamov, the artist of those great 70s Soviet teams. The Canadians wouldn't have won the 72 Canada Cup without Bobby Clarke breaking Valeri's leg. Nice history reference from the kid Kabanov---he respects the past.