By DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY —
Jim Nill was encouraged.
The Detroit Red Wings prospects finished their week-long development camp at Centre ICE on Thursday, and for Nill, the team’s assistant general manager, it gave him a chance to watch a number of players the Wings drafted less than three weeks ago.
“You can see the skill level and that is very encouraging,” he said during the camp’s final scrimmage. “They all came to camp, overall, in good shape. They still need to get stronger, but the base is there. We’ve been very happy.”
Defenseman Brendan Smith and forward Gustav Nyquist — two of the Wings top prospects — headlined the camp, but newcomers like Tomas Jurco, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet made quick impressions. Jurco, Sproul and Ouellet were all second-round picks in the June draft.
Jurco is a winger while Sproul and Ouellet are defensemen.
“Jurco has high-end skill,” Nill said. “He’s got good size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds). He’s a big, strong kid. He can make plays out of nothing, score goals out of nothing.”
“He’s a highlight (reel) type of player,” added Jiri Fischer, director of player development. “He’s got tremendous skill, good speed. Every game he does something that people love to watch.”
Jurco scored a nifty goal in Thursday’s scrimmage.
But it’s been a short off-season for the 18-year-old and that’s hindered his conditioning. He helped the Saint John Sea Dogs win the Memorial Cup in late May.
“It (camp) was kind of hard for me,” Jurco admitted. “I wasn’t working out a long time because we were playing in the Memorial Cup just over a month ago. Then, I had to have a month off to rest (after) a long season.
“So, for me, this was a hard week. But I think I did pretty well. I’m excited for next time.”
The lanky 6-3, 185-pound Sproul came on strong for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League last winter.
“He played very well here,” Nill said. “He’s a big rangy kid. He really had a great second half to the season (in 2010-11). He has a lot of upside to his game.”
Sproul shot up the draft charts with his late season play. He had no idea, though, he was on Detroit’s radar.
“I had no clue,” he said. “To be picked by Detroit was shocking and overwhelming. When I got down there and they gave me a hat and jersey I was pretty excited. I know what an organization this is, so it was pretty incredible.”
Ouelett is smaller at 6-foot, 174 pounds, but the Wings like his skating and puck moving ability.
“He’s a great skater,” Nill said. “He makes the easy pass. He makes the easy play. Job done. That’s how he plays.”
“He’s one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the Quebec league and he showed it here,” Fischer added.
Now it’s up to these prospects to continue to develop at the junior level — and work on getting stronger.
“I think this (camp) really opens their eyes,” Nill said. “They’ve always been told by their junior coaches or college coaches they have to do this, they’ve got to do that. This starts to affirm what those coaches said.”
“The higher up you go, the guys get bigger, stronger, faster,” he said. “And they know where to go every time.
“This is my first year here, so I’m just getting use to the speed and the size — and the smarts.”