Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
Camp 2002 Preview
September 11, 2002
Players to Watch
Mario Lemieux: Many people will be watching him to see how he holds up through the rigors of a training camp. However, he is a player to watch simply because he is Mario Lemieux.
Alexei Kovalev: With Lemieux's health a question mark, Kovalev is the Penguins best player. Even if Lemieux is at 100%, Kovalev is still the Penguin with the best 1-on-1 moves, and training camp provides a great stage to show those off.
The Speedsters: I'm specifically talking about Alexandre Daigle and Konstantin Koltsov. Are they both as fast as advertised? Does Daigle still have the skills that made him a number one pick? More importantly, is the desire there and can he maintain it? Is Koltsov as fearless/reckless as he showed in his brief Olympic appearance? Is his shoulder back to 100%?
Kris Beech and Michal Sivek: Both have reportedly worked out pretty hard over the summer with the goal being to make the team out of camp. With Sivek returning to Europe to be with his mother, I'm not sure how good of a chance he has. However, with the way he plays, the size he has, and the team repeatedly insisting they keep the 23 best players, he has to be considered. I think Beech has a relatively good chance to make it. They thought highly enough to keep him up all of last year and I believe most of his poor second half can be attributed to him wearing down. He's taken steps to address that problem. I think he'll avoid the slumps that plagued Toby Petersen and Andrew Ference last year.
Matt Murley: This kid has good size and was a pretty good goal scorer for RPI, a program that has produced some solid NHL players in the past. After four years there, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the pro game. Along with Shane Endicott, he may be the best hope of breaking the Penguins poor history with second round picks.
Zenon Konopka: This 21 year old is in camp on a tryout basis after playing the last four years for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL. This past season, he led them in playoff goals (8), points (14), and penalty minutes (49) in 13 playoff games. He also led the league in face-off percentage during the regular season, winning 76% of his draws. On top of all that, he was the team captain last year and is reported to be as good of a guy as there is in the league, both on and off the ice. How he hasn't gotten a shot before now is beyond me. If he plays anywhere close to what I've read, I expect him to earn a two-way contract and work his way into becoming a go-to guy for the Wilkes-Barre squad.
Two other tryout invitees might not even make the AHL team, but if you go to a session watch out for Jacques Lariviere and Pierre Morvan. Both are big, banging-type wingers. Lariviere racked up a ton of penalty minutes last year. Morvan also racked up some minutes, but has better point totals, likely a result of playing in the QMJHL. Like Konopka, Morvan captained his team last year..
How will Lemieux's body hold up? With Martin Straka out for a large part of the season at best, the Pens' playoff hopes will be tied to the health of their core players. At the center of that core is Mario Lemieux. By all accounts, he is in excellent shape and feeling great. Keep in mind though, the hip injury that eventually forced him to shut it down last year stemmed from an injury that he suffered back in camp last year. That injury seemingly came out of nowhere. Hopefully those days are behind him, but no one should assume they are.
Who will be the fifth and sixth forwards? Assuming the Pens choose to build on the chemistry established last year, Lemieux and Aleksey Morozov will make up 1 scoring duo and Kovalev and Jan Hrdina will comprise another. With Straka injured, the Pens have two spots up for grabs on the scoring lines. Randy Robitaille showed some chemistry with Kovalev, but he's still a question mark in my mind. He's only had one good half of a season thus far in his career. Will Beech be able to parlay his hard work over the summer into a spot? Does Daigle have the desire to get there and stick? Will Milan Kraft finally begin to realize his potential, possibly moving to wing? Will Sivek, Murley or another young guy step up and surprise everyone? What about Alexander Selivanov and Vladimir Vujtek? Does either guy have anything left in the tank?
How will the latest NHL crackdown effect Rick Kehoe's system and how he builds his team? Does the desire to crack down on interference, combined with Kehoe's desire to play an up-tempo game mean the Pens will make use of four lines? If the crackdown lasts and forechecking does make a return, the forwards will be doing a lot more skating. I don't think you can successfully play that type of game with the fourth line only getting a minute or two a game. If they do plan to use four lines, does Kehoe opt for three lines of scorers and one set of checkers, or does Kehoe use two scoring lines and build a grinding/checking line around each of Wayne Primeau and Kent Manderville? They have plenty of candidates to fill the wings should they go with the latter: Dan Lacouture, Ville Niemenen, Shean Donovan, Eric Meloche, Tom Kostopolous, and Ian Moran, should he move back to forward. Koltsov certainly has the speed to be an effective forechecker, but he'll need to show he has the brains to make it work.
Who will make up the defense? After last year, I don't think there are any locks on the blueline. I would be very surprised if Josef Melichar, Michal Rozsival, and Jamie Pushor were not there opening night. However, Melichar and Rozsival could slump like Andrew Ference did, and Pushor could possibly get beaten out by a younger, hungrier guy. I don't think that will happen though, so that leaves three spots left. Marc Bergevin was basically signed to be the 7th defenseman, so I'm better that's what happens. That leaves the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots open for Rick Berry, Brooks Orpik, Andrew Ference, Hans Jonsson, Janne Laukkanen, Dick Tarnstrom, Ian Moran, and even Mike Wilson to fight over. If you believe the Pens will take the best guys, competition on the blueline figures to be fierce, not to mention very interesting.
Some Tips for Camp Fans
Dress warm. Every year I've been there, the rink has been kept very cold. Considering the benches are metal, it would also be a good idea to take a newspaper or cushion to sit on.
Get there early. A couple of times I've arrived 15-30 minutes into a session to find out they've run out of roster sheets. Unless you're only interested in watching the guys you already know, you'll want to get one of these.
If you are planning to take pictures, and you want some action shots, here's a tip I got a couple of years ago from a newspaper photographer: Sit at the top. The glass is marked up pretty bad. Add that to the lighting in the rink and you get a tough place to shoot hockey photos. Sitting at the top and zooming in allows you to take the glass out of the equation. Now, if you're looking to get some close-ups when the players are waiting in line for a drill, sitting closer shouldn't be a problem although I remember a couple of marks that could still get in your way.
Keep your eyes open. While most of the players stay on the lower level and exit out of the side by Jay's Restaurant, a few will wander upstairs from time to time. You might also bump into Mike Lange, Paul Steigerwald, or other members of the media or even the Pens front offices. I got a chance to talk to Tom McMillan once.
There is usually a half hour break between sessions while they resurface the ice. There is a refreshment stand just outside the rink and Jay's overlooks the rink. (Incidentally, Jay's has a pretty good Primanti's style steak sandwich.) If you want more choices though, Canonsburg is only a few minutes up the road. Make a left out of the parking lot and turn right at the stop sign at the end of Southpointe Boulevard. Follow that for a minute or two and you'll see a McDonald's and Wendy's on your right. There's also a Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC there. If you aren't looking for fast food, there's a Hoss's there as well. If you make a left at the light by Hoss's and drive over the hill, you'll find a Sheetz. They have al the normal convenience store food, plus a pretty good selection of MTO (made to order) sandwiches.
Back to Netwolf's Camp Report List