Who stood out in Friday’s scrimmage?
TARRYTOWN — After a week spent around Adam Sýkora, the New York Rangers felt optimistic about their second-round selection in this year’s NHL Draft.
“How could you not like him?” said director of player development Jed Ortmeyer. “He has a smile on his face all the time. He’s just positive. He wants to work and he was just excited to be here. He has a lot of energy in the room, so it was fun getting to know him. and work with him this week.”
In reality, the blue shirts were so impressed with the 17-year-old Slovak that they didn’t let him leave the MSG training center without putting pen to paper.
After Friday’s prospect meeting, which marked the end of this summer’s development camp, Sýkora was quickly sidelined and offered a chance to sign his entry-level three-year contract.
“I didn’t expect this,” he said with a beaming smile. “I just tried to give my maximum in every shift, in every exercise. … Today will be very special for me.”
It happened after the energetic winger was the first player to score in the scrum.
The first half ended in a scoreless draw, with 20-year-old goalkeeper Dylan Garand holding up well under pressure from Sýkora and the rest of the Whites. But his goal – which came after he smashed the net in pursuit of a rebound that rang off the crossbar – opened the floodgates, sparking a 5-1 win over Team Blue.
“These were my goals that I scored the most last season or at the World Championships,” said Sýkora, who will either move to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL next season or return to Slovakia to play for HK Nitra. “I tried to score on some rebounds, some tips. … Stop in front of the net and get some conflict.”
The 5-foot-10, 172-pounder was one of the few to stand out from the fray.
It’s no surprise to see forwards Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann and defenseman Matthew Robertson perform well. They entered the camp considered the most advanced prospects and left with that perception virtually untouched.
Cuylle and Othmann each scored on Friday, with Cuylle serving as a threatening physical presence. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound was a bull going into the corners and in front of the net, where he sought tips and referrals.
Othmann is leaner and more skilled, but plays with effort from one end of the ice to the other. His backcheck on a Cuylle rush that prevented a first-half breakaway opportunity was a memorable highlight. And when the 2021 first-round pick gets the puck in the offensive zone with the slightest opening, he quickly gets his much-loved southpaw shot.
“They’re definitely taking that step forward and doing everything we asked them to do,” Ortmeyer said of Cuylle and Othmann. “They’re getting better, getting stronger, more mature. We’ll see how their game dictates where they end up in training camp.”
Robertson also had an impressive week. He made a few key defensive plays in the scrum, always appearing calm under duress, while moving fluidly for a 6-foot-4, 201-pounder and transitioning out of the D zone effectively.
But while this trio was bound to stand out, here are a few others that caught my eye on Friday.
Even though he was drafted in 2020, this was the former fifth-round pick’s first development camp.
It’s safe to say he impressed.
“Lots of energy, competition, he’s got talent – he’s kind of a water bug,” Ortmeyer said. “He’s getting ready for (Team USA’s) World Junior Camp here in a few weeks. He likes the big stage and he’s got a bit of a swagger, so it’s fun to watch him play.”
After a second season at Providence College in which he averaged more than a point per game, Berard was one of the most consistent offensive threats on the ice.
At just 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, he has an uncanny knack for navigating through high-danger areas. He was stopped by Garand on at least three quality scoring chances and set up teammates for a few others, including a couple while playing on Cuylle’s opposite wing.
Along with his skill and offensive instincts, the 19-year-old was a reliable forechecker, chasing the puck carrier deep in his own zone to disrupt and create turnovers. If he can continue to add strength and overcome concerns about his size, he looks like a future third-line playmaker.
The 2019 fourth-round pick is behind several NHL prospects and young players on the blue-line depth chart, making it difficult to determine his path to the Rangers. But there are definitely attributes to love about his game.
For starters, the 21-year-old has never come across a shot he doesn’t like. He looks for every opportunity to unleash his big right-handed slap shot.
“It’s a big part of my game, taking a good hard hit,” he said with a big smile. “I think a lot of young guys have a misconception of trying to make the pretty pass and all that kind of stuff, but just getting pucks on the net. That’s the most important thing.”
He also skates well for a 6-foot-3 defender and uses that trait to aggressively jump in a rush when he sees an opening. That led to a goal on Friday that gave the white team a 4-0 lead.
Skinner said he added 20 pounds of muscle over the past year to increase over 200 pounds and expects to take on a bigger role in the AHL after scoring 13 points (four goals and nine assists) in 49 games with Hartford last season.
If we pick an MVP for the scrimmage – and the week, for that matter – it has to be Bobby T.
That “internal engine” ran from start to finish, with the 23-year-old winger appearing to be the most dynamic player on the ice Friday. There was no official shot total, but he netted at least five in the scrum and had a good battle with Garand. The goalie stole it a few times, but Trivigno eventually broke through with a wrist shot from the slot that gave the White team a 2-0 lead.
That wasn’t just the point, however. The 5-foot-8, 161-pound player protects the puck incredibly well for his size and was able to generate scoring opportunities off the run with defensemen draped over him. A scout called it “slippery”.
His speed is an asset and he uses it to carry the puck into the offensive zone when he has it and harass his opponents when he doesn’t. He’s also not afraid to throw his body, as he showed when chasing 6-foot-7 Adam Edström for a hit on his first-ever shift.
“He’s got a big heart,” Ortmeyer said. “He plays hard, he’s competitive and we’re really excited to have him in our squad. We’ll see how he does. He got a taste of professional hockey at the end of the season last year, so he knows what it takes. He’s going to have a big summer and be ready for training camp.”
It was a difficult end for Garand, who unexpectedly returned following an injury to Olof Lindbom. But he was excellent in throwing a shutout in the first half. He handled nearly every clean shot, especially on glove side shots, and always seemed to be in good position.
All three goals against Garand came after Lindbom’s exit. Bérard’s shoulder appeared to hit the 2018 second-round pick in the chest after a close range save, causing him to suffer and not return.
“Prevention is better than cure in July,” said Ortmeyer, who did not elaborate on the injury. “I think he should be fine.”
It was a particularly tough game, with prospects eager to make their mark as team president Chris Drury, the management team and several scouts and coaches looked on. Cuylle, Jayden Grubbe, Victor Mancini and Matt Rempe were among the most physical players on the ice.
“We wanted to see some competition,” Ortmeyer said. “We wanted the guys to compete and fight for jobs and leave a good taste in management’s mouth and get us excited about September for training camp.”
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Learn more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.