TORONTO - Cody Ceci thought the NHL research and development camp would be an intimate, no-pressure gathering, designed to test new rules — not his mettle for the 2012 draft.
He thought it would be neat if someone such as Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke happen to drop by.
“Then I looked up in the stands the first day and all I could see were clipboards and guys with suits on,” laughed the Ottawa 67s defenceman.
Almost half the league’s GMs were at the MasterCard Centre, including Vancouver’s Mike Gillis, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman. Behind them were a small army of scouts and coaches such as Bruce Boudreau. The press box was filled, every major TV station was represented and Ceci’s competition was most of the projected North American first round draft class, plus Russians playing junior in Canada such as Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov.
These kids adhered to some of the strange rules of the camp, but hit with gusto and played three up tempo games in two days.
“I got the nerves out of the way and tried to stick to hockey,” said Ceci. “I didn’t study the GMs faces, but if I did know there were big guys here, it would have made me nervous. I did see Brian Burke up there (in his private balcony) and that got to me, but I just tried to play my game.”
Among the bird dogs on hand were Dave Morrison, director of amateur scoutng for the Leafs, who predicts the 2012 draft will be rich in defencemen such as Ceci.
“Ceci has a little bit of everything, including size, and there’s a guy such as Derrick Pouliot (Portland of the WHL) who might not be as big, but has the skill. Mathew Dumba (Red Deer) has a bit of everything as well. If this camp is any indication, it’s going to be a busy year for the scouts.
“Last year’s overall group was fairly deep and I think it’s going to happen again. Hopefully we’re (going to have a winning year) not be picking high and there are going to be players there for us later.”
The players were not only on the biggest stage of their young careers, they had to endure long shifts as the league examined restricted line changes. In one game, changes were only allowed on the fly, in another, icings and offsides meant tired players had to stay. But rather than put uninspired NHLers in the lineup in the middle of August, the league found willing participants. The lure of seeing the junior talent also brought the execs to Toronto.
“It’s great to see that they’re not only embracing the new rules here, they’re actually applying them,” Morrison said. “The gap between the best players and the weakest has narrowed. The kids just seem to get better every year, more well prepared.
“Some could be even better by June and some won’t be. There is always change between now and the draft. With some kids, the (team) circumstances aren’t always optimal for them, injury could play a role or other factors that have nothing to do with them.”