Fresh off the chaos of the NHL Draft, where the 2023 class saw new paths laid out in front of them, the newest crop of rookie talents got their first taste of big-league life over the past week, as each of the 32 teams’ annual development camps got underway.
For some, like much-hyped talent Connor Bedard, the few days with new teammates and staff represented a chance to showcase the impact he’ll soon have on the franchise. For others, whether attending their first development camp or returning for the second or third go-round, it was a chance to stand out and earn a spot.
With the majority of the league’s 32 development camps wrapping over the weekend, here’s a look at the top stories from camps around the league.
Chicago takes novel off-ice approach for Bedard’s first camp
It was a particularly important development camp week for Chicago, as the club unveiled No. 1 pick Connor Bedard to fans for the first time. But those hoping to see the WHL standout flying around the ice in team gear were left awaiting that moment, as the club opted to keep their entire camp off-ice this time around.
Instead, all focus was placed on team-building activities, from cooking classes to boxing classes to stand-up comedy, Spikeball sessions and a ball-hockey clinic with the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago.
“It was just trying to get a different look, and utilize the time better, to give them opportunities to learn some things that maybe we wouldn’t have time for either in season or if we put them on the ice,” GM Kyle Davidson said of the off-ice approach to the camp. “Just different skills that are necessary if/when they become pro, different habits we’d like them to learn.”
The team also used the opportunity off the ice to educate their newest prospects, bringing in LGBTQ+ advocate and former pro Brock McGillis to speak to the players about creating a safe environment in the locker room.
“It’s important to us that we give our players the tools to understand what’s important to us, and how we want to treat people, how we want our players to handle the locker room,” Davidson said of bringing in McGillis. “So, bringing someone in like Brock, who has such a unique background and skill-set, and understanding of what true acceptance means in a locker room, how to develop safe spaces not only in the locker room but in arenas in general for people of that community, is really important for us.”
Fantilli reps his college team with Michigan goal at Blue Jackets camp
Third-overall pick Adam Fantilli was among the most hyped players in the 2023 Draft not named Bedard. And through the early goings of his time with his new club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 18-year-old is already impressing.
He turned heads firstly with his leadership on the ice, according to longtime Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline, with Fantilli directing players two or three years older than him before faceoffs during the team’s scrimmages.
But there was one less subtle moment that prompted cheers from the Jackets faithful in attendance, as the University of Michigan product paid homage to his college club when he snuck a Michigan goal past a fellow prospect during one of the scrimmages.
“I remember being a little kid in Toronto when guys came through there, and I’d want to stop and take a picture with them and watch them play,” Fantilli told Portzline. “I’m happy that I’m able to be that guy. “The warm welcome (in Columbus) has been amazing. I’m super excited to be back in the fall.”
Maple Leafs prospect Hirvonen concussed by open-ice hit during scrimmage
There were some nervous moments at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ camp over the weekend after prospect Roni Hirvonen was levelled by a rough open-ice hit during a scrimmage, the contact initiated by fellow camp invitee Nolan Dillingham.
The 21-year-old remained down on the ice for some time in clear discomfort, as team staff came out to attend to him. Maple Leafs assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser later confirmed that Hirovnen suffered a concussion on the play, but said she felt the hit was clean.
“He’s okay. He has a concussion, and he’ll need some time to recover. But he’s a very tough human, he’s a tough person,” Wickenheiser said of Hirvonen. “That was a very big hit. It was a clean hit, I think a good hit by Dillingham there. [It’s] tough — you know, every single player in your career, you’ll always, through your career, take a hit like that. I think it happens to everyone.
“You never want to see it in a game scenario like this, so I think we all just held our breath a little bit. And the fact that he was able to get up and get off the ice is a good sign. But I think he’ll be fine, with some time.”
Hirvonen was drafted in the second round, 59th overall by the Maple Leafs in 2020, and entered this year’s development camp as one of the club’s better prospects. The undrafted Dillingham was invited to camp after spending the past four seasons with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
Tertyshny honours late father, a former Flyers rookie, at Philly camp
The 2023 invite was especially meaningful for 23-year-old Alexander Tertyshny, who wasn’t drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers but was invited by his hometown team to take part in the camp.
It was a full-circle moment for the Philly native. Alexander’s father, Dimitri Tertyshny, once suited up for the Flyers as well, playing 62 games as a rookie for the team back in 1998-99, when he was 22 years old. The elder Tertyshny unfortunately never got the chance to build on that rookie year, as he was killed in a boating accident in July 1999. Now, the family and the club are reunited.
“It’s really special,” Alexander told NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman. “It means a lot to me and means a lot to my family and my mom. It’s definitely a week I’ll cherish and it’s definitely a week I’m looking to get a lot out of.”
Flyers president Keith Jones was a teammate of Tertyshny’s late father, and said there was no hesitation when it came to giving the American International College defenceman a spot at camp.
“We want to do things that provide happiness to people,” Jones told Kimelman. “We want it to be a really family-like atmosphere, and Alex is part of that family. A question was asked to me whether or not there was a place for him to be here and the answer was immediately yes.
“We want good feelings coming out of our building. And this is just a small example of doing the right thing.”
NHL Coaches Association diversifying camps across the league
The NHL Coaches Association’s Female Coaches Program was launched three years ago “to help support the development of female hockey coaches across all levels of the game,” and to diversify the pool of hockey coaches at the top level of the sport.
This year’s slate of development camps provided another step forward for the program, as 10 women shared their coaching expertise at camps across the league.
Former women’s hockey pro Allie LaCombe joined the Vancouver Canucks at camp. In Colorado, Kim Weiss (associate head coach of the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears) and Kelsey Cline (assistant coach at Ohio State University) joined the Avalanche’s camp. Chelsea Walkland (assistant coach at Colgate University), Sydney Baldwin (assistant coach at St. Catherine University) and Michelle Picard (assistant coach at Princeton University) all joined the Buffalo Sabres for camp.
Nadine Muzerall (head coach at Ohio State University) and Cara Morey (head coach at Princeton University) joined the Blue Jackets and Flyers’ camps, respectively. Katelyn Parker (assistant coach at the University of Connecticut) joined the Seattle Kraken’s camp, while Kori Cheverie (PWHPA and Team Canada assistant coach) joined the Pittsburgh Penguins’ camp.
Owen Brady getting his shot with Panthers after beating cancer
There may be no one at any camp across the league for whom taking the ice this week meant more than 20-year-old Whitby, Ont., defenceman Owen Brady.
It’s been a trying few years for Brady, a star prospect whose path in the game was derailed by a cancer diagnosis five years ago when he discovered a tumor in his left shin. After enduring a leg surgery, chemotherapy, and missing out on the chance to be drafted to the big leagues, Brady learned in June that he had made it through to the other side, and could resume his hockey career.
Now, he’s in Florida at camp, wearing No. 86, and chasing his dream once again.
“I’m 20. I’m obviously physically different. I’ve grown since it happened,” Brady told the Toronto Star’s Mark Zwolinski a month ago. “But emotionally, that’s where the growing really happens. Physically, you go for bike rides, you run, that sort of thing.
“But mentally… there’s times now where you can have fun, be human again.”
Spencer Knight granted provision to return to the ice at Florida camp
Netminder Spencer Knight already has 57 NHL games under his belt, spread over three seasons with the Florida Panthers. Already a star in the big leagues, he’s not the type of talent Panthers fans expected to see when their rookies took the ice for the team’s 2023 camp.
But when sessions began, there he was in the cage. For Knight, the moment represented an important step in his return to the game.
The 22-year-old has been away from his team since the latter months of the 2022-23 campaign, when it was announced in February he was stepping away from the Panthers to join the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. According to longtime Panthers beat writer George Richards, Knight asked the NHL if he could take part in the rookie camp as he exits the assistance program, giving him a chance to return to the ice before regular training camp begins.
Duke brothers, Makar’s brother looking to make their mark at camp
Few siblings are granted as wild a journey as the Duke brothers have had in the game. This week, that journey got another chapter as the pair of Strongsville, Ohio, products found themselves together at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s development camp.
The reunion follows a season that saw the pair face off on opposite sides of the Ohio State-Michigan college rivalry, with Dylan Duke suiting up as a winger for Michigan and Tyler Duke a defenceman for Ohio State. Dylan, the older of the two, was drafted by the Bolts in the fourth round in 2021, while his brother earned an invite off his blue-line performance this past season.
“It’s definitely really special,” Tyler told TampaBayLightning.com’s Chris Krenn. “Tampa obviously reached out, and there were a couple other teams I could have gone to, but I decided that this would be pretty special to come here and put on an NHL jersey with my brother. Not many kids get to do that, so I’m having a blast and it’s been a great time so far.”
“We’re definitely really close,” Dylan added. “We’ve done everything together since he was born. We’ve played on the same youth hockey teams growing up. We had a similar path to college hockey, going through the NTDP, and we were able to share that experience together for a year. We go hand in hand. We’re really close.
“The excitement level is through the roof. It’s a lot bigger than just me and him. It’s huge for our family and our grandparents to be able to go to just one game and one place every weekend. Our parents are super happy and proud of us. It’s just huge for our whole family.”
They’re far from the only pair of brothers with a chance at one day suiting up for a contender, though. On the other side of the league, the Avalanche have a unique sibling situation of their own, as Taylor Makar — younger brother of all-world talent Cale — took the ice for Avs camp.
The younger Makar was drafted in the seventh round by Colorado in 2021, and has since gone on to carve out a key role at UMass-Amherst, leading the club in goals this past season. But the 22-year-old isn’t relying on his familiar name to earn a shot with the big club down the line. Rather, he’s focused on using the opportunity at camp to hone his game as he looks to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
“I’d obviously like to get stronger and sort of focus in more on a role. … I want those next steps,” Makar told the Denver Gazette’s Kyle Fredrickson. “To be seen more with that speed, working down low and just overall puck control. Stuff like that. I want to be a noticeable difference [from where] I was the year before.
“Taking those little baby steps, that’s how you get to the next level.”