Yesterday was much more entertaining than Wednesday so there is a bit more to talk about. Testing took place today that consisted of on ice speed skating and agility drills for the first part of practice.

After the testing, the players cleared the ice for the Zamboni. Once the ice was clean a series of high speed and competitive drills ensued.

My favorite drill, both last year and this year, was the rapid fire 1 v 1 drills. A puck is dumped into a corner and a forward and defensemen go after it. The forward then has to take the puck to the net any way possible. As soon as he loses the puck or scores, a coach blows a whistle and the same defensemen has to do the same thing again in the opposite corner against a fresh forward. Another whistle blow later the same defensemen then has to face a third forward coming at him with speed from center ice.

It is a demanding drill on the defensemen and it tends to get quite physical.

  • The first round of players in this drill was Simon Despres on defense going against Keven Veilleux, Eric Tangradi, and Zach Sill in that order. Despres proceeds to knock Veilleux off the puck, knock Tangradi to his knees, and strip Sill of the puck. Very impressive stuff. Tangradi was not too happy he got bullied so easily.
  • The next time Tangradi and Despres faced off in this drill Tangradi got the better of Despres although not by much. It was a great battle between the Penguins top two prospects.
  • Veilleux had some amazing moves when going 1 on 1 against someone. I mentioned his flip puck deke the other day but he was even better yesterday. He had to come out of the corner against Reid McNeill in this drill and he proceeded to go through, around, and over him in rapid succession – three separate moves. I was glad the coaches didn’t blow this one dead because it was amazing to watch. The things this kid can do with the puck when he wants to just show a small taste of what he could become if he can put it together.
  • Casey Pierro-Zabotel had a solid go at this drill as well – although he made his way to the net by being crafty and shifty rather than being physical. But it worked for him.
  • Ben Hanowski looked much more physical and bigger this year than last. He was very tough for the D to handle (outside Despres and Bortuzzo) to handle. If Bennett can have a similar transformation from year 1-2 then his future looks very bright.
  • Dustin Jeffrey loved faking a move to the slot and using his (much improved) speed to slingshot behind the net.
  • Outside the big boys Tangradi and Veilleux, the player the defense had the most trouble with was Camp Invitee Alex Smigelski. He enjoyed using a little flip deke to get a step on a defender into the slot or he would fake to the slot and lower the shoulder and drive through the defensemen to get to the net. Good stuff.
  • Other standouts: Kuehnhackl doesn’t shy away from physical contact and drove the net hard. Agostino, as the always accurate Jesse Marshall said, is a player. He is very crafty with the puck and not afraid on contact either. Sneep looks pretty good but he will experience some growing pains in the AHL as he adjusts to the pro game. Strait is solid yet unspectacular, as advertised. Bortuzzo easily dominated the forwards he went against in this drill except for his impressive toe to toe with Tangradi.

After a few more drills, the boys put all the pucks in the nets and began a very fast paced and exciting 3 on 3 scrimmage:

1-0 Black Goal scored by Eric Tangradi (Thiessen) – Tangradi gathers a puck behind his own net and goes coast to coast through CPZ, Haddad, and Bortuzzo and scores a shortside backhand on Patrick Killeen. Beauty.

2-0 Black Goal scored by Alex Smigelski (Unassisted) – Alex Grant makes a great pass to a streaking Smigelski who outskates Despres who has to trip him. Smigelski buries a wrister five hole on the ensuing penalty shot.

2-1 Gray Goal scored by Tom Kuehnhackl (Gibbons) – Great drop pass by Kuehnhackl and an even better return pass by Gibbons.

3-1 Black Goal scored by Eric Tangradi (Thompson) – Lead pass too far for Tangradi coming off the bench but he beats the defense and Killeen to the puck and pokes it around the on coming goalie for the easy goal.

4-1 Black Goal scored by Zach Sill (Smigelski) – Sill steals a puck and gets his feet moving to start a 2 on 1 with Smigelski. Smigelski can’t finish the play but Sill grabs the rebound and puts it past Killeen. Sill, the clown, proceeds to celebrate like it’s a playoff goal. Smigelski drove the net hard causing the goal.

5-1 Black Goal scored by Eric Tangradi (Thiessen (kinda haha)) – Thiessen robs Dustin Jeffrey in front and Tangradi skates the puck up ice starting a 2 on 1 with Veilleux. Killeen thought pass and got burned by a great shot just inside the far post. Hat trick for Tangradi.

5-2 Gray Goal scored by Tom Kuehnhackl (Petersen) – Not sure if it was actually in but it was a great play by Kuehnhackl so I am going to give it to him. Goes through Hanowski and fights off Strait to possibly slip it 5 hole on Thiessen.

  • Despite his team losing pretty handily, Jeffrey looked good. He had a great end to end at the 3:57 mark.
  • Despres was very aggressive offensively and he even got a breakaway. “He had a chance in the slot but he didn’t bury it.“
  • Haddad had had… (hehe) a good second half to his season last year and he has carried that over to prospect camp. He looks quicker which was his biggest flaw. He has a great shot, physicality and good net front presence as well.
  • Thiessen and Killeen have both been solid in camp but they haven’t been great. A camp like this is pretty unfair to goaltenders anyway. Thiessen has been better than Killeen but he also has a lot more experience.
  • Smigelski’s story is such a good one. Division 3 hockey player wanted to come to Pens camp and is opening some eyes now that he is here. Great guy and a great interview with him coming later this evening.
  • Tom Kuehnhackl, North America for ~2 months, can speak better English than Keven Veilleux, North America his entire life. Compliment to Kuehnhackl (has anyone ever needed a nickname more?) and a question mark for Veilleux.
  • Hanowski has put on 10-12 pounds of muscle and is playing more physical – expect a good year out of him at St. Cloud. Interview with him as well coming this weekend.