NHL rookie tournaments are most often about a player making an impression on team, but in a lot of cases the reverse is true.
At Boston Bruins rookie tournament and camp last week, 18-year-old Red Deer Rebels defenceman Ethan Sakowich was happy to just soak it all in. The defender was not picked at the 2017 NHL Draft, yet was rubbing shoulders on the weekend with several guys who could make a push towards the show next season.
“The older guys, they knew how to prepare everyday, whether it was practice, a workout or a game. They really took care of their bodies. They made sure they were prepared for every situation,” Sakowich said.
One such player was Charlie McAvoy, 19, an American blueliner who had a profound impact on Sakowich. McAvoy as an 18-year-old was an anchor on the back end for a depleted Bruins team in the first round of the NHL playoffs last season.
“He stood out the most. Played a big role in the playoffs last year for them. He was just in another league when he was there and I look up to him,” Sakowich said.
Sakowich added that on the whole, players at the rookie tournament taught him about how to take the next step and the biggest difference at the next level is speed.
“I got my eyes opened a little bit the first day but everyday I got a little bit better and got used to the tempo and the speed,” he said.
“We were playing just a short, small area game and there was just no time at all to do anything.”
Back with the Rebels for his second full season, the 18-year-old wants to be a steadying presence for a young core of d-men and bring a calmness to the game that he’s been working to improve since camp started.
He’ll be expected to play big minutes this season with Colton Bobyk moving on and Jared Freadrich finding a new home, but Sakowich is eager for the challenge.
“Hope to be a shutdown defenceman again. We have a really good d-core and I’m looking forward to seeing how we do here. I just hope I can shutdown the opposing team, play simple and do my job,” he said.
Up front forward Kristian Reichel will be expected to do some filling in of his own.
Reichel spent last weekend with the Winnipeg Jets in Penticton and knows there will be expectations to produce as one of the Rebels top forwards this year.
“I’m okay with that role, it’s no problem for me,” Reichel said.
A 19-year-old import, Reichel said his invite to Jets camp, also his first NHL experience was a dream come true.
“Everything was new, even smelt like NHL. It was a pretty nice experience,” he said.
He added skill wise, there was a lot to pick up in just a short period of time.
“Shooting, stability and physical play,” Reichel explained about a few lessons from rookie camp.
“Every guy on the team was stronger and they played hard hockey. Shoot the puck and go to the net.”
The Rebels will take on the Medicine Hat Tigers for their final preseason game on Saturday at the Centrium with puck drop set for 7 p.m.