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NHL rookie camp standouts 2023: Who impressed in Buffalo, Penticton, Traverse City and Vegas?


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The puck dropped this weekend on a number of distinct NHL rookie tournaments, which have proliferated over the years and now span the continent: from Estero Bay to the interior of British Columbia, and from the shores of the Great Lakes to the Mojave Desert.

Rookie tournaments matter. They serve as a crucial precursor to the opening of NHL training camp next week. They’re an opportunity for an organization’s youngest players to compete against players in roughly their own age group, prove themselves and perhaps build some confidence before the dizzying trial-by-fire experience of an NHL main camp.

This weekend, The Athletic’s team of hockey writers attended a variety of these rookie tournaments: Scott Wheeler took in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, Max Bultman went to cover the big annual tournament at Traverse City, Corey Pronman attended the Rookie Faceoff in Las Vegas and Thomas Drance surveyed the action at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton.

Those four writers have compiled their notes on the key standouts from those four tournaments, with an eye toward singling out those players we felt helped their chances of cracking the big club or gave strong impressions of future pro potential.

Buffalo Tournament: Scott Wheeler

Matt Savoie, C/RW, BuffaloIt didn’t take long watching the games in Buffalo this week to come to the conclusion that the host team was the most talented. Isak Rosen (two goals and four points in two games) was one of the best players on the ice in both of the Sabres’ first two games of the tournament, knifing up coverage on the puck (and as a passer). Zach Benson (a goal and an assist in two games) didn’t look the least bit out of place as an 18-year-old. Jiri Kulich looked like a player who did what he did in the AHL last year. Nikita Novikov’s 100-plus games of KHL experience showed.

But Savoie’s pace and work ethic were just so noticeable, right up until he appeared to hurt his shoulder on his first shift of Monday night’s finale. He routinely looked like he had a half step on the opposition, both in jump and in raw speed whenever he turned on the jets. He plays the game with such drive that his size never once felt like a factor (he has always been sneaky-strong, too).

The shoulder injury is a tough blow. Savoie already dealt with one in his draft year, and a second injury usually comes with a recommendation for surgery and the six-month layoff that comes with it. For a kid who had a real chance in main camp to push for a nine-game NHL audition (especially after Jack Quinn’s injury), and was a lock to play for Canada at the world juniors, that’s devastating.

Joshua Roy, RW, Montreal: I was impressed by the play of Habs defencemen Miguel Tourigny and William Trudeau this week, but the continued rounding-out of Roy’s game is unmistakable. He registered a point in all three games and four (all primary) total. His shot looked heavy and accurate, his hands flashed in a couple of dancing one-on-one sequences and cuts, and he made plays for his linemates (I though Owen Beck and Jan Mysak had their best games playing with him) to find and free them. But it was the little things — things which were once criticisms of his game for some — that stood out. The reads and positioning on and off the puck. The engagement level. The smart little choices he made with the puck. He looked more like a first-round talent than a fifth-round one, and that has been consistently the case since he was picked. He’ll be one of the players I’m keeping a closest eye on in the AHL this year.

Ridly Greig, C/LW, Ottawa: Greig only played in the first of the Senators’ three games of the tournament, but he was enough of a standout that I still wanted to include him here.

He was excellent centring (which is noteworthy, considering he played mostly on the wing at the pro level last year) the team’s top line with Roby Jarventie and Tarun Fizer (who, to my eye, had the best showing in the event for an unsigned and undrafted player). Greig scored twice, helped set up another (which he didn’t get credit for on the scoresheet), got hit hard and bounced back up, delivered a huge open ice hit of his own, and was just generally around it. The Senators, who had the most invitees among the six teams in the tournament, looked like a different team when he wasn’t out there, both in the game he played and in their tough losses to the Penguins and Habs without him. He looked like a player who was ready to compete for NHL minutes.

Penticton Tournament: Thomas Drance

Aidan McDonough, LW, Vancouver: Vancouver Canucks prospect Aidan McDonough was the best and most consistently dangerous player at the Penticton Young Stars tournament.

The 23-year-old forward has a knack for finding open space and a polished understanding of how to work for it. That uncanny ability to get open is lethal in combination with McDonough’s finishing skill, which he showed off regularly, scoring wonderful goals in both games he played with Vancouver’s prospects in Penticton this weekend.

Beyond the goal scoring, McDonough looked like the driver on his line, maintaining possession sharply and winning battles all over the ice. His skating looked somewhat improved too. He seems quicker than he did in his brief NHL cameos down the stretch last season, which will be crucial if he’s going to make a dark horse bid to break camp with the Canucks next month.

Beau Akey, RHD, Edmonton: Edmonton Oilers prospect Beau Akey wasn’t always the most dynamic player on the ice in Penticton, but he was often the most impressive.

A rangey, right-handed defender, Akey’s intelligence and plus skating ability were on full display this weekend. His skill set is understated, but his combination of intelligence and speed permitted him to consistently make the sort of productive, simple plays that maintain possession and create a favorable environment for his teammates. That’s no small feat, given the scrambly environment typical of a rookie tournament.

Akey has a contemporary transitional two-way defenseman’s profile, and it would be fair to say that he dominated the Oilers’ prospects games in transition in Penticton. The discipline with which he solved problems, frustrated opponents with his quick stick and flashed advanced defensive instincts made him stand out above the other exceedingly talented blue-line prospects who participated in Penticton this year.

Traverse City Tournament: Max Bultman

Adam Fantilli, C, ColumbusFantilli looked every bit the part of a top-three pick at this tournament, and most importantly, like one who’s ready to step right into the NHL. He showed great skill, scoring one of the prettiest goals of the tournament, and played with pace, making him highly noticeable throughout. Equally impressive was his off-puck game, picking off passes and playing with physicality. He finished with seven points in two games, and led the tournament with 15 shots on goal, and the completeness was the cherry on top to a great statistical weekend.

Denton Mateychuck, LHD, Columbus: Mateychuk is such a fun player to watch, with great mobility and skill, plus the instincts to know when to use them. He’s also thick enough for a shorter defenseman that you don’t worry quite so much about his stature. It’s easy to envision Mateychuk as a power play QB in a Columbus not far down the line, and five of his tournament-leading seven assists (in just two games!) came on the man advantage. He uses his skating and stick to his advantage on both sides of the puck, too, and as a result looks complete enough to succeed at five-on-five even as a sub-six-foot blueliner.

Easton Cowan, C/W, Toronto: Cowan’s not as flashy, but he’s an easy player to like as a smart, competitive forward who creates offense playing in the hard areas of the ice. He finished with six points in three games in Traverse City, playing both down the middle and on the wing, and I saw good vision and finishing in addition to the competitive elements. The brain-compete combo is a good starter kit to potentially stick at center, too.

Vegas Tournament: Corey Pronman

Anaheim’s Defensemen: Anaheim’s future on center has been much discussed after the high picks of Trevor ZegrasMason McTavish and Leo Carlsson. Their defensemen stood out in Vegas, though. In the first game against Vegas they dressed Jackson LaCombe, Olen Zellweger, Pavel Mintyukov, Tristan LuneauNoah Warren and Tyson Hinds. One NHL scout quipped during the game that they dressed six future NHL defensemen and I think it’s very possible all six of them play games. LaCombe and Mintyukov were steady puck movers with their skating and vision. Zellweger had some dynamic moments with the puck and Warren made a lot of stops due to his size, feet and physicality.

Josh Doan, RW, Arizona: Doan was excellent throughout the week, leading Arizona in scoring as he and Conor Geekie led the way for Arizona. The offense was good to see, as Doan displayed strong skill and finishing touch, but it was the skill combined with a high motor that made him stood out. The 6-foot-2 Doan was often around the play, winning battles and putting pressure on the opposition. His skating still isn’t great, and you don’t want to get overly excited about the 21-year-old’s performance at a prospect camp until he backs it up at the main Arizona camp, but after a so-so sophomore season in college it was encouraging to see this level of play.

Maveric Lamoureux, RHD, Arizona: Maveric Lamoureux was a hard player to miss in the Coyotes games. When you’re 6-foot-7 and skate well you stand out but Lamoureux was combining his physical tools with a high compete level and didn’t shy away from using the body often. Offense has been the question in Lamoureux’s game. He didn’t look like the most natural puck mover ever but I thought he held his own on his touches and looked comfortable enough. If he can have even a little offense as a pro he’s going to be a very good defenseman. I like how he’s trending and thought he looked like a legit future NHL defenseman at this tournament.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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