Tag: training camp

Andy Miele

Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele looks to make NHL this year in Phoenix

Turn back the calendar to twelve months ago. At this time last year, Miami University senior Andy Miele was preparing for his final season with the Redhawks in hopes of capturing a capturing an national title. But unlike most respected players in the junior or collegiate ranks, he wasn’t sure that he’d have a home when his final season was complete. You see—this is the life for an undrafted collegiate athlete.

Little did Miele know last summer that he was about to embark on one of the more dominant CCHA seasons in recent memory. All it took was 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games to get the attention of NHL scouts and general managers. The Hobey Baker Award didn’t hurt either.  In the previous year, he was a point-per-game player—but no one was prepared for the breakout season Miele was about to drop on the hockey world. By the time he was done, he had the teams from all over the league bidding for his services. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t surprising when he chose to take his services to… Phoenix?

In hindsight, Miele’s choice to play in Phoenix shouldn’t be so surprising. For undrafted free agents, one of the most important aspects when choosing a destination is available opportunity. Is there an chance to make the big club at a particular position? In Phoenix’s case, there was a bit of a void at the center position. But it’s been more than just opening for Miele. It’s been the right fit as well.

“I love the staff here in Phoenix,” Miele explained. “It’s been great—it’s a great group of guys. But the opportunity seems to be what caught my eye the most. That’s what you need to look for: the best opportunity to play. I felt like that would be in Phoenix.”

Even though Miele tore though the CCHA all the way to the Frozen Four last season, there was a fairly large reason why he wasn’t originally drafted when he was eligible to be claimed at the Entry Draft. More specifically, there was a “small” problem. The Michigan native is listed at 5’8” and 175 lbs, but the 5’8 listing is unquestionably on the generous side.

If a player with his skill and heart was put in a body that was 6’2,” 210 lbs, he would have been a first round draft pick. Like most vertically challenged players, overcoming questions about his size isn’t anything new.

“It’s been pretty much the same throughout my whole life,” the Hobey Baker winner shared. “People just saying I can’t do it just because of my size. People always think that’s going to hold me back, but that’s just motivate for me to prove people wrong. I do it for myself and I do it to prove people wrong. I’ve had to do it my whole life—it’s nothing different, so it’s not like I’m jumping into something that’s unexpected.

“I’ve always played gritty my whole life. I love to mix it up with guys and get in the corner and play a little bit of a physical game. I feel like that can separate me from other little guys. The determination out there is huge for me.”

source: Getty ImagesObviously for a player to prove scouts wrong that only see his size, he has to make up for it in other areas. Like Miele said, he doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and doesn’t hesitate to battle to when the game calls for it. The quick comparison for most when they hear about a talented (yet small) offensive dynamo is to go to the Martin St. Louis card. Yet in Miele’s case, there are better comparisons out there.

Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving sees a different NHL center with the most similarities: “He reminds me little bit of Derek Roy in Buffalo. He sees people around him. He has the ability to make people around him better. I’m really intrigued to see him with the NHL players [in preseason games]. Some people are going into holes, he can create space. When people talk about [smaller players like] Gerbe or St. Louis, the one thing I say is that those guys have dynamic speed. [Miele’s] quick, but I wouldn’t call him a dynamic skater. But he has the vision.”

There’s no question that Derek Roy is some pretty good company for a guy who is still battling for a spot on an NHL roster. But we’re also talking about a player with world-class skills who has already represented the United States at the IIHF World Championships. For his money, Miele has a different player comparison in mind—one that will hit much closer to home for Coyotes fans.

“I’ve been watching Ray Whitney a lot and I love the way he plays,” Miele said. “I feel like we play a lot of the same style with being a playmaker and really being very strong on the puck. I feel like I want to model my game after him.”

Not surprisingly, he also said he’d like to have the same kind of longevity as Whitney. But before he can jump into a skates of a 39-year-old veteran, Miele understands that the pro game is a completely different animal—both on and off the ice.

“The whole game is different—especially from college,” Miele admitted. “You have to think faster, you have to move faster. Everything you have to do is faster. The work ethic is unbelievable. My first practice, Shane Doan was out there, when everyone was off, working on his stride. The guy’s been in the NHL for how many years? You can never think that you’re at the top of your game and you can’t get better. There’s always something you can improve on. You can always get stronger or fix something in your game. That’s something you always have to do.”

If he’s looking for a mentor to show him what it takes to succeed in the NHL, his captain in Phoenix is one of the best examples in the league. And just like his captain, Miele knows that he’s going to have to have a well-rounded game if he wants to make the NHL roster and stick around for a while. That may mean initially taking on a role that he’s not as familiar with. With Daymond Langkow, Marty Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon taking up three center spots on the roster, Miele may be asked to start his career in a bottom-six role to start his career. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for energy players—not prolific scorers.

“In college, I believe my sophomore year; I think I was a 3rd liner,” the eager Miele confirmed. “But in college it’s a little different—you can roll three ‘skill’ lines. But I have no problem getting the puck in and working the corners, and throwing my little weight around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to be up with the Coyotes. If they want me as a third liner, I’ll do that. I don’t care.”

He sounds like just about any other potential rookie hoping to break into the NHL. The difference is that Miele’s skill, ice-awareness, and vision make him a potential YouTube star on any given night. Teammate Brett Hextall summed up his ability when he simply said, “his skills are pretty outrageous.” The next step is to show the Coyotes management that he can display the dynamic offense on a nightly basis while doing all of the little things that are expected of an NHL center. If the rookie camp and early preseason game are any indicator, he’s going to make it tough on Don Maloney and Co. to send him down to Portland.

Alexander Semin responds to comments about how much he cares

Alexander Semin

Few players as talented as Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin receive as much flack as he does, although his prodigious skills are part of the “problem.” On one hand, there’s an impulse to feel sympathy for Semin simply because the criticism he receives can get downright excessive. That being said, it’s a bit tougher to feel bad for him once you realize that he’ll earn a $6.7 million salary in 2011-12.

In a way, Semin is almost the Carrot Top of hockey. Both carved out successful and lucrative careers with an unusual bag of tricks (Semin’s all-world shot; Carrot Top’s props), but taste makers cannot stand the way they go about their business. Carrot Top is the antithesis of the “comic’s comic” and Semin seems to draw similar ire among his peers.

Earlier this summer, former teammate Matt Bradley made headlines for expressing a belief that many sportswriters and hockey fans share: Semin just “doesn’t care.” It’s one thing to hear some random message board pundit lambaste the winger for his perceived lack of effort, but it was startling for a teammate of six years to reiterate those critiques.

With training camp kicking in, Semin will face the first round of awkward questions about that tirade. Puck Daddy’s Dmitri Chesnokov caught up with the oft-criticized forward, who mostly avoided the subject.

Q. Could you give us your comments about the words of your former teammate Matt Bradley who said that Semin plays for Washington and ‘just doesn’t care?’

SEMIN: “I don’t pay absolutely any attention to his words. I don’t even understand what Bradley meant. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You should say what you want.”

Did Bradley ever accuse you to your face?

“No. There is no point to discuss it now. He said what he said. That’s all.”

While he admitted that it’s “unpleasant” to hear his name come up in trade gossip, Semin more or less shrugged his shoulders at the rumor mill. Without hearing the inflection of his voice, there’s almost a sense of weariness from Semin’s answers, which actually is pretty reasonable considering the fact that he’s a frequent scapegoat.

Do these rumors affect you psychologically?

“Of course it is unpleasant to hear about it. But what can you do? The sport is full of rumors of who gets traded, who gets bought and who gets sold.”

Only Semin knows for sure, but it seems absurd to assume that he doesn’t care. Perhaps the more appropriate discussion is whether or not he cares “enough” to please the hockey world. Hockey teams are often successful because they have a mix of different players, with some playing more of a finesse game and others providing a more inspiring injection of hustle. Not every player needs to wear his heart on his sleeve for a team to turn out victories.

This season could end up being the last phase of an experiment to see if Semin could be part of a championship formula in Washington since his one-year deal expires next July. Even if they part ways, my guess is that plenty of NHL teams would be glad to add his supposedly indifferent game to their rosters.

Sidney Crosby practices at ‘100 percent pace’ on first day of camp

Sidney Crosby

Although he hasn’t been cleared for contact during practice yet, Sidney Crosby “exerted himself at a 100 percent pace” during the first day of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp Saturday.

Crosby drew a standing ovation from fans gathered at practice as he wore a white helmet that indicated no contact (which is a lot like NFL players who wear special jerseys to make that much clear in their own practices). The best part for Crosby and the Penguins was that he claimed that he didn’t feel any “ill effects” from working hard in practice. Alan Robinson reports that he practiced for about 70 minutes today.

It’s probably safe to measure his progress in baby steps, although Crosby noted that this is the first time he worked at a 100 percent rate since he resumed workouts during the off-season. The star center still might have a long way to go before he can start preparing for NHL regular season action, but his first day of camp seems like a source of optimism.

“That was a really good pace — it was tough but fun to feel it again,” Crosby said. “I worked as hard as I possibly could out there. For that period of time, that’s the longest I’ve went at that pace. It felt good.”

Unless the symptoms return — and Crosby said they have largely vanished the last few weeks — he plans to practice every day at this same pace until he is cleared for contact. The Penguins have offered no hint when that might be.

We’ll keep an eye on Crosby’s progress, even if it takes a while before he returns to meaningful games.

Reports: Capitals D Tom Poti fails physical, will likely be placed on long-term injured reserve

Tom Poti
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As many probably expected, it appears that Washington Capitals defenseman Tom Poti’s health status remains an issue. Various sources report that Capitals GM George McPhee revealed that Poti failed a physical today, which means the team is likely to place him on the long-term injured reserve as he tries to fight back through injuries stemming from the 2010-11 season. Poti didn’t appear on the ice during training camp today.

It’s sad to look on the bright side of a troubling injury situation, but the Capitals should get some salary cap relief from Poti going on the LTIR. CapGeek lists them as a bit more than $890K above the salary cap ceiling at this moment, but with Poti’s $2.875 million cap hit (temporarily?) off the books, the team should have wiggle room for injury and prospect-related roster moves. Poti will continue to try to work his way through his injury issues.

Poti played parts of the last four seasons with the Capitals, although he missed a significant amount of games. He missed 114 games during that span, with the 2010-11 season being the most troubled yet. Poti played in just 21 games last season, scoring two goals and five assists for seven points and a -4 rating.

When healthy, Poti can be an effective (if occasionally error prone) offensive defenseman. He logged at least 21 minutes per game for Washington in the three seasons before 10-11. Poti’s contract expires after the 2012-13 season, so the Capitals must continue to watch his progress.

A healthy return might cause some questions for the Caps’ brass – much like Sami Salo’s situation did for a while with the Vancouver Canucks last season – but here’s hoping that Poti can get his career back together soon.

Kid Kadri looks to crack the Leafs lineup this season

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils

Up until this point, the most memorable part of Nazem Kadri’s career is when Leafs GM Brian Burke asked Senators GM Bryan Murray who he was going to take in the 2009 Entry Draft—only to shoot him down on national television. He hopes to change all that this season as he aims to put his best foot forward during Toronto’s training camp this month. There aren’t many spots up for grabs this season after the Leafs acquired the likes of Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly this offseason. Kadri knows that he’ll need to step up his game if he wants to impress management and earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster this year.

The 20-year-old forward appeared in 29 total games for the Leafs last season. He played in 17 games in November/December before he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies to refine his game—due in large part because he only collected two assists in the final month before demoted. The former seventh overall pick played better when management brought him up for another look in mid-March. He collected three goals and three assists in 12 games to finish the 2010-11 campaign. The cup of coffee with the big club gave him all the motivation he needed for the offseason:

“I’m coming in expecting there to be zero jobs left and for me to steal one,” Kadri said. “Obviously (to get demoted) would be extremely disappointing. I want to be a regular 82-plus-playoff games player in the NHL. That’s why I worked so hard this summer — to prove a point.

“Now I what to show everybody that I’m here to stay.”

It’s good that Kadri is coming into camp with a certain sense of desperation because management isn’t messing around this week. The team is bringing in about 70 players—but most of them better not get too comfortable. Ron Wilson told QMI that the cuts are going to come fast and furious for the first week as the trim the roster to a manageable number:

“What I’ve stressed with management, when Wednesday rolls around, we’re going to be down to 40 guys,” Wilson said Friday at the MasterCard Centre where the team reported for physical testing. “By next weekend, we’ll be down to 26 or 27 players.

“I’m cutting right through all the B.S., and getting right down to the NHL players. I’m not worried about where we are going to be in two or three years. My primary responsibility is this year and getting off to a quick start.”

No pressure there. Have a bad day and you could be gone. Then again, for anyone who’s going to play a full season in Toronto, they should get used to that kind of daily scrutiny. Rumor has it the Toronto media judges swiftly and harshly.

As far as Kadri goes, a spot on the Leafs should be his to lose. The left wing spot on the 3rd line is waiting to be claimed and Kadri’s speed would be a welcomed asset in any capacity. But just as important as his skill set is the way he is viewed by management. There’s no question they want the high draft pick to make the team and succeed. The Leafs prospect pool has been improving over the last couple of season and Kadri is the best of the lot.

If he can prove that he belongs on the team, it will look good for the rest of their mini-redevelopment project.