So it’s July, we’re less than a week from All Star Game mania in the Twin Cities, the Twitter is ablaze with people brutally mocking a poverty stricken country for their merciless defeat at the hands of the country with Europe’s largest economy (which is disgusting [LOL just kidding! Better luck next year, Brazil!]), but the only important sporting event to me this week is hockey. What’s the best part of all of this? The center of my hockey world this week is Miami, Florida.
Possible Roster Losses
At the end of last season, there were bunch of Gophers with eligibility left that might have left the team for a paycheck from one professional league or another. The main reasons for concern about leaving eligibility on the table were sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox, sophomore defensemen Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei, freshman phenom Hudson Fasching, and Junior Captain (and presumed Senior Captain) Kyle Rau.
In case you missed it, a few days ago Brady Skjei announced he would return to school, and he was the last of last year’s underclassmen to do so (*note: I’m not sure we’ve heard anything official from Wilcox, but Tampa Bay has a glut of young talent in goal and everyone seems to believe he’s a lock to return). That means Rau is the only the player left from last year’s Big Ten champions and National Runners-up Golden Gophers hockey team. Look out world.
Rau has taken a mature approach to his offseason, stating early on that he didn’t want to make any rush decisions. Don’t take that to mean that he hasn’t been busy. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s spent a large portion of his summer preparing for this week’s Florida Panthers Prospect Development Camp.
Let’s Go Camping
If you follow college hockey twitter accounts, you know that every NHL team (pretty much) has their development camp this week, and college players from across the country are attending. It gives the teams some time to do some medical checks, test strength and skill, do some off-ice education, and teach their prospects about nutrition, and build some media buzz around young guys in the system.
For the players, camps provide exposure to NHL coaching and their future employers, and it provides an opportunity to turn some heads at the pro level; basically all of the team’s benefits but from the opposite perspective. There’s even a chance that a prospect could show up at camp using money borrowed from his parents and leave camp having signed an NHL entry level contract.
Rau entered camp on Monday with #1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad (for reference: Zach Morris’s hockey playing Canadian cousin), someone named Rocco Grimaldi, Michigan’s Michael Downing and Zach Hyman, and Minnesota-Duluth’s Joe Basaraba, along with a bunch of other really talented players from various Canadian Junior leagues and such.
So How’s He Doing?
It’s really hard to say how Rau’s camp is going, because I haven’t seen a second of footage from the camp. I do know that he has barely been mentioned by Miami’s traditional media establishment, which I take as a good sign for Gopher fans because that means the Panthers’ media team isn’t pushing him in front of reporters and photographers. What’s bad news for Gopher fans is this: he could impress the hell out of the organization and they could be pushing for him to sign a contract to avoid losing his draft rights, and we wouldn’t know a thing about it.
Fortunately, SBN readers, this blog network we love so much gives us fantastic access to people who can actually be at the places we cannot be due to having work to support our families. In this case, that person is Shane O’Donnell over at litterboxcats.com. He’s a good Polish kid, like myself, and he’s at the camp where we cannot be. Check out their development camp story stream to see all of his updates, and hell, follow him on Twitter (@), because if I’m going to steal his content, you should pay him with a follow.
Good to see Kyle Rau on, would like to see him signed— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 7, 2014
Stop it Shane, you're hurting me.
@Dark516Knight keeps him from being a free agent! Then we have another Corban Knight situation and lose him :(— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 8, 2014
Well that makes sense, but I don't like it.
@Dark516Knight he's smart. I like him. Thinks the drills more the some of the other guys, gets more stuff to go his way.— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 8, 2014
@Dark516Knight has good hands and a quick shot. Not too powerful, but he gets it off fast. Caught goalies off guard today— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 8, 2014
Rau is the biggest standout from group 1. Seems like bigger names were put in group 2 to give media guys more time to sleep.— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 8, 2014
Rau is a very agile skater, and he outthinks most every other player on the ice. His shot is crazy quick, and catches goalies off guard.— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) July 8, 2014
So what can we glean from this? Kyle Rau is being Kyle Rau. He’s impressing people with his puck skills and his positioning. When you think of Rau’s goals from last season, how many times was he in the right place at the right time with the hands to finish the play? Lots, that’s how many. We can also be sure he’s going to impress the coaches with his effort, as he’s consistently impressed us with hustle for three consecutive seasons.
What are the odds he signs with the Panthers and what are the odds he returns to the Gophers? I’ve been trying to educate myself in all aspects of his decision, but rest assured that my prediction is based solely on wild speculation and not on what the military calls "human intelligence."
I’d say there is a 20% chance that he signs with the Panthers this summer. There are two major factors, and they’re both similarly sized: Rocco Grimaldi and Kyle Rau. Grimaldi is listed as 5’6" and 160 lbs. Rau is listed as 5’8" and 173lbs. They’re both on the small side for NHL players, who have grown monstrous over the years. Here’s the difference, Grimaldi already burned the bridge between the Panthers and the university that shall not be named; Rau hasn’t committed either way.
The point is, the Panthers already have a very talented, yet undersized forward who’s left college. I’m not sure they can take another small forward this year, as Grimaldi has forced himself on them. I would guess that even if they like Rau better, they’ll let him come back to Minnesota for his senior year because Grimaldi is already under contract.
I can’t read Kyle Rau’s mind, but from his previous statements to media, I believe winning a national championship for this school is important to him. Had the Gophers defeated Union on that Saturday evening in May, I might feel a lot different about this situation. Fortunately for Gopher fans, the cards fell the right way, and while one man is currently undecided, I think they’re going to get the band back together.#rauwatch14 Tweets