There are always high expectations from Rod Brind’Amour, and this season is no different. President/GM Don Waddell once again pulled some tricks out of his bag and made some impressive moves during the offseason. One thing Waddell makes clear is that he is always looking to improve this team, and one of the things he did was strengthen what many considered to be the #1 defense in the league even further by signing the top free-agent defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, on the first day of free agency. The stocky but powerful Russian will only add to the frustration of many forwards on opposing teams. I’m sure he has circled a few games on his calendar, namely against the Capitals, his former team, and especially playing against future Hall of Famer, Alex Ovechkin.
All Coaches Involved
There are 47 players at camp broken into two groups. The first group appeared to be the team on opening day. There are no gifts in professional sports, and despite the ‘roster’ team on the ice, everyone gave it 100% on every drill. All coaches got involved in drills, including Bill Burniston, the strength and fitness coach. He led the last drill, which was a testimony to how fit everyone came into camp, as he had the team on repetitive sprints while he held the stopwatch. Not many hockey coaches bring a stopwatch to a practice.
Many eyes were on Andrei Svechnikov as he wore a yellow contact sweater, but his skating and turning didn’t show any signs of being limited. He easily finished first in his group on the first Burniston sprint, with Marty Necas getting the edge in the second round. Brind’Amour makes it very clear what each position is expected to do on every drill and relates that to what it means in a game. The Canes, under Brind’Amour, frequently play a dump-and-chase style. But it’s not just a dump to get it deep; one clear comment and demonstration was, ‘The key to the play is where you put the puck.’ Much depends on positioning, which is how most of the drills were centered around. Execute, repeat, watch, and learn. It sounds simple enough, but with the speed of hockey, especially the speed of this team, the execution is on a thin edge.
The players were all very upbeat. The personalities are all unique, from the constant lightheartedness of Seth Jarvis to the loudness of Jordan Martinook, especially around Svech, to the all-business approach of Jaccob Slavin, but all seem to gel under the leadership of Brind’Amour and Jordan Staal. The forward lines and defensive pairings were together most of the practice. The chemistry between linemates is a huge factor anytime on the ice. Normally, during a game, if a coach changes lines, it’s usually not because everything is going the way it should.
Another trademark of Brind’Amour and this team is playing both sides of the puck. In simple terms, every player is expected to excel defensively if the puck is turned over. Several drills centered on getting back on defense once a puck is turned over and, if possible, turning it back around to get back on offense. That happens with positioning and talking on the ice, and there’s no shortage of chatter from veterans.
Plenty of Talent in Prospects and PTOs
With the second group composed mostly of high prospects and PTO (professional tryout) players, the biggest takeaway was the speed difference. The veteran group started with speed on the first drill. It didn’t appear to happen with the second group. Somehow, their speed picked up substantially after both bench coaches, Tim Gleason and Jeff Daniels, talked to several players. Brind’Amour isn’t a coach to berate, embarrass, or intimidate a player. On the second day, every drill was at full speed. Brind’Amour has a reputation as a player’s coach. With the second group, more than once, he stopped a drill mid-session with the generic statement, ‘Some of you are doing it right, but there are some just hanging out along the sides. This is what we want and expect, so let’s do it again.’ It didn’t take long for the head coach to give that encouraging reinforcement by saying, ‘That’s it, keep it going.’ Message received loud and clear. Practices are a learning process, but what little enjoyment can be instilled, Rod does. After so many drills, he has the skaters line up along the boards in front of the bench and call out a name for a player to take a penalty shot. If the player scores, the goalies skate end to end both ways; if the goalies stop the shot, all skaters must sprint the width of the ice both ways. It’s all fun but seemed to be enjoyed more by the veterans.
Another big part of practice was the use of the word positioning. All coaches were stressing that, especially Gleason. He seems to coach the way he was as a player – not flashy, dead serious, and making himself known to anyone on the ice. As a coach, he’s not introducing a player hard into the boards but talking to a player about what they need to improve or perform to this team’s standards.
Goaltending Better Than Most Reports
There was a good deal of talk this summer about goalies. Waddell brought both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta back, and both look very sharp in practice. All 3 goalies in the second group looked good, with both Pyotr Kochetkov and Yaniv Perets looking very impressive. Both Andersen and Raanta could have signed for more money and contract length, but in the words of Raanta, ‘this is where I want to be. This is where my family wants to be. I don’t have many years left and could have signed elsewhere for a longer contract, but I want to win it all, and with this team, we have a great shot at doing that.’
Improvements On Day 2
The second day of practice for the prospect group was more instructions on positioning, faceoff plays, the right time to rim the boards (where a defenseman will send the puck around the boards), clearing the defensive zone, and even line changes. A word common to all: speed. The expectations for this team by the coaches, management, players, and fans are high. In Brind’Amour’s meeting on the first day, he said, “The goal of the team is to be the last team standing; they can’t win the Stanley Cup on any single game and to go 1-0 on the day.” Simple enough, it was the same message last year, and every year, he’s been head coach.