Anaheim Ducks Rookie Camp Puts Gulls In The SpotlightSep 16, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The familiar sounds of pucks crashing against the boards, sticks slapping the ice and coaches barking instructions flowed once again at Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena, the strongest sign hockey season is here.
For several young players with the Anaheim Ducks, the familiar sounds ushered in an annual passage on their professional journey – the organization’s Rookie Camp, held before the veterans join the fray next week. It’s a chance for the Ducks to see and evaluate their marquee prospects and those just drafted a few months ago.
Prospects like Benoit-Olivier Groulx – a veteran of these annual preseason camps – it’s an opportunity to show leadership.
“I know what they expect of me,” he explained following today’s practice. “I'm one of the older guys here, so they expect me to lead on and off the ice. I think, since I have one of the most experience for NHL camps, I'll have to help out the younger guys who maybe feel less comfortable so that they can feel more comfortable out there.”
It's also a chance to make an impression. The center made his professional debut with the Gulls last season, finishing with 10-19=29 points in 42 games. Groulx ranked tied for third among American Hockey League rookies in assists, fifth in scoring and tied for fifth in plus/minus (+14). In addition, he co-led the league in shorthanded scoring (2-2=4) and co-set the Gulls rookie shorthanded goals record (2) with Bryce Kindopp.
The experience helped prepare him for a season where he hopes to push for a spot with the Anaheim Ducks.
“I just want to come here and show I improved a lot this summer,” Groulx said. “I had a really, really good offseason. A lot of power, a lot of speed (training). I really want to show that in the rookie tournament.”
The aforementioned rookie tournament is in Arizona this season, as the Ducks will join the Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights . Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard will lead the Ducks squad, giving the team’s new bench boss a chance to evaluate players who may wear his team’s sweater this season.
“(Assistant General Manager) Martin Madden has done a really good job of drafting young guys with potential,” Bouchard said following today’s practice. “You have to remember - the draft is not a perfect science. You draft a player at 17 or 18, and all of a sudden you're projecting a lot on someone 22 or 23. It's our job as a development group to work with them, but there's definitely attributes that I can see why a player was drafted.
“At the end of the day, there's no perfect player, even in the NHL, but it's our job to push them to be the best version of themselves. That's really what it is, over the years. We're not going to get it over the rookie tournament, but we can start building that relationship and growth a little bit. There's definitely talented players here.”
Bouchard’s goal during Rookie Camp is to help each of the players improve on their deficiencies, providing them with a blueprint to put them on the path to the National Hockey League.
“Although players have talent, they always have something to work on,” he explained. “The goal is to have solutions to make it to the NHL. Hockey is all about solution finding; it's all about finding solutions. You can have the best skill in the world, but if you're not capable of being comfortable on the ice at an NHL-level, those skills will go away in a heartbeat.”
One of those players is Alex Limoges, who is experiencing his first professional camp. The forward burst onto the scene with San Diego after completing his amateur career at Penn State, posting 11-10=21 points after joining the Gulls on a professional tryout on March 25, 2021. He finished second on the Gulls with a +13 rating, ranked fifth in goals (11) and tied for seventh in points. Additionally, Limoges co-led AHL rookies in points (11-10=21) and goals from Mar. 26 (AHL debut) to May 20 (AHL season end).
“You know, I think last year when I came in, everybody was playing,” Limoges said about his successful debut season. “It was in the middle of the season. Guys were in a rhythm, and it wasn't too hard for me to kind of see where I fit and join that rhythm.
“Now, at camp, it's a different mentality. Everybody's trying to make the Ducks. It's intense every day. Everyone wants to be there; there's a lot of people watching. I think that's one thing; every rep you need to be competitive. It's definitely a different mentality.”
After an offseason spent training on the East Coast, Limoges is excited to get back into competitive hockey.
“I'm excited,” he said when asked about the rookie tournament. “It's going to be a lot of fun. I've been trying to ask questions about what this experience is going to be like, but it's here. It started already. We're going to be there today, so I'll just enjoy the ride right now.”
While the results this weekend won’t count toward the standings, Bouchard stressed his staff preached a winning mentality.
“It's still a winning mindset on winning battles, winning foot races, winning everything,” he said. “That's what we push the players to do. Obviously, it's a team effort from top to bottom in the organization to have the five, six days where the player has a good experience and we get to see something we want to see. That's what we worked over the first two days. Two days is not a lot for a coach; we like to have hours and hours as you know. I feel like we still accomplished a lot. Let's see how they are tomorrow, but I can see in their eyes they're comfortable.”