Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

[Note: We have a photo gallery courtesy of CK available here.]

Ducks training camp held its first open practice Sunday, which meant another weekend at Anaheim Ice for your bloggers. We were treated to a peek at post-op players Getzalf and Christensen (in a blank jersey), our first look at tryouts Calder and Cullimore and, best of all, a full-contact scrimmage. The drive to the upcoming season continues, and with it, the battles for roster spots. Arthur, give me the Top 3 things you noticed today at camp, and tell me how they might shape the team this season.

They tried Koivu in a few different line combinations on Sunday: Beleskey/Koivu/Selanne, Calder/Koivu/Selanne and Brittain/Koivu/Deschamps. While Saku looked effective in the first two trios, he looked downright youthful when he took the ice with another capable playmaker in Nicolas Deschamps. They were finding the puck in open ice and along the blueline, and Josh Brittain was banging bodies and clearing space. Koivu can still play on a puckhounding speed line, and I think he's going to give us more offensive options than most people think.

"Talent is luck. The important thing in life is courage." - Woody Allen in the film Manhattan.
I was beginning to feel this phrase summed up the dichotomy between Sexton and Holland. The former is constantly pushing himself to skate a little faster and work a little harder in the dirty areas. The latter is looking and waiting for openings and spaces to spread his wings.

Then yesterday, Holland reminded me of my favorite sports axiom: you can't teach size. He was still mostly ineffectual in the power forward drill, but this time, Carlyle gave the forwards the chance to defend the slot. And Holland looked great, really holding his man at an arm's length and shutting him down. He was effective, to the point that you wondered why he has so much trouble on the other side of the puck in that exercise.

Still, Sexton looked hungry, even shrugging off a hard check into the boards. I think his courage may get him a roster spot much sooner than I expected and maybe a long call-up this season. If so, Holland should take note of it.

They were having fun out there. In the drills, Koivu tried a couple of dekes that had Wisniewski laughing out loud, and Ryan dove to take the puck from Niedermayer as he was skating playfully off the boards with it. After the trade deadline last season, everyone talked about the infusion of locker room guys and how important it was to have a loose squad. This team seems like it's really starting to gel, well before the first preseason game.

I've got a few other things on yesterday's practice, but I'll save that for another day. Probably after guys start getting cut.

The three things that stood out the most to me during camp were the play of Eminger, the improved play of Deschamps and Macenauer and the digression of Sbisa.

First, I think Eminger looked great today. During the scrimmage, he was holding the zone, making good outlet passes and he was working the shot. His defensive play in front of the net during drills was very solid. He had good stick work and he was cutting down angles-- all things I want to see in a potential 5-6 D-man. You and I have argued about which is the most exciting battle coming out of camp-- I insist it's Jiggy v. Hiller

And I insist that a situation that the Ducks can financially carry into next offseason, one which cannot possibly resolve itself during the preseason or even the first 10 games of the season, can be nowhere near as compelling as the clock running on a rebuilding defense with brand new one-way contracts, a stellar second-year player and affordable in-house options.

But to the mainstream media and the mainstream hockey fan, a goaltending battle will ALWAYS be the sexier story. It's like a quarterback controversy. Yes, your average hockey fan is interested in how a defense gels and the mistakes of waiving, trading or sending down better defenders, but it's not an above-the-fold storyline.

Still, I'll grant you, the sheer volume of defensemen is making that battle one that needs to be followed. As far as I'm concerned, Eminger is leading the way.

I was equally encouraged by the improved play of Deschamps and Macenauer. Deschamps was working some pretty offense with Koivu and was drilling home some difficult shots. I think this kid has a lot of offensive upside, and if the Ducks start spreading offense over three lines, he could be a viable option. Otherwise, I expect him to be with the team full time next season. Macenauer is still ripping that shot. His skating leaves a bit to be desired, but he goes hard to the net and he isn't shy about pulling the trigger. He doesn't force the shot, he just makes the most of his opportunities.

Finally, I was a little disappointed by the play of Sbisa today. I didn't get to see him in the drills, but during the scrimmage, his puck control and vision were off. He wasn't seeing the ice well, and he wasn't making good decisions on outlet passes. His skill set is phenomenal, but it needs to translate into quality play. If he can only make the right decision when nobody is around, then he will have a very bad time playing in the Western Conference.

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