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Prospect Camp Observations

07/11/2012 3:53 PM - Mike Peck
A crew of us went into Chicago on Tuesday to check out Blackhawks Prospect Camp at Johnny’s West and it was good to see some IceHogs fans there and to watch a little hockey in the middle of the summer!

We’ll have some features and videos on icehogs.com over the next week or so highlighting some prospects at camp starting with Terry Broadhurst on Thursday.

Prospect Camp isn’t exactly the best setting for every guy to come in and display their capabilities as players come into early July at different stages of their summer training routine. Some players come into prospect camp in much better shape than others.

If a guy (like Mac Carruth with Portland) makes it all the way to their league’s championship finals, he probably hasn’t been on the ice as much as the college player or skater whose team did not qualify for the postseason. But it’s a great chance to see prospects vs. prospects on the same ice.

With that said, here are some thoughts from Tuesday’s festivities:

Mark McNeill looked very strong and confident. That’s important because he seemed a little burned out when he got to Rockford this past spring and then got a quick dose of professional hockey reality during his short time here.

It can humble a player, especially a “top” prospect, to come to the AHL and not make as much of an impact as he thought he could.  Remember, he was just 19-years old. The most important observation  about McNeill is his mindset and attitude. After briefly chatting with him after his practice, he knows the potential path he has in front of him, which could include another stint in juniors in the WHL in 2012-13 and a go round in Rockford.

He realizes the improvements that he needs to make to reach the NHL, and no, there are not any guarantees when it comes to prospects, but I think McNeill is on the right path to the NHL.

A very intriguing battle come IceHogs training camp time is going to be the second goaltending spot. Assuming Carter Hutton starts the season in Rockford as the #1, Alec Richards, Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth will all battle for the second spot on the IceHogs roster.

Long term, Simpson and Carruth should be in Rockford at some point. Short term, Hutton is the obvious #3 in the organization, meaning he’ll get #1 goalie minutes in Rockford this season. And camp won’t be any bigger for a player than it will be for Richards this October.

The frustrating thing about Richards for me is that I’ve seen him play well at this level, but he has to be mentally there.  So back to the original point, the goalie battle in training camp is going to be very interesting.

One prospect that I’ve really acquired the hockey man-crush for is Phillip Danault. Like McNeill, Danualt seems like a great kid (and yes, character does matter). I didn’t get a chance to talk to him yesterday, but Jay Taft had a nice piece on him in the Rockford Register Star on Wednesday (Click Here).

Danault played seven games in Rockford at the end of last season after a solid campaign in the QMJHL. Also like McNeill, Danault will more than likely end up back in juniors in 2012-13, but I love his style of play. He uses his body well, can skate and has great vision.

The only thing I wish I could have seen on Tuesday at Johnny’s West was a scrimmage. They are scrimmaging the rest of the week. Both teams just practiced so I didn’t get to see Danault against the other prospects. He’s just another young forward to toss into the pile of prospects in the Hawks system.

Because Danault wasn’t the first pick by Chicago in the 2011 NHL Draft, he seems to be flying under the radar a bit with a lot of eyes focused on the team’s other top picks like McNeill, Kevin Hayes and Teuvo Teravainen. But pay attention to Danault, as I really like his makeup.

Final observation regards Kevin Hayes. I missed prospect camp last summer (darn vacation), but comparing him to two summers ago it’s like night and day. A lot of that is his comfort level with this being his third prospect camp, but he’s bulked up a little bit and has really developed his skill set at Boston College over the past two seasons.

From a number’s perspective, K. Hayes blew his stats away as a sophomore compared to his freshman season and helped BC to the National Championship this past April. He’s going back to school this fall but will more than likely be under a professional contract a year from now as he’ll need to be signed by Chicago so they retain his rights.

Later this week, I’ll have some updated IceHogs roster spots with some of the recent signings.