Saturday, September 15, 2007

First impressions (on the ice)

Hockey analysis in Point Blank always comes with the qualifier that I'm not a scout, do not make hockey decisions and my take is simply a hunch based on what I detect about a player's guts, dedication, hustle and professionalism. For example, I knew the moment a young Steve Webb made his debut at Islanders training camp and crashed into and challenged every player on the ice that he'd have an NHL career. On the other hand, I doubt I would have been able to pick a teenaged Nicklas Lidstrom out of a crowd of prospects.

So here goes with a few random thoughts on some of the young players after just two days of camp.

Andrew MacDonald: The young defenseman is now much more than the kid Ted Nolan said the team should consider because he liked him when they were together in the QMJHL in Moncton. He's now a legitimate NHL prospect and I suspect he'll play in the league in a year or two and be a good player. I feel even better about writing this because, without prompting, a person with a keen eye and some say in the organization told me the same thing about MacDonald today. Between Gervais, Campoli and now MacDonald, seems the Islanders have snatched some good young dmen late in the last few drafts.

Blake Comeau: I really like this kid. More importantly for the young forward, so does Ted and everyone else. Comeau was so good in camp last year and then had a first great week with Bridgeport that it was surprising to see his numbers were so average last season. But I was reminded today about the high ankle sprain that bothered him for a good chunk of his time with the Sound Tigers. Comeau is very sound in all aspects of the game and could become a very, very good second-line player. Word is the only thing he has to work on - and this is no small detail - is to find a way to "bring it" every game. I would not bet against him.

Justin Bourne: Bob's kid hit the ice yesterday with the same butterflies and angst as all the other kids on day one. On top of that, he was wearing a jersey that said BOURNE on the back, just like the guy who's in the Islanders Hall of Fame and has four Stanley Cup rings. And then he had to do it with his dad at the rink and everyone watching them. While so many of the kids in the scrimmage yesterday showed obvious nerves, Justin scored a goal, had an assist on his next shift (on a goal by Comeau) and gave as many hits as he absorbed. I'm not going to tell you how Justin projects as an NHLer or AHLer, although I'd personally love to see him get a shot in Bridgeport this season. What I can tell you is I have tremendous admiration for what he accomplished yesterday in what should have been a difficult setting.

Olivier Labelle: You may ask, "Who"? So were a lot of people yesterday. But like Steve Webb more than a decade ago, Labelle had one of those first days when everyone walked out of the rink knowing his name. The 6-0, 190-pound forward - who played his first year of pro last season at AHL Syracuse - is a disturber. Most good NHL teams have one. The Islanders, without one since Webb although Jason Blake was certainly a disturber-plus, could use one in the system. Labelle is unsigned and on a tryout. The knock on him in the past is whether his skating is good enough for the top level. The key for Labelle is to maintain his level of intensity at every scrimmage, every game. If he does into next week, I have a feeling you'll hear more about him.

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