Thursday, 22 August 2013

Vancouver Giants Camp Day 1: Five Rookies that Made an Impact

Tyler Benson, the Giants' hope for the future. Image via HockeyNow.
With Vancouver Giants training camp opening today, team scouts, nervous families, and some dedicated fans spent the day at the Ladner Leisure Centre taking in some long-awaited hockey as the offesason finally starts coming to an end. While the main camp also kicked off this afternoon, I'm going to spend the first few days mainly looking at the rookies for a couple of reasons. One, the first cuts are going to be mostly rookies and the majority of guys in the main camp will survive beyond the first round of cuts on Sunday, and two, the team kind of sucked last season so most of the interest is in what they're building for in a few years time.

It was also time for highly touted Tyler Benson to make his debut in a Giants uniform, and he did not disappoint, picking up a hat trick in his very first scrimmage. He wasn't the only rookie standout though, as here are five rookies that looked particularly impressive on day one of camp:

Alec Baer, C, Born Aug 25, 1997
Baer was simply electrifying at times, skating through entire teams and showcasing amazing puck skills. Although undersized, he was a one-man show in the offensive zone as he consistently made defenders miss and manufactured scoring chances. He also scored the best goal of the night, as he drove wide on a 1-on-1, cut to the net, then pulled the Marek Malik between-the-legs move and put the puck right under the bar.

He will progress through rookie camp as he saw time with the Giants last year, and it remains to be seen if he can continue to play the same self-reliant style. He really tended to hold on to the puck and manufacture chances himself rather than set up teammates, so he may not be able to get away with taking the same chances against 18-20 year old defenders like Daulton Thrower, Brett Kulak, Mason Geertsen and Blake Orban (who caused quite the stir against team Black). The good with Baer by far and away outweighs the bad though, as his bad habits can be coached out. The bottom line is that he has amazing raw talent and is very fun to watch.

Hunter Lester, LW, Born Feb 10, 1997
Most of the really impressive names at rookie camp are usually guys you've heard a little about before. Baer and Jesse Roach spent time with the Giants last season, Ty Ronning is a 1st-round pick from last year, and Tyler Benson has been in the news for a while. I knew absolutely nothing about Hunter Lester though, but came away thoroughly impressed. He demonstrated fantastic hands, threading a quick wrist shot right off the crossbar and in on two occasions, but more importantly was a scoring chance and shot generating machine. He was absolutely tenacious on the forecheck, wreaking havoc on opposing defenders and causing turnover after turnover with his speed and lightning quick hands. He set up numerous chances and was a force all night.

The big concerns with Lester would probably be his slight build and age. He's listed here at 6'1, 167 lbs, but that looks like it would be after a Big Mac or two. He also looked very raw despite being roughly six months older than the more polished Baer, but that may be caused by a lack of strength. Lester has the look of a kid with all the raw tools but just needs to grow into his frame a bit more and add some strength. If the Giants can be patient with him (admittedly, I don't know the rules governing American prospects) they may have themselves a real player in a year or two.

Tyler Benson, LW, Born Mar 15, 1998
What is there to write about Benson that hasn't already been written at this stage of his development? He possesses a blistering wrist shot, very good speed, a decent physical edge, and a phenomenal ability to produce offense through sublime passing, accurate shooting and quick hands. He had a hat trick in his first game and looked dominant on a line with Alec Baer and Jesse Roach. He also showed a willingness to engage physically that surprisingly few prospects had, and his on-ice playmaking ability was superb as he made passes and saw lanes that no one else on the ice noticed opening up.

If you were to nitpick his game, he kind of disappeared at times in the night games when he was seperated from Baer. However, he still rang two shots off the post after this point and could have had 4 points easily. He was by far the most impressive '98 birthday out there though and looks like he'll be able to do it all once he develops. More time in major midget may serve him well though as he prepares to carry Vancouver in the coming years.

Ty Ronning, RW, Born Oct 20, 1997
Skating on a comparatively weaker White team, Ronning showed well. Much like Baer, he used his speed and skill to set up chances for himself and he was extremely elusive with the puck, spinning off checks and avoiding contact from defenders. He looked a cut above most of his teammates and was very opportunistic as he jumped on a few breakaways and odd-man rushes for good looks on goal. In his final game, he made a beautiful forehand-backhand move to score one of the nicest goals of the day.

It was a tough night to really get an appreciation of how good Ronning was, however. He took a hard point shot off the foot in one of the morning games and kind of disappeared for long stretches after that. I don't know whether this was him being bothered by a possible injury or just him not playing well, but when he was on he looked as polished as Baer did, and just that much better than most everyone else.

Jamieson Ree, D, Born 1997
I don't know when Ree was born, and whether he was an early or late '97 makes an impact on how impressive his day was. For my money, he was among the best defensemen at camp as he consistently made composed and intelligent plays with the puck, doing an admirable job of shutting down Tyler Benson in the final game of the night for an outgunned Black team. The play he made that sticks out to me happened in team Black's second game of the day. Setting up the breakout, a forechecker was bearing down on him. A left handed shooter, he had the puck in the right corner with an outlet standing about 8 feet to his right. Rather than make the pass on his forehand and expose the puck to the attacking team, he made a quick behind-the-back backhand bank pass off the boards right on the tape of his winger to start the breakout. His team was able to advance the puck with ease down the ice.

Ree also made some other nice outlet passes, looked composed with the puck and broke up a number of good scoring chances, but his ability to really stand out was probably diminished by a weak Black team. His team was hemmed in their zone for much of the night, so he didn't really get the chance to show what he could do in the offensive zone. He also didn't really seem to have much of a physical component to his game apart from a couple of runs at diminutive '98 birthday Chase Hawkins. Hopefully he advances through the rookie camp, as I think his performance has earned him a look with the older players.

Other Noteable Players:
Matt Barberis, D, '98 - Very fast skater had some good rushes. Played a steady game.
Kole Bryks, D, '97 - Big defender looked strong in his own zone, had deceptive speed as he scored a nice goal off an end-to-end rush.
Gage Ramsay, C, '98 - Undersized but fleet of foot. Generated some chances with speed and tenacity.
John Wesley, LW, '97 - Talented winger didn't show great speed, but was a force from below the hashmarks in the offensive zone. Scored a couple of beautiful goals and was White's most consistent threat.
Michael Eskra, D, '97 - Flashy defender threw some big hits and liked to pinch and rush the puck. High-event player as he got burned on D a couple of times too.
Ryely McKinstry, D, '98 - Played a very sound game for team Red. Solid at both ends of the ice, was one of the best defensemen.
Scott Mickoski, RW, '98 - Only forward to show a consistent mean physical game. Threw big hits, caused turnovers and had a couple of goals. Used his size well.
Jesse Roach, RW, '97 - 6'3 winger with good hands controlled play well on a strong Red team. Very pass-first. Would like to see him shoot more and use his big frame to create more chances with his strength.


Each rookie team has six more games to impress Giants brass before cuts are made, presumably on Saturday night, and camp is paired down to just three teams by Sunday. Unfortunately, I can't be at all six as I have to miss tomorrow morning's session, but I will be back at the Ladner Leisure Centre to cover all three rookie games at night as well as those on Saturday morning.

I'll also begin covering the main camp (including import picks Andreas Eder and Dmitri Osipov, if Osipov shows up later this week) more in depth once Sunday rolls around since the main scrimmages these first few days are more a formality than anything - the vast majority of the first wave of cuts on Saturday will be rookies, after all. Until then, I encourage you to get out to the LLC if you're in the area and take a look at some free hockey, and follow me on Twitter for game updates and happenings and my musings about camp. It's quality entertainment. Well, at least the hockey is.

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