The articles on prospect camp this year so far have focused on a few familiar faces for Wild fans. The story lines all contain quotes by Matt Dumba, Erik Haula or Zack Phillips. These guys have become familiar faces for fans, who have watched them grow over the years since they were drafted.
But development camp isn't just about the draft prospects. What about those guys listed on the roster as "invitees"? Do these guys, who have been undrafted, or not signed by the teams who drafted them, actually stand a chance to suit up for a NHL team or franchise?
In one of the best hockey Cinderella stories (at least for Wild fans), Jared Spurgeon was one of those "invitees". Originally drafted by the New York Islanders in 2008, Spurgeon was invited to the Wild's prospect camp in 2010. After impressing the coaching and scouting staff, Spurgeon signed a 2 way, entry level deal with the team which was suppose to have him most likely playing in Houston for the duration of his career.
Today, Spurgeon is a solid top 4 blue liner, and continuously shows how smart he is on the ice. Not many players would be able to overcome the massive size difference that Spurgeon faces every night on the ice, but Wild fans know how important his presence is on the ice to the team, and is has rapidly become a fan favorite.
But most invitees don't stand much of a chance signing a professional contract with an NHL organization. However, every once and a while a player comes along and makes you realize why the scouting staff invites non-drafted players to camp. This year, that player was Mike Boivin.
Boivin played the last four years at Colorado College, where he spent time playing alongside Wild organization players Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim and just missed playing with Minnesota's own Chad Rau by one season. The 6-1, 190lbs defenseman finished 4th in points for CC this past season and was the highest goal scoring defenseman in the WCHA last season.
He started turning heads on Tuesday during the closed practice. His drills were crisp and clean, and he was one of the fastest skaters on the ice. There were a few "Who is number 70? He's not bad" comments during practice from the spectators.
He continued to impress through the 3-3 scrimmages, and Giles even mentioned him in his day one wrap up
My favorite player of the day was the one I had never heard of until this afternoon. Defenseman Mike Boivin is a non roster invitee, but you would not think that with how he played. His skating ability was surprisingly good, he had great vision to create plays, and even flashed some brilliant stick handling abilities. He was able to fire off some good wrist shots, but they went high and wide (*cough* Clutterbuck). Watch Boivin if you are going tomorrow or Saturday
(Giles claims that he would have noticed Boivin even if I hadn't called to tell him who to watch closely).
Praise for Boivin shouldn't come as a surprise to die-hard college hockey fans however. A few months ago, NHL.com listed him as one of the top NCAA free agents. Western College Hockey Blog listed Boivin as one of the top 15 FAs in the CCHA/WCHA as well.
Yesterday was my first chance to see him on the ice scrimmaging, and he was every bit as impressive as he had been in practice earlier in the week. He scored Team Green's first goal, with a pretty sick shot that seemed to laser right past two Team White players, as well as goalie Johan Gustafsson.
Boivin also showed off his versatility as a player. He played a number of shifts on both defensive sides, and spent a lot of time being slotted as a forward. Towards the end of the game he was one of Haula's wingers, and not only didn't look out of place, but continuously showed to be an assist to Haula on the ice. Considering that Haula's name has been thrown out by the organization as one of the guys who could compete for the second line center position straight out of training camp, that speaks volumes about Boivin's abilities.
One of the things he will take away from camp is the power skating instruction. This was Boivin's first power skating experience, and something that he is planning to continue working on over the summer.
Power skating isn't a new phrase to seasoned Wild fans. In last season's "Becoming Wild" series, one of the prospect camp vignettes featured footage and discussion of some of the power skating drills. It is a skill set that constantly surprises prospects, but also one that all players who skate under Wild coach Mike Yeo must excel at.
I caught up with Boivin after Saturdays scrimmage and asked him about how camp went and what his plans for the summer are.
I just wanted to come and do as well as I could every time we were on the ice or in the gym and show what I brought to the table and show them that I was willing to work hard and have a good camp. Now that camp is done, I’m going back home and will continue my training. As far as when September time rolls around, I’m not too sure of my plans as of right now.
It's important to note that I am not saying Boivin is the next Spurgeon. But scouting extraordinaire Brent Flahr saw something in Boivin, and decided to give him the opportunity to show the organization what he could bring to the team.
There is no question that Boivin was head and shoulders above most of guys in this year's camp in terms of skills, speed and overall presentation on the ice. Hopefully the Wild organization agrees, and finds space for him in the future. They certainly could use another right-shot, offensive-defenseman.