After what had already been a busy offseason (1st overall draft pick, six costless agent signings) for the Florida Panthers, 34 players showed up for their annual player developmental camp.
Notable attendees included: 1st overall draft pick Aaron Ekblad, Alexander Barkov, Mike Matheson, Rocco Grimaldi, Kyle Rau and Vincent Troceck. All of those players are expected to either be penciled in the lineup with upcoming season or in the very near future. It was also good to see local young South Florida players Colin Suellentrop and Cody Payne invited to camp as well.
The coaches and management had a full week of drills, team building, and personal growth rolled into the one. The players hit the ice everyday but Wednesday, which was designated as a beach day. Friday also served as a day for a scrimmage that saw plenty of goals and drama.
Day 1 of camp featured plenty of skating drills along with passing drills. Brian Skrudland and Bryan McCabe along with Florida's affiliate teams coach Tom Rowe separated the players into two groups. Each group was out on the ice for about an hour. One thing that can be said about these prospects is that they were either very tall and intimidated or very quick and skilled. Rocco Grimaldi absolutely was blowing people away with his speed and talent. He finished most of the drills first.
Day 2 of camp featured much of the same. Players were once again split into two groups with each group taking turns on the ice. As players became comfortable with each other the level of the intensity on the drills began to rise. The passing seemed to more crisp and players looked a bit more loose. There was also some 3-on-3 scrimmages that took place. After the second group had their practice there was a shootout. Alexander Barkov won the shootout with a one handed goal that fooled the goalie.
Day 3 of camp was very different from the others. Management decided to give the players a break from the ice and took them to the beach. There were group building activities on the sand along with some group fun. Most notable of these activities was the tug of war contest.
Day 4 of camp started off with players being divided into their positions. A notable omission from the ice was Alexander Barkov. General Manager Dale Tallon, said that he was fine and didn't need to see anymore form the big Finnish center. Forwards hit the ice first with drills of passing and shooting. After the drills there were some short 3-on-3 scrimmages again. The defencemen hit the ice after the forwards. Players that stood out were Mike Matheson, Mackenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Racine. Matheson and Weegar's hands are absolutely tremendous. Their puck handling and skating ability to go along with their hands really separates them from others with similar play. Ekblad and Racine really know how to use their physicality and positioning to their advantage. The future of the Panthers' defense seem to be in good hands.
Day 5 of the camp would showcase the players in a game format. There was a blue team (even though their jersey's were white) and red team. Two thirty minute halves were the rules of this one. Both teams came out looking prepared, but a little tentative at first. The Red Team struck for the first three goals of the game by Mike Vecchione, Logan Shaw, and Tony Turgeron. The Blue Team didn't get a chance to respond until the second half of the game. However, they responded with 5 goals in a row by Cody Payne, Aaron Ekblad, Miguel Fidler, Juho Lammikko, and Zach Hyman. With only a few minutes remaining, the Red Team tied it up with goals from Collin Suellentrop and Connor Brickley, with the latter scoring with an extra attacker on the ice. There was an overtime period that first saw 4-on-4 hockey followed by the new AHL rules of 3-on-3 hockey after the first three minutes. There were quality chances but no one could get one by the goalies. After the overtime came the shootout. The only player to score was Yaroslav Kosov of the Red Team. Overall, the scrimmage was a entertaining and fun to be involved in according to the players.
Overall, the camp gave the players a chance to know each other plus the direction of the franchise. Besides on ice drills, players were educated on how to eat properly and manage their finances. Camps like these will always be remembered by they men whether they make it into the NHL or not. The direction of the camp shows that the Florida Panthers are moving in the right direction.