Tkachuk Enjoying Retirement
It’s been almost 20 years since Keith Tkachuk hasn’t attended an NHL training camp as an NHL player. I asked him on Friday if he’s startling to miss hockey this time of year. Most people who know "Walt" aren’t surprised to hear he responded "No I don’t, especially since they were doing the beep test today". He went on to say he hadn’t even thought about training camp it until I brought it up. Tkachuk is currently in Detroit coaching his son and the rest of the 19997 AAA Blues hockey team who’s participating in the annual HoneyBaked tourney.
The Beep Test by the way is grueling on-ice conditioning test Strength and Conditioning Coach Nelson Ayotte uses each training camp as a gage to see just how committed each player has been during the off-season.
Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie won their individual groups with guys like Brad Winchester, Jay McClement, David Perron, and Roman Polak finishing close to the top with their respective groups.
McDonald also recorded the fastest time with the on-ice sprints portion of the testing with Perron finishing second. People underestimate Perron’s speed but this kid has worked extremely hard the last few summers trying to get faster.
Once again this summer he and his mother would go to a local rink in Quebec to do on-ice sprints. Mrs. Perron is responsible for holding the stopwatch and recording his times. Perron by the way is just getting over an illness that saw him lose seven pounds just before camp. By the time the season starts his weight will be back up to around 195-198.
For those who are thinking D-man and former first rounder Ian Cole is going to make this hockey team you might want to temper your expectations just a tad. This kid is going to be a good NHL player and was receiving rave reviews this summer from current Blues on the NHL roster. He’s already built like a truck and has a decent amount of experience as an amateur player. But, making the transition from NCAA to the NHL is difficult and there’s nothing wrong with him continuing to get better in the AHL. Nailing down a top six spot will be hard to do with five already spoken for. Last spring Cole got his feet wet in Peoria where he finished the year after his Notre Dame season had expired.
It’s a little unrealistic comparing Cole with Alex Pietrangelo as they bring different components and qualities to the ice. To be honest it’s hard to compare a lot of D-man to Petro when it comes to his high end skill level and natural instincts. Cole is going to be a good NHL D-man but don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. He may need time to adjust to the pro game but fans should look forward to seeing him play some NHL pre-season games.
One guy that I am excited about is D-man Brett Ponich who Captain’s the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. Every year Blues management wants these guys to bring something to the table when it comes to participating in camp and in Traverse City. Ponich certainly didn’t’ disappoint with his showing in Michigan which included a couple of vicious blows to the jaw of Columbus prospect and former OHL heavyweight champ Kyle Neuber. Ponich sent Neuber to the ice and off to the dressing room for repairs. Even more impressive to the Blues staff was the fact Ponich was stepping up to protect his teammates which is a nice quality to have if you stand 6-7’. Where Ponich really impressed was with his ability to kill penalties, transition the puck well, while showing a great stick. Big men often take longer to iron out their skating as his feet coordination may not be where it needs to be right now. There’s a chance you won’t see Ponich sign at the end of this season if his team in Portland meets expectations and plays deep into the spring.
I think it’s a great decision by Davis Payne and his staff to pair Ponich up in camp with Erik Johnson. Ponich is a kid who’s eager to learn and wants to get better. He’s already been picking Johnson’s brain for ways to improve especially when it comes to his skating. He’ll most likely never skate like EJ but it’s an area he and the organization know he needs to improve.
I mentioned Mark Cundari as a potential sleeper down the line. This kid brings a ton of winning experience having won two Memorial Cups with Windsor. One thing he’ll need to figure out is to play within his strengths and not try to do too much. He needs to use this year to define what his role will be as a pro. He wants to push to be a top four but it’s more realistic to project him down the road as a five or six. A player like Mike Weaver is who he should strive to pattern himself after. Weaver understood early on who he is as a hockey player and he’s carved a nice NHL career out of it.
The most improved prospect in Traverse City was D-man David Shields who uses his 6-5 frame very well. He’s a mobile skater for his size that makes a good first pass and keeps things simple. Blues scouts feel he’s light years ahead both strength and speed wise compared to where he was a year ago. He will return to Erie in the OHL this season. Shields will play with Eric Brewer during the scrimmage on Sunday.
Offensively one player we’re not talking too much about when it comes to prospects is Philip Mcrae. I’m told he had a good rookie tournament but probably didn’t show as much as he would have liked. He still has 2nd line NHL potential but needs to work a little harder to show more offensively. He did get in some scraps in Traverse City in which I’m told he did "ok". He remains light physically and needs to get stronger but sometimes showing the will is just as important as how well you do in a bout. No one is questioning his skill level.
Brett Sonne, the former Canadian World Junior Gold medalist and WHL MVP, brings a lot of intangibles to the game with his ability to lead. He’s always been described as a heart and soul guy with tremendous character. I’m told he was the Blues most consistent and hardest working player of anybody on the roster in Traverse City. This is a big year for him to grow in the minors.
Ian Cole and Roman Polak have been paired together for training camp.
David Perron is writing a French blog on RDS.ca
Andy McDonald registered 11 chin-ups during strength testing, Barret Jackman did 10. These are done with 10% of each players body weight tied around their waist. Each player has three seconds on the way down and only one second on the way up to complete each pull-up. If a player wiggles their legs the pull-up doesn’t count.
The most-improved players strength wise compared to this time last season are Patrik Berglund, B.J. Crombeen, and David Backes.
No player showed up to camp in worse shape than they were last year.
It comes as no surprise that Roman Polak, Erik Johnson, and Barret Jackman are probably the strongest players when it comes to the bench press. A few surprises include prospect Anthony Peluso, Sonne, and Mark Cundari.
Erik Johnson maxed out at 300 pounds on the bench press which is the maximum allowed.
Cam Janssen maxed out at 280 pounds
When comparing power vs. endurance the two most impressive players are McDonald and Polak.
Alex Pietrangelo and Jackman are paired together for training camp. Pietrangelo came into camp weighing 210 pounds compared to 192 pounds two years ago.
Prospect Stefan Della Rovere is living with Pietrangelo during training camp.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly would have turned 74 on Friday September 17th.
Blues logos have been painted across the red line at Scottrade Center.
The Milwaukee Admirals will have a Darren Pang bobble head night to honor their former goaltender. Pang is expected to be live at the game which might take place against Peoria.
Dave Checketts, Mike McCarthy, and John Davidson represented the Blues at the recent Board of Governors meeting.
Every non-gameday home practice the Blues have this season is expected to take place at the Mills.
More to come,