Published August 08, 2011
| National Hockey League
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- In his two years as general manager of the Florida Panthers, Dale Tallon has accumulated draft picks and stockpiled talent, and a good portion of that talent was on full display Monday at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp here at the Olympic Center.
The games were different, but had one common feature -- one of Tallon's future Panthers scored the winning goal.
In the early game, Vincent Trocheck, a 2011 third-round pick (No. 64), beat Sweden goalie Jonas Gustafsson with 1:02 left in the extra session. In the second game Rocco Grimaldi, a 2011 second-round pick (No. 33), scored with 3:10 left in the second period to break a 3-3 tie.
"It's a real credit to our scouting staff in the sense that not only have they recognized these players as being good players, other people have recognized them as being good players," Panthers Director of Player Development Brian Skrudland told NHL.com. "We're feeling pretty excited about our future and about where we are today with these kids and where they are today."
The Panthers have four prospects at the camp -- Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Connor Brickley have been with the USA Blue team, while Grimaldi has skated with USA White. The 44 U.S. players have been on split squads since arriving Saturday, but that will change Tuesday morning when the roster is trimmed to about 24 or 25 players to make one team.
Whether all four Panthers prospects are on it remains to be seen. However, they've all made strong cases.
Bjugstad, the 19th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, was held off the score sheet the first three days of the camp, but he is the only one of the four -- and one of nine in all at the camp -- to have played on last year's World Junior Championship team, which won the bronze medal in Buffalo.
"Experience definitely helps," he told NHL.com. "Second-year players usually do better in this tournament. But I think I had a better first three days last year than this year. You never know. You've got to play like you're representing Team USA. You have to play your heart out."
Brickley and Grimaldi, who were among the final cuts from the December camp, and Trocheck, attending his first USA Hockey camp, said they're watching Bjugstad and following his lead in a lot of areas.
"I talked to Bjugstad about how tough the tournament was and he told me just stick to my game plan and play the type of role I'm here to play and hopefully there'll be a better turnout," Brickley, who also went scoreless but has been impressive on the penalty kill, told NHL.com. "Last year in the camp, I thought I was a little bit too overweight. This year I'm a little lighter and I feel a lot better on my feet. I feel faster. I'm still sticking to what's working for me and finishing my checks and being a high-energy forward. They really like when I play that role."
Grimaldi has been one of the offensive stars of the camp so far. In addition to his game-winning goal Monday, he had a goal and an assist in Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage, and his line with J.T. Miller and Shane McColgan has been among the brightest spots of the first three days of the camp.
"Grimaldi is getting a scoring chance every shift and scoring almost every third shift," said Skrudland. "He's opened up some eyes. He knows how to make himself noticeable. For his size (5-foot-6, 160 pounds), some people say that's a tough thing. Size doesn't matter with this guy. He's competitive. He's brought a skill level that is definitely needed in these types of games. And he's competitive as all heck."
"I've just got to do what makes me a good player and that's using my speed and battling in the corners and making my teammates around me better," Grimaldi told NHL.com. "Be a leader. That's what I've got to do. I've got to continue to get better. … If I can take one day at a time, continue to get better each day and continue to use my speed, I think I can make the team and be a difference."
Eventually, he and the other three players at this camp could make a difference in South Florida.
"Obviously you think about it a little bit, talk about it a little bit," Trocheck told NHL.com. "It would be a lot of fun. We're teammates here, and hopefully down the road we'll be teammates again in Florida."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK