NHL training camps officially opened this past weekend, with rookie tournaments taking place across the NHL landscape. Today we discuss who stood out at three of the main events: the tournament in Buffalo featuring Boston, Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa and Pittsburgh; the tournament in Penticton, BC, with Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver; and Traverse City, Mich., which featured Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis and Toronto.
Corey Pronman was at the Buffalo tournament, although he wasn’t in attendance for the final game. Thomas Drance reported from Penticton, and Max Bultman was in Traverse City. Overall, here are the handful of prospects we selected from each tournament who we felt stood out, with an eye towards players we felt helped their chances of cracking the big club or gave strong impressions of future pro potential.
Buffalo Tournament: Corey Pronman
Owen Beck, C, Montreal: Beck’s tournament wasn’t one full of flashy moments, but he was a play-driver down the middle. He’s not that big, but his compete level was quite good, winning a lot of battles and showing his game had pace. He did that while making some plays and being involved in the offence. He may never be high-end at anything in the NHL, but he has a well-rounded skill set and looked like a guy who will be effective as a pro.
Fabian Lysell, RW, Boston: Lysell was the most noticeable player on Boston from a talent perspective, as with his excellent skating and skill he seemed to be the only forward who could make things happen consistently from a zone entry or chance creation perspective. He’s still not that physically imposing, but I think he’s working on being more consistent with his effort and it’s been noticeable in the past few months.
Jiri Kulich, C, Buffalo: Kulich has had a strong last few months, building off his MVP performance at the U18 Worlds with a good World Junior and good camp performances for Buffalo. He played the middle at this tournament as opposed to the wing and looked comfortable. Kulich isn’t the best at any one thing, but his combination of speed, work ethic and skill allowed him to drive play and make things happen even as an 18-year-old going against older players. He’s likely going to start the season in the AHL, and as far as I can tell he looks ready to help a team at that level.
Simon Nemec, RHD, New Jersey: Nemec’s game wasn’t full of highlight reels or the physical dominance of a player like Juraj Slafkovsky, but he was quite effective in his games. His hockey sense is excellent, and you saw it through the matches where he always seemed to make the right decisions with the puck, keeping the play moving up ice and creating offense as well. He combined that with solid defensive work. I’d prefer him to play one more year outside the NHL, but you can tell how much pro experience he has with how efficient and fast his puck-movement is.
Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa: Pinto was quite good in the one game he played. His strong skill and compete levels were evident and he was often making positive things happen around the puck. He had a mid-game injury scare, which wasn’t ideal after missing so much time recently due to injury, but he came back and finished the game. He looks primed to play a featured role on the Senators.
Samuel Poulin, C, Pittsburgh: Poulin line did very well in the one game the Penguins played. I don’t think he stood out and took over, but I liked how Poulin’s game looked. He was winning a lot of battles, competing well and was around the play on top of finishing plays. He also looked comfortable playing the middle, a fact I mistakenly did not allude to in my previous write-up of Poulin, as he played center during the second half of the previous season.
Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, Montreal: Slafkovsky wasn’t all over the score sheet in his two games, but he stood out as you would hope the 2022 first overall pick would, particularly in his first game. There were times Slafkovsky physically overmatched his opponents with his massive frame. His speed, reach and skill combination also allowed him to generate a ton of clean entries. He got and generated plenty of scoring chances and overall was the most impressive pro prospect at this event, as somewhat expected.
Penticton Tournament: Thomas Drance
Danila Klimovich, RW, Vancouver: Klimovich is physically imposing, enormously skilled and has high-end attacking instincts, but he’s only really played one year of high-level competitive hockey and it can show in his positioning and details. In Vancouver’s first game, for example, Klimovich lost his temper, wasted possession with poor shot selection, struggled to use his linemates and was constantly out of position. From there, however, Klimovich took over, turning pucks over on the forecheck, supporting well along the wall and threading passes through defenders at will. A fascinating player development experiment, if Klimovich can iron out the blind spots in his hockey IQ, there’s a ton of potential here. His second North American professional season got off to a wildly impressive start this weekend.
#Canucks changed up their top-six group, to good effect through the first half of their second young-stars game.
Danila Klimovich seagulls a Jets defender on the forecheck, takes a shot, recovers the puck and threads the needle perfectly with a pass to Nielsen for the tap in: pic.twitter.com/eluWigLyHF
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) September 18, 2022
Cole Perfetti, C, Winnipeg: Perfetti found a way to make a significant impact in Penticton, despite some poor play from the Jets’ prospect team as a whole. There’s a supercomputer level of processing that’s apparent when you watch Perfetti closely, and it allows him to make an impact whether he’s scoring or not. Defensively, he was excellent, with a disruptive stick and the intelligence to read and react in some tough circumstances, which was important as Winnipeg’s prospects spent much of the tournament without the puck. Aside from the third period of Winnipeg’s final tournament game, which he completely took over, Perfetti most consistently demonstrated his puck skills and playmaking on the power play, where he was excellent at efficiently creating chances for his teammates.
#NHLJets prospects Cole Perfetti creates three Grade-A scoring chances in 25 seconds.
Game on an absolute string: pic.twitter.com/nnzBWOx874
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) September 17, 2022
Connor Zary, LW/C, Calgary: Zary’s on-ice intelligence and competitiveness were unmistakable this weekend. Playing as both a center and on the wing, Zary’s pace, oft-cited as his biggest area for improvement, wasn’t remotely an issue, and his anticipation, stick handling and ability to protect the puck in traffic permitted him to skate through defenders , win battles and get around the ice at will. Zary took losing personally, played with edge and went to the net hard. He had a couple of questionable decisions with the puck too, but he generated chances and had the look of a player who was a bounce away from breaking out offensively throughout the tournament.
Dylan Holloway, W, Edmonton: The Oilers’ prospect team was easily the most talented side at the Penticton tournament, and Holloway was their most consistently dynamic player. With his combination of speed and size, Holloway just looked like an NHL player throughout the tournament. He showed more creativity than I’d expected, creating a number of scoring chances in Edmonton’s first tournament game, and was credited with an assist in that game (although I thought he should’ve been credited with another one as well). Holloway contributed on both special teams units, showing pretty good feel for the bumper spot on the power play, and was counted on to play in leverage situations — both late in a one-goal game on Friday, and with the opponent’s net empty on Saturday night. Perhaps most importantly, Holloway’s shot looked entirely unencumbered by the wrist surgeries that caused him to miss time last fall:
Traverse City Tournament: Max Bultman
Kent Johnson, C, Columbus: Johnson was one of the most impressive — and most effective — players in Traverse City this weekend. He had the puck a lot, attacked with pace, and his obvious skill and hockey sense translated on the scoresheet with six points (two goals, four assists) in three games. He did look a bit timid at times in a physical game against St. Louis early in the tournament — something to watch as he makes his NHL roster push — but even in that game he had a goal and two assists by the end of the night . And when the Blue Jackets were down late in Toronto, Johnson was at the middle of Columbus’ late push to tie it in the final minutes. It was a strong showing.
Denton Mateychuk, LHD, Columbus: On a Columbus team with several intriguing prospects, Mateychuk was one of the most consistently noticeable players on the ice thanks to his skating and smarts. He didn’t light up the box score — he had just one assist on the weekend — but he was a controlled exit machine and looked poised under pressure, making lots of smart, simple plays.
Christian Kyrou, RHD, Dallas: Like Mateychuk, Kyrou impressed with his brain and mobility. He scored a pair of goals for the Stars, but more impressive was how impactful he was as an undersized 19-year-old defenseman at an event with plenty of players in their early to mid twenties. He consistently showed his smarts and poise, escaping pressure when needed and helping to create offense for the Stars.
Zachary Bolduc, C/LW, St. Louis: It wasn’t a great showing by the Blues as a whole, as St. Louis lost two different games by a score of 7-1. But after I hadn’t noticed him much in the team’s first game, Bolduc stood out to me in the final two contests, creating chances and converting them. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but those latter two games came with Bolduc on the wing after he had played center in the opener. He finished the weekend with two goals and two assists in three games, and I also liked seeing some physicality from him. It’s also worth noting that his linemate, 2022 sixth-round pick Landon Sim, finished among the tournament scoring leaders with five points (three goals and two assists) in three games. Beyond the goals, I mainly noticed Sim for his compete level, but it was a productive showing for such a young late-round pick.
Sebastian Cossa, G, Detroit: Detroit even split time among three goalies at the event, so Cossa played in half of two games, but he was dominant. He stopped 33 of the 34 shots he saw, including some tough ones with the pads. He’s big, athletic and looked in control through the weekend. He was the clear-cut top goaltender at the tournament. It’ll be really interesting to see where Detroit opts to play him this season, a decision that looks like it will stretch into main camp and the preseason.
(Photo of Juraj Slafkovsky: David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)