The dynamic of Colorado's two-day training camp had a bigger impact on the goalies than any other position. Since timing and confidence is everything for a goaltender to start the new season, to be lacking in either of those areas will certainly lend a hand to struggling over the weekend. Even more important, however, is the negative effect of almost no one-on-one time with their new goalie coach, Kirk McLean.
It happened last season with Jocelyn Thibault. For two days, he ran drills with Billy Sauer, Peter Delmas, Tyler Weiman, Trevor Cann and Peter Budaj. The comments below were the opening paragraph of my goaltending recap of last year's training camp:
"A prospect can improve at an incredibly fast rate when someone that mastered the position at the NHL level is constantly providing that prospect with feedback. Especially with a position like goaltending, one that relies on non-stop progression and refinement, having a goalie consultant that understands the nature of the game (especially in 2009) and can relate to today’s elite puck stoppers is the most important factor in developing the goalie depth chart."
This year, however, I did not see McLean do any legitimate goalie-specific drills with the prospects, neither during Rookie Camp nor at any point this weekend. That lack of goalie training over the last five days seriously affected two Avs prospects that have tremendous long-term value and potential - Brandon Maxwell and Calvin Pickard.
Both goalies struggled in training camp, but not because they lack the skill or confidence needed to excel at the pro level. It was simply due to the extreme jump that comes from facing shots at the major-junior level, taking the summer off, then facing shots at the NHL level. That alone is an extremely tough task. But having to do it without the valuable advice that comes from an NHL goalie coach is nearly impossible.
But even without the goalie-specific drills with McLean, all of the Avs goalies did plenty of things that impressed the coaching and scouting staff over the weekend.
CRAIG ANDERSON - When all was said and done, Anderson performed in a very similar fashion to last year's training camp. You can read more about his performance earlier in the week, as not much changed over the weekend. He still chose to stand up to stop a number of shots as opposed to the typical reaction we would see during the regular season.
Overall, I was not alarmed or impressed by Anderson's performance in training camp. I think he would have really benefited from having some one-on-one time with McLean, as it would have helped him snap into focus a little more. By the end of camp last year, that ferocious, snarling attitude was prevalent and clearly visible. This year, however, he was much more laid back and jovial. Enjoying the experience is fine, but that fierceness is what made him such a tough competitor last season. And it really helped him start off on the right foot in October. It's not to say that same attitude won't return over the next week, but compared to last year, I saw very little of that competitive fire over the weekend.
CALVIN PICKARD - Pickard impressed me because of his durability, steadiness and overall net presence. He is definitely poised to be a better long-term goalie than his brother, Chet, who is battling for a spot behind Pekka Rinne in Nashville. He plays that calm butterfly style and does an excellent job of sealing holes and letting pucks hit him. He works very hard to see the puck around bodies and creates his own flawless sightlines. That consistent work ethic is one of his best assets - he played 62 games last season with the Thunderbirds and proved he can handle a heavy workload and execute with high levels of energy regardless of how many shots he faces.
Was he scrambly at times? Absolutely. Did he give up bad rebounds? Sure did. But did any of that come from a lack of talent? Not even close. It comes from the jump in pace and speed that comes from NHL shooters. And even though the competition caused his confidence to wane over the weekend, that work ethic and positive attitude never dropped at all. He made big saves on breakaways on a number of occasions in this year's camp and he displayed to me exactly what makes him such a tremendous prospect. One or two more years in Seattle, maybe a little more weight and refinement and he will be primed and ready to begin his pro career in the AHL.
If you look at the two photos included here, you'll notice some of what I mean. In the first one above, he's frozen solid on a shot that beats him low glove side. The inability to track the puck with his eyes causes him to tense up and brace for a shot. And that means he's not executing correctly. In the shot below, he reacts to a Kyle Quincey blast by standing up and trying to re-direct the puck with his blocker and stick. Instead of butterflying and getting a pad behind the shot, he stands up and whiffs completely. The result? A puck in the back of the net.
These shots only represent a small sample of goals that resulted from a lack of timing and experience. At his age, one can't expect him to have the ability or wherewithal to execute at this level. But in most instances, including the photo below, he displayed outstanding net coverage and showed why he plays bigger than his size would predict.
BRANDON MAXWELL - Maxwell impressed me this weekend because of his refined technique and style. He has faster footwork and a tighter stance. Last season, I considered him a "calm butterfly" goalie that relied more on solid positioning than reactions. He was what you would call a passive goalie, one that waits for the puck to hit him instead of flashing feet and hands in order to take away space.
This season, he had a much better balance of both. And that balance is what every goalie needs to be truly successful in the NHL. His stance and execution in this year's camp was much more active and his faster feet allowed him to be better positioned to make those second and third saves. Overall, I could clearly see vast improvements in most areas of his game. This is a luxury that comes with playing in the CHL. He played close to 50 games and faced a ton of shots against the best players in his age range.
The areas in which he struggled during camp included shots up high - namely glove side - and deflections. These just so happen to be the two areas that are exposed the most when timing and confidence is not where it needs to be. Therefore, I took nothing negative away from most of the goals he allowed in the warm-ups and scrimmages. But breaking down his performance from a technique and skill standpoint (a la our patented scouting charts), the grades and ratings went up in almost every category.
TREVOR CANN - Cann impressed me because of his adjusted mechanics and improved skating. Just like for any hockey player, skating ability is the most important skill to have. If you can't skate, you can't stop the puck in an efficient manner. Last season, Cann was the slowest goalie on the team. His entire stride mechanics were not anywhere close to where they needed to be. But over the season, possibly the summer, something changed.
He's faster. He's better balanced. He's much more mobile. He's more confident. I could go on and on. He was the most improved goalie in the system and has gone from being in my doghouse to being a potential #4 goalie in the system. Of course John Grahame will cover that role for now behind Jason Bacashihua, but next year, Cann will be ready for a full season in the AHL. And more AHL games this season could prove he's ready now. It's possible, but I wasn't that impressed. He still has a lot of work to do before he's considered anything more than a future AHL'er.
PETER BUDAJ -To explain my thoughts on Budaj's performance in camp, I have one word for you - confident. Last season, he had a real defeated attitude and constantly buried his head into the ice. He was intimidated by Craig Anderson's presence and he struggled with his rebound control. This season, however, Budaj clearly knows his role and has embraced what he means to this team. The fact he was re-signed after playing so little last year says a lot for his influence in the locker room and on the bench.
Because of his happy-go-lucky attitude, Budaj clearly fills the backup role on this team to perfection. He's the best kind of partner a goalie like Anderson could hope for. And with that comes plenty of comfort for Budaj. Because of this, he played a much more relaxed and composed butterfly style than what was seem in last year's camp.
Another visible difference in Budaj's game is that his pads (due to new sizing regulations) are probably a 1/4-inch to a 1/2-inch shorter than last year's. This is not a negative thing, for a goalie that wears slightly shorter pads will not only benefit from an increase in mobility, but they will feel a little lighter and execute just a little bit easier as well. Above you see a shot of Budaj's thigh rises and how there's a tiny bit of space, but combined with his confidence, his technique in areas like rebound control, butterfly slides and overall movement in the scrimmages was visibly better than last season.
JASON BACASHIHUA - Cold Hard Cash is back in an Avalanche uniform and better than ever. But I'll have a more in-depth article on him, including an interview with his goalie coach over the summer and some videos, next week. Briefly, he's more calm, patient and mobile than last season and a lot of that comes from his improved footwork. He also has one of the most underrated gloves in the AHL.
CLOSING THOUGHTS - Ultimately, I was very impressed by the improvement of the three youngest goalies in camp and the performance of the top four goalies in camp. Grahame struggled the most of the NHL and AHL goalies, but I don't think it's worth explaining the reasons why. He's simply here to provide stability behind Bacashihua. It's fun to see him try and stop the puck using the traditional butterfly style that dominated the game in the late-90's, but other than that, he's not a very capable goalie.
Unfortunately, the overall development of Avalanche goaltending as a whole was somewhat impacted by a lack of goalie-specific training on the ice with McLean. He was on the bench for a few scrimmages and then on the drills side of the ice today, but I didn't see anything more than some conversation with the goalies at different points over the weekend. I only have one set of eyes, so if you saw something I didn't, please leave a comment below.
A goalie coach is extremely crucial to a prospect's success in a pro training camp. Without the micro-analysis, the verbal feedback and the positive reinforcement from McLean on the ice over the last five days, Pickard and Maxwell clearly struggled to keep up. But again, it was not a reflection of a lack of skill or long-term upside. The Avalanche failed to take advantage of a great opportunity to really enhance Pickard's first camp experience and Maxwell's second. And for myself, that was a little disappointing.
I’ve also opened up a new Fantasy Mailbag so that I can keep helping you dominate your draft in the goalie department!