While the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Russia are all represented at the Anaheim Ducks summer conditioning camp, it was Lincoln, Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium that had captivated Lac Beauport, Quebec native and fourth round draft pick Kevin Roy. The reigning USHL Player of the Year and diminutive forward potted 54 goals amidst 104 points, 50 penalty minutes – and three Cornhuskers football games.
“One of them I was in the student section, so it was pretty crazy,” said Roy, who played last year for the Lincoln Stars and has committed to Brown University. “We were bringing up the big “N” – we were the first row in the student section. We were hanging out with the mascot, too, so it was pretty fun. Some good stories there.”
Skating on a line with fellow 5’9 forward Ryan Lasch, an IIHF World Championships teammate of Kyle Palmieri, Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler and a 25-year old with experience in Sweden’s Elitserien and Finland’s SM-liiga, Roy took a feed in the slot and beat Igor Bobkov with a quickly released wristshot that gave his Black Team a 3-1 lead in an eventual 4-1 win. The two were among the more noticeable tandems at Monday’s skate, the first of two prospect evaluation scrimmages that conclude a week of off-season conditioning.
“He’s a good little skilled player like that,” Lasch said of Roy. “He kind of plays like me, as far as his skill wise goes, and he’s good with the puck. We had some chemistry. He’s easy to find out there.”
Richard Rakell, the final player selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, made the biggest news on Monday after having signed a three-year entry level contract. The 19-year old will attempt to win an NHL job out of training camp but has a better chance of returning to the Plymouth Whalers, where he has accumulated 48 goals and 107 points in 109 OHL games over his 17 and 18-year old seasons. He won a gold medal with Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championships and should be counted upon to play a significant role for their 2013 entry, where he would be a third-year player.
“Just push yourself harder, and use that as a little kick in the back,” Rakell said about how the conditioning camp prepares him for the upcoming season. “You learn so much, and I think just the competition level is great here. You can feel it right when you leave that you get so much better.”
At the end of a season that culminated in a second round, Game 7 loss to goaltending prospect John Gibson’s Kitchener Rangers, Rakell described the developmental message he received heading into his second summer as a member of the Ducks organization.
“It was just to keep working on my strength and speed, and just keep doing what [I’m] doing,” Rakell said. “I think that most of it was the strength and just being quicker on skates. I feel like I’ve been taking quite a big step there from last year. It can just get better from where we are right now, and I’m very positive for the future.”
Defenseman Hampus Lindholm, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, made his first public skating appearance in Anaheim, as did Irvine native and second round pick Nic Kerdiles, a forward bound for the University of Wisconsin after having completed a two-year stint with the US National Team Development Program.
“I had my family here, except for one of my sisters [who] couldn’t make it. She was at work. It was fun. I had a lot of friends from my old school come out and just watch me play. They never really got to see me play, so it’s really fun and exciting,” said Kerdiles, who was born in Texas and lived in France until he was six before moving with his family to Orange County.
Though one of the camp’s youngest players, Kerdiles didn’t show much hesitation in battling for the puck and working in tight areas against rugged competition – attributes that helped make him attractive to the Ducks with the 36th overall pick.
“Bigger guys and stronger guys make me work harder and battle harder in the corners,” Kerdiles said. “When I’m playing against guys like that, I play my best hockey, and I get passes from them, and I make good passes as well. Just playing with those better guys, better level, it helps me become a better player and look better out there also.”
Long Beach native Emerson Etem is a veteran of both prospect camps and training camps, and come September will have his sights locked in on not just a roster spot, but a skill role on a Ducks team that will be fielding auditions for much of its young, skilled prospect depth.
“I think, for me, obviously, I try to fit in the top six as a scoring role,” Etem said. “There’s a lot of competition up front in the forward position, so I’m just going to work as hard as I can to hopefully prove myself.”
Etem’s 61 goals in his third season with the Medicine Hat Tigers marked the first time in 11 years that a WHL skater had scored at least 60, and his 252 points in 202 major junior games certainly back his own assessment as someone capable of leaping to the NHL to battle for a top-six role.
But it’s Etem’s responsible habits and his two-way game – he has led the WHL in shorthanded goals for two straight seasons – that indicate his readiness to be strongly considered for a prominent role this fall.
“A lot more stops and starts. A lot more straight lines in the D-zone, getting up to my point and blocking shots,” Etem said of his improvement in his own end of the ice. “As far as PK, scoring more goals on the penalty kill, I think I had one or two more goals on the penalty kill this year. I like to contribute in that sense as well, both offense and defense.”
Along with Peter Holland, another creative forward from Monday’s scrimmage and a 60-point performer with Syracuse in his debut AHL season last year, and Kyle Palmieri, who did not participate at the conditioning camp, there should be plenty of competition this fall for a handful of skilled Anaheim prospects who appear on the cusp of National Hockey League careers.
For Roy, who named Daniel Briere as the player he’s drawn heavy influence from, the first opportunity to wear a team logo and leave an impression on an NHL staff was part of the overall appeal of this week’s camp.
“You watch them on TV and throughout the year when you were younger, and now you’re in the same locker room with like Bruce Boudreau and all those coaches, so it’s pretty special. I’m trying to get everything in my head, this knowledge, and just try to get better throughout the week, and I think I did,” Roy said.
He’s also got a memento from his year in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Yeah, I bought a t-shirt,” Roy said. “Nebraska cornhuskers. They’re big fans there, so I had to join.”