Tom Willander’s speed shines on day one of Canucks prospect development camp

Photo credit:Chris Faber
By Faber
1 year ago
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The Vancouver Canucks kicked off day one of their development camp on Sunday morning and though it was mostly battle or skating drills, we saw some things to take away from day one of on-ice workouts.
With about a dozen coaches on the ice, there was plenty of time for players to learn with the likes of Yogi Svejkovsky, Daniel Sedin, Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Sedin, Jeremy Colliton, Johan Hedberg, and many more.
Day one is more about the players just getting their feet under them as many of these youngsters haven’t been on the ice in weeks and some of them had to travel from around the world.
The day was split into three different sections of play. Things kicked off with the defencemen skating in the morning and then they were joined by the forwards for a combined skate that didn’t leave much room on the ice as there were about 60 bodies skating around at times. The day finished with the forwards getting the ice to themselves and then we did some interviews with the players — which began as I was adding to the extremely expensive parking meter out at UBC. (Hit me up in the comments with some cheaper options if you know any!)
During a skate like today’s, there aren’t a ton of things to dive deep into but one of the skills that I look for in these development camp situations is how a player handles and makes passes. There’s a certain look to how an NHL-calibre player receives a pass. They have to have soft hands to almost absorb the puck and if they don’t have those soft hands, you will see pucks bounce off their blade or just not be controlled correctly.
A few players stuck out in a positive way on Sunday.
Josh Bloom, Lucas Forsell, Max Sasson, Dmitry Zlodeyev, Christian Fitzgerald, Jacob Truscott, and Tom Willander were the seven players that I noted during the skate. All seven of these kids seemed to have better control in terms of receiving passes and not having to break stride to corral the puck.
Sasson looked a step above the rest of the forwards when it came to handling the puck and making accurate passes. The 22-year-old centre seems like he will be a lock in Abbotsford’s top-six to begin the season and if he can continue to round out his penalty killing, he has enough smarts at five-on-five as well as scoring ability to make us believe there’s some NHL potential there. He showed well on day one when it came to his presence with the puck near him. There was a short-ice three-on-three scrimmage in the second session and Sasson looked like he was in control the whole time while many of the other prospects looks like they were just trying to stay afloat amongst the madness.
Bloom and Forsell moved extremely well during the opening skate. They were quick in the corners and you often saw them breaking away from the defending party during battle drills in the corner. This gave them an opportunity for a lot of in-close attempts on the goalies but struggled to fine the back of the net as many prospects did on day one. The goalies certainly got the better of the shooters on day one.
One player who swung the pendulum in the opposite direction was Zlodeyev. The 21-year-old Russian centre was consistently beating goaltenders during drills, especially the ones that resulted in two-on-ones or partial breakaways. Zlodeyev was also our top-DAWG of the day. He was throwing the body around a lot and consistently knocking over bigger guys than him in the more physical drills. The kid came to work at development camp and he made his opposition work hard with him otherwise they were going to get knocked over by the 5’11” pitbull.
Zlodeyev has another year on his current KHL contract and could be an option for the Abbotsford Canucks in the 2024-25 season. Another fun tidbit on Zlodeyev is that back in Russia, his nickname is ‘Villain’. He certainly lived up to his nickname on day one as he was very physical during the skates.
In terms of the best-looking forward during the skates, we have to say that it was Christian Fitzgerald. This kid was probably the fastest forward during the initial skating tests. He was explosive during all of the drills and had an accurate shot that beat goalies during drills.
Fitzgerald has some decent size at 6’0″ and certainly didn’t look small compared to the rest of the crop. Fitzgerald is heading into his second season of NCAA hockey after coming back from a torn labrum this past year. He was dominant for Minnesota Mankato at the end of last year and is transferring to Wisconsin along with his head coach.
He may end up being one of the most sought-after NCAA free agents in the 2024 class. It’s nice to see the Canucks bringing in the Coquitlam-born kid. He was the best player on the ice today but again, it wasn’t a huge sample size for us to break down.
On the backend, Jacob Truscott looks the sturdiest in terms of defending. He was calm during drills and made good accurate passes throughout the day. He was very physical in the board battle drills and we had a one-on-one with him after the skate that I’ll write that article a bit later in the week. Truscott was named captain of Michigan last month and is trending towards going pro at the end of the 2023-24 season.
Tom Willander clearly is the best skating defenceman in the group. He moves around with such ease, he’s so cool and calm, he could have played with a cigarette in his mouth as Kevin Bieksa would say. Willander just seems to move a level above the rest of the group and he admitted that he felt a bit rusty and was getting used to all new equipment as well. It’s been a couple of weeks since he even touched the ice as he has been busy with the NHL draft combine, NHL draft and just a whole bunch of travelling that comes with those events.
Willander spoke about getting to work with the Sedins and also how much he already loves the city of Vancouver. Basically, he’s saying all the right things…
“Really nice guys,” said Willander when asked about the Sedins. “I haven’t met them [before today]. I know they’re great hockey players, but [they are] really nice guys. I can see that they have a passion for the sport for sure. That makes me happy.”
We will have to wait for David Quadrelli to show up to get a full review of the goalies, but I certainly thought that Nikita Tolopilo was the best of the bunch. He’s 6’6″ and moves extremely well for his size. There was a quickness to his movements that we just didn’t see from the other four goaltenders and when you combine that quickness with his size, you have to imagine that the Canucks’ goalie department is very happy to get this 23-year-old into the system.
Tolopilo played more games than any goalie in the Allsvenskan last season and held a 2.10 goals against average, as well as a 0.924% save percentage with four shutouts in 45 games.
It was too early to say that any of the prospects were struggling but we have some notes to share on a few of the top prospects.
  1. We didn’t see Jonathan Lekkerimäki get many attempts to release his potent shot.
  2. Elias Pettersson moved well and is looking BIG. He will be an impact player for Sweden at the World Junior Championships this December.
  3. Joni Jurmo is certainly up there with Willander as the fastest skating defenceman but Willander just has much better movement in terms of quickness. Jurmo can fly in a straight line though.
  4. Kirill Kurdyavtsev looks bigger than we thought. He’s not the tallest player but he may be the widest. The kid is built like a Mini Cooper.
  5. Aiden Celebrini certainly looks like a kid of a sports performance coach. Aiden was always the first to go in drills and spent a lot fo time talking with coaches and making sure everyone was in the right place for said drills.
  6. Akito Hirose looked poise and under control is all the drills. This kid is calm as a cucumber.
  7. Ty Mueller has some pretty damn good hands and went bar down multiple times throughout the day. The 20-year-old, 2023 fourth-round pick looked like he had some intriguing skills for sure. He’s returning to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for his third NCAA season next year.
Day two should see everyone’s game rise a bit as the players have now had a chance to shake off the cobwebs.
We will be in attendance and bring you another recap of the day.
See ya tomorrow!


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