The 2014 edition of Lightning Development Camp is underway, following Wednesday's power skating exercises and off-ice conditioning with a full day of on-ice activities at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
It's easy, and more than a little bit lazy, to toss off remarks like "(insert player's name here) looked pretty good out there today" and try to pass that off as insightful analysis. After all, it's non-game action between very young players who are all, more or less, at pretty close to the same level at this point in their careers. Unless somebody falls down a lot or puts their uniform on incorrectly, it's kind of hard not to look pretty good out there.
Still, that's not to say there isn't a good reason to attend camp as a spectator (the climate inside the Ice Sports Forum alone trumps that argument) and that there aren't stories to be told. There are, and here are a few of them as they began to unfold today...
Brandon's own Clay Witt is an invitee, following in the footsteps of Cody Bradley, son of former Bolts all-star Brian as the second Tampa Bay area native to participate in a Lightning development camp. Witt acknowledges that this is noteworthy but clearly doesn't see it as some kind of novelty or stunt.
"I'm a big believer in Florida hockey. It's not up there with some other states yet but you're starting to see draft picks and guys in Division 1 and the OHL. This is the only camp I'm attending this summer. I was thrilled to get the invite and I'm here to work and compete. I'll spend the rest of the summer training, working hard and trying to improve my game."
Goalie coach Frantz Jean says, "We feel he has a chance to be part of our organization. He's not just here because he comes from Brandon; he's here because he's a great goalie. Being one of the finalists for the Mike Richter Award says a lot about the quality of goaltender you are and we feel he can contribute to this organization."
Andrei Vasilevskiy is huge. He's not as tall as Ben Bishop but he seems to have just a massive physical presence. He, along with the Lightning's top draft choice from 2013, Jonathan Drouin, is drawing the most attention from the fans in attendance.
Generally considered to be an elite-level goaltending prospect, this will be his first year playing in North America. How soon before he's ready to make the leap into the NHL?
"There's going to be an adaptation period, that's for sure," Frantz Jean said. "Some guys adapt quicker than others. He's already pretty advanced in what I'm looking for. It's all going to be about playing time, experience for him and just seeing repetition in games. After that the sky's the limit.
"He's certainly ahead of any kid I've ever seen at his age. But the NHL is the best league in the world and he's gotta go through the process of learning the North American game. We're not going to rush him at any cost. When he's ready is when you'll see him in Tampa."
Speaking of Drouin, if you were wondering if there might be any tension between him and fellow 2013 draftee Adam Erne after Drouin suffered a concussion as a result from an Erne hit last season, you can probably relax. Drouin and Erne were joking together with fans while signing autographs after completing their power skating drills in the morning.
Camp continues tomorrow morning at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. On-ice training sessions are open to the public and free to attend.