Amidst a flurry of activity from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s front office this week, it was easy to forget that the team’s prospect development camp was taking place at the same time. Every year about a week after the NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning bring in that year’s draft class and prospects that have been in the organization for a few years to the Brandon Ice Sports Forum for five days of practices, drills, and power skating culminating in everyone’s favorite part of the week, which is the 3-on-3 tournament that was held on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
For players from the 2016 draft class, it’s a chance to be around the older prospects and see the work it takes to develop your craft and make a solid impression on the Lightning’s front office. For guys from the 2015 class, it marks another important milestone in their development, as they’ve had a year to work on areas of their game the organization felt they needed to improve on since the last development camp. And for players like Adam Erne and Brayden Point, picked in 2013 and 2014, respectively, it’s one more opportunity to prove to the Lightning that they’re worthy of being called up to the NHL next season if the situation calls for it.
The 20-year-old Point was asked what he felt like he needed to improve on despite being considered one of the top prospects in the organization. “Just getting bigger, stronger, faster. Everything, really,” said Point on the first day of development camp.
Erne, who played 59 games last season for Syracuse and finished with 14 goals and 29 points while also missing a month because of an injury, was in his fourth prospect camp since being taken in the second round of the 2013 draft. Even though he’s no stranger to the process, Erne said there’s always room for improvement.
“Just being around the coaches and the environment, you learn new things all the time. There’s always things to pick up and improve on your game,” said Erne.
At 6’1″ and 210 pounds, Erne is a big, physical player that has tremendous skating ability and offensive skill. But one of the things that impressed Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest about Erne was the improvement in his conditioning.
“He’s gotten faster, he’s slimmed down, he’s always been a big, strong kid,” said Roest. “He’s training, he’s put the work in. He’s always trained, but I think he’s training a little smarter now, and he’s quicker, for sure.”
Brett Howden, who was the team’s first round pick in last weekend’s draft, talked to the media after the end of the first day of camp and said the goal is to get to the NHL as soon as possible, but he can’t put a timeline on it and knows that there’s a lot of work to be done.
“I’d like to be here as soon as I can. Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of developing to do, for sure,” said Howden. “But I think that’s gonna come with time, and right now there’s no timeline, it’s just for me to work as hard as I can.”
While the practices, drills, power skating, and off-ice work is important, it’s the 3-on-3 tournament that is the highlight of the week and what everyone in the building looks forward to. Several players had some highlight-reel moments and saved their best work for the tournament. Mathieu Joseph, a 2015 4th round pick, had a hat trick on the second day of the tourney and finished with six goals and four assists. Joseph was teamed up with 2015 6th round pick Bokondji Imama, who led the tournament with eight goals, leading Team Callahan all the way to the tournament final. Imama had only seven goals in 48 games for Saint John of the QMJHL last year, and is a prospect known for physical play and his fists. But during 3-on-3 play, Imama showed considerable improvement in his skating and stick-handling, and showed off a pretty wicked wrist shot on a few of his goals.
Erne had four goals and four assists in the tournament, including a highlight-reel play where he drove to the net and dished the puck at the last second to Cameron Darcy, who converted the pass into a goal. Howden and 2015 2nd round pick Mitchell Stephens showed some good chemistry together, with Stephens looking a lot more comfortable on the ice in this year’s camp. Point was also impressive during the tournament, showing off the skills that have the Lightning excited about his future.
At the end of the day on Saturday, it was Team Killorn, consisting of Jonne Tammela, Anthony Cirelli, Ross Colton, John MacLeod, and Alex Iafallo, that would walk away with the trophy as tournament champions. Tammela, a 4th round pick in 2015, had four goals and four assists and is a very skilled winger that appears to have a bright future in the organization. Cirelli, an undersized forward picked in the third round last year, flashed some good puck-handling ability near the net with the ability to finish off plays. MacLeod (2014 2nd round pick) and Iafallo (an invitee) were also impressive throughout the tournament, while Colton showed off the natural goal-scoring ability that earned him 35 goals in his final season in the USHL last year. Colton, who is off to the University of Vermont next season after being chosen in the fourth round of last weekend’s draft, raved about the experience of his first professional development camp.
“It was definitely surreal, didn’t know what to expect. Just wanted to come in, make the most of it. A lot of great guys, great players,” said Colton. “It was definitely a great first camp, I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”
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