For those of us Wild fans who enjoy the prospect side of NHL, mid summer brings the fun of an NHL club’s annual prospect camp. It is the time where the team’s young players are put through their paces to familiarize themselves with their new organization or learn more about what it takes to be an NHL player. The players do fitness tests, learn about proper nutrition as well as a chance to perform on the ice in front of the organization’s coaches and player development staff. In addition players will get put through media training as well as other team bonding and character building activities. Of course the highlight of the camp for the fans is the Team White & Team Green 3-on-3 tournament.
It is at these scrimmages where fans get their first glimpse of many of these young players and get an idea of perhaps of what they can expect in the future. Which players seem to be assertive with the puck and which seem timid or even overwhelmed, who seems to be a ‘man among boys’ and which player could stand to add some strength before they return next year? It is not the place where final decisions are made, but they can help the coaching staff decide which players they invite to play in the annual Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament later in the summer.
For most college-bound players, they won’t be attending the tournament as they will probably making their way to their respective schools but for major junior players they will likely try to impress both Iowa (Tim Army, Brett McLean and Frederic Chabot) and Minnesota (Bob Woods, Darby Hendrickson and Bob Mason) coaching staffs as well as Player Development Coordinator Brad Bombardir and newly minted Assistant Player Development Coordinator Matt Hendricks. For European-based players the tournament likely comes along too late for them to participate as they will be returning to their homelands to start their seasons. One thing that is different about this group of camp attendees is that there is only 4 invitees total.
For the invitees its a chance to market themselves to the team’s brass and try to impress well enough to earn a contract. The Wild have had some good luck with its invitees earning contracts as Jared Spurgeon, Brennan Menell and Dereck Baribeau just to name a few. In an interview I did with Menell two years ago that his first Prospect Camp experience with the Philadelphia Flyers was invaluable in terms of learning what is expected at the next level thus he was better prepared when he got a spot at the Wild’s camp. Even camp tryouts who didn’t sign have had some notable success at the NHL level as Tyler Johnson, Matt Read and even current Wild winger J.T. Brown impressed at Prospect Camp first so any prospect would be wise to see it a chance to audition.
Wild General Manager Paul Fenton talked before the 2019 NHL Entry Draft about a need to re-stock the prospect cupboard and with the last two drafts he has gone a long way to accumulating a group of drafted prospects and college free agents so they don’t have to invite 6-8 players like they have in the past. Out of 2019’s draft class for the Wild, only left winger Vladislav Firstov, the team’s 2nd round pick will not be attending camp as he had to go back home to Russia for his student visa before he reports to play at the University of Connecticut. Here is a complete camp roster.
So what players should fans watch for? Here is a small group I’d be watching but to quote LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow, “you don’t have to take my word for it.”
#7 C, Nico Sturm – The former Clarkson star mostly impressed in his late stint with the Wild last season. One would expect him to be dominant and appear more polished and mature than many of the other prospects at this camp.
#52 C, Connor Dewar – Dewar had a blazing 1st half of the season with the Everett Silvertips, but injuries seemed to slow him down a bit in the 2nd half and playoffs. One would hope he’d showcase that scoring touch and hustle that is his signature at the camp. While its probably unlikely he’d earn a spot on Minnesota’s roster, one would hope he’d show enough promise that he’d appear to be a good fit for Iowa this upcoming season.
#62 C, Alexander Khovanov – The skilled Russian had a bounce back season and he was top performer for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL this year. While Khovanov demonstrated good playmaking ability he also showed a penchant for foolish after the whistle penalties. Will he exhibit feisty edge or a player needing more self-control at camp, especially during the 3-on-3 tournament?
#67 LW, Matthew Boldy – He was one of TSN’s Craig Button‘s ‘man crush’ players during the 2019 NHL Draft and will he prove worthy of such admiration at camp? The Boston College-commit has terrific hands but there have been some concerns about his skating. Will he look mobile enough and will he demonstrate his scoring ability and give Wild fans something to be excited about?
#74 RW, Dmitry Sokolov – He was mostly a 4th liner for the Iowa Wild, but he still managed to score 16 goals. Perhaps the most important question is how in shape is the young winger as he reports for prospect camp. He is a gifted goal scorer, but can he continue to improve his game so he’s more than just a one-trick pony? Since he played in the pro’s last season, one would expect him to be dominant.
#75 C, Adam Beckman – The Spokane star has some promise as a goal scorer, but how well does he move around the ice? Like Boldy, while his scoring prowess is lauded there are concerns about his skating. Will his high hockey IQ be evident with how well he performs on the ice?
#83 RW, Nick Swaney – After winning back-to-back national titles with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs one would think he’d be feeling pretty confident coming into camp. Swaney wasn’t UMD’s biggest scorer, but he is a puck hound in the offensive zone and will he show that same level of peskiness at camp?
#59 D, Filip Johansson – It almost goes without saying it has been a rough year since the Wild drafted him in the 1st round in 2018. Johansson himself even admitted the pressure of being a 1st round pick got to him and tore at his confidence as he suffered through a sub-par season. Is there something that makes him a viable NHL prospect and can he start to regain his confidence with a strong showing at camp?
#88 D, Fedor Gordeev – The Wild traded for the big Russian defenseman after he played in the Memorial Cup with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. Can the big blueliner move well enough to stay with today’s speedy forwards? How well does he force opposing skaters to the perimeter, does he have a physical element to his game?
#96 G, Hunter Jones – Some see Jones as the possible steal of the 2019 Wild draft class as some believe has the potential to be an NHL starter someday. Will he impress and be the best goaltender at camp?
Beyond the scrimmages, fans can also view the team practices on Tuesday and Thursday (which will be held at the TRIA practice rink) and watch the young prospects be put through their paces. Then on Friday, they will have a 3-on-3 tournament which will conclude with some of the players being made available for autographs. Here is the practice and tournament schedule.
June 25th – 9:20AM to Noon ~ Team White & Team Green Practice (10:50AM practice opens)
June 27th – 9:20AM to 11:45AM ~ Forwards skate & Defenseman skate (10:50AM practice opens)
June 28th – 6:30PM ~ 3-on-3 Tournament and autographs afterwards
Who are you going to be watching closely at prospect camp? Are you going to the practices or the 3-on-3 tournament? If so, what did you think of it? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!