"Training camp is finally here!"
They were the talk of their respective fanbases this summer, but 2010 top picks Tyler Seguin and Nino Niederreiter were not the best nor most noticeable players on the ice these past two rookie games.
That's not to say they weren't good -- the skills of each were indeed on display -- but their relative impact against a bunch of non-NHLers is worth remembering for anyone who hopes or expects either to make their NHL clubs and deliver an immediate or lasting difference: It's a tough road. Playing against pros is hard for 18-year-olds. And tonight's non-Nino/Tylers were not even seasoned pros. Yet it was pros like Justin DiBenedetto, David Ullstrom and Rhett Rakhshani who generally looked the best up front. (As many noted in comments, on the blueline Hamonic was the beast.)
Burning a year of entry-level (read: cheap) labor with a player you expect to later become a star (read: expensive) carries its own risks and undefined payoff. Given each team's situation, there's rarely a perfect, clear answer in October.
Some more thoughts on the second Rookie Game and individual players after the jump. [Note: Michael Fornabaio has a bit from Jack Capuano here.]Kirill Kabanov -- The thing I noticed most about Kirill II tonight was his repeated defensive displays. Whether hustling back to lay the ax handle down on Seguin to disrupt his breakaway, or being one of the first forwards in the crease when there was a scramble at the Islanders' net, Kabanov showed his competitive side, his "our goal is my responsibility too" side, his awareness of the importance of -- or perhaps simply competitive fire to mind -- both ends. Tactically, I didn't see him enough to know if his all-around defensive instincts are there, but he does not embody the Russian teenager stereotype of a floater cherry-picking for offense. Hopefully he has a great, smart year in Moncton and comes out flying for the Isles in 2011-12.
Nino Niederreiter -- Possibly a quieter night than last night, but still quite noticeable -- and not just because I was looking for #25. He had his moments and was still part of an effective line with Ullstrom and Rhett, but anyone expecting a star performance would be left disappointed. He will be fun to watch, both this month and in the future. You just never now how quickly kids at this age will adjust.
David Ullstrom -- Is "Swedish trained" the right word for his game? He just looked smart and steady, with good puck distribution. If he is an option at center or the wing, you could see him vying for a spot with the big club if he has a great camp. A point some brought up in the game thread: After these two (admittedly chaotic and deceptive) games, would you rather see Ullstrom or Nino on the big club?
Justin DiBenedetto -- More feistiness, more buzzing every which way and getting shots off. I didn't see him play at Bridgeport last year, but you get the sense he has made major strides. He should help Bridgeport more this year.
Tony Romano -- It should be noted he got the Islanders goal, on a well-placed slapper coming off the leftwing boards. After his circuitous AHL-to-ECHL tour last season, I wonder what's in store for him.
Travis Hamonic -- He will eat your children. Okay, maybe not so much, but his fiery streak was there again. Islanders fans are going to love him. He plays with snarl. He got in another fight, throwing haymakers near the Bruins' bench -- and due to the rules of this [sponsored by Ma Bell] tournament, that meant ejection for him in the second period.
Calvin de Haan -- Again you can see both the strengths and weaknesses of his game: Good and graceful with the puck, small in stature and a target for big hits. Two rookie games is nothing to go on, but I know which of Hamonic and de Haan I think is ready for the pros.
Kevin Poulin -- Generally good. Very natural movement. A few hairy moments, but those happen. The first goal on him was deflected, he made the stop, but it bounced up off his blade into the air, where the on-rushing Bruin beat him (or his glove) to it, batting it out of the air.
Justin Taylor -- A surprise for me. He was a late-round pick who signed with the Isles/Bridgeport last spring. Smart decisions. Should help Bridgeport this year.
Anton Klementyev -- Someone I tried to look out for these past two nights but didn't notice much. He played with Bridgeport teammate Mark Katic, so it's possible Katic's more frequent involvement in the play just obscured what Klementyev was doing. I'm curious for any of your impressions on any of these and other players, but I particularly wonder if anyone formed a strong opinion on this mystery "sleeper" pick from 2009.
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That's all I got. Looking forward to any of your thoughts on these players or others. (Like Kirill Petrov, perhaps, reported to be on his club's four-game trip? Who knows what anything means coming out of Russia. Never had my hopes high for him this year, but by god I hope he at least gets some games.) I always caution not to read much into preseason games, so that's especially true of rookie games, but these games were great chances to get glimpses into individual "hockey sense" and skills.