The 2012 edition of Red Deer Rebels Prospects Camp is in the books.
There were no big surprises at this particular camp, which is really a good thing. As mentioned in my previous blog, prospects camp is all about welcoming the new kids to the Rebels program and evaluating the progress of those who were welcomed last year.
"It went real well. We were happy with what we saw" Rebels GM and Head Coach Jesse Wallin told me after Sunday's final ice session. "It was very successful in that all the players were here and were able to get in and get the opportunity to have a look at everything, at all aspects [of being a Rebels player]."
The list of players who stood out at this weekend's camp features the usual suspects. Conner Bleackley was challenged by the coaching staff to get into better shape following the end of last season. Message received. Bleackley was flying around the ice in Penhold and frequently showed off the soft hands and hard shot that made him a first-round bantam draft pick.
"Yeah, he did [get the message] as you'd expect he would" said Wallin. "He's in the older group now so he should shine. He's taken strides as far as his conditioning and he needs to continue to do that coming into training camp in order to be the best player he can be."
Bleackley admitted that conditioning has indeed been his main focus since the end of Rebels season.
"I've been doing an hour of weights and an hour of agility after my workout. That's something I've added in and my trainer's been helping me with that. So hopefully it can just keep on getting better."
And the more Bleackley's conditioning continues to improve, the more he'll give himself opportunities to put his slick hands to use over the course of a 72-game WHL season. Another huge benefit for @Bleacks19 was the 16 games he played in for the injury riddled Rebels last season.
"I learned a tremendous amount. To go in at the end of the year when the pace is so high I've feel like I've gotten through that first step that most 16-year-olds already go through. So next season, if I do play, I'll be that much ahead."
When it comes to the newbies, Adam Musil was of course the one with the biggest advanced billing. It was somewhat lucky that Musil ended up going to the Rebels with the 6th overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. But the way he was bouncing around the hallways at the Penhold Multiplex with a huge grin on his face made it obvious... he's more than happy to be here.
"Just to get to know the guys and the coaching staff it's been amazing" Musil told me today. "I was a bit nervous [when he found out he was drafted by the Rebels] but at the same time I was happy. I'm very excited."
Musil saw limited action at prospects camp as he is still recovering from a broken thumb which he suffered late in his playing season. No cause for concern, just no real reason to push it too hard at this particular camp. He'll be good to go for this fall. The product of the Burnaby Winter Club bantam program had a pretty good idea of what to expect in Red Deer thanks to one Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"He's a great guy. He came with on the ice with us and I just asked him about Red Deer. He said it's a really great place to be so I'm excited."
"I've been told he's an outstanding kid and certainly that's the sense I got from this weekend" Wallin said regarding Musil, who will be taking part in this year's NHLPA Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Program [as Bleackley did in 2011]. "He's real excited to be here. He seemed to have a smile on his face every time you came around the corner and saw him. A very happy-go-lucky young man but also very focused. He wants to be a hockey player. Coming from the hockey family that he does, he gets it. He understands what it takes. He's an enticing package and we're excited about him."
Wallin also singled out Haydn Fleury as a player who showed well this weekend, pretty much as expected. To say he is a "lock" may be slightly premature but Fleury will definitely be in the mix for a full time spot on the Rebels blue line this coming fall.
More intriguing is Vukie Mpofu who's weekend camp performance can be summed up in one word... superb. The 16-year-old defenceman from the Saskatoon Contacts has everything you want from a promising defenceman... speed, acceleration, smart defensive positioning and great offensive creativity. He'll definitely be one to watch come August.
"To play at this level at his size [listed online as 5 ft 9] he's gonna have to be an offensive guy," Wallin pointed out. "He has to be dynamic and bring that offensive element to the game. Jump up on the play. Run the powerplay. He showed good signs of that this weekend and we'll see how he fares during training camp."
Wallin's quick thoughts on what he saw from his goaltenders this weekend...
Matt Mitchell - "He's a bit of a throwback, a bit unorthodox. He relies on his athleticism more than being a technical goalie.
Grant Naherniak - "He struggled a bit in the scrimmage today [Sunday] but he's a guy who over the course of the weekend has shown progress from last season. He moves well, he's quick and reads the play. He had a good season in Midget AAA and continues to progress nicely."
Taz Burman - "Had a good weekend and show a lot of promise."
So there you have it. A quick little summary of what took place in Penhold this weekend. Next up for the Rebels... the CHL Import Draft on Wednesday, June 27th in which the Rebels have the 23rd pick (out of 60). Following that the WHL scheduling meetings will take place. Main training camp for the Rebels takes place in the final week of August.
ALSO... Tomorrow we'll be shooting a special prospects camp edition of 'Southside Dodge Rebels This Week.' I'll be sure to let you know when it's posted online for you to check out!