With some development camps shifting from mid-summer to one month before the NHL season, teams have elected to get creative with how they do things. The Maple Leafs have decided to make camp, which is headed by Senior Director of Player Development, Hayley Wickenheiser, more about competitiveness rather than learning.
“What we opted to do rather than do a lot of teaching, we only have three practices and two scrimmages, so we’ve opted to create a competitive environment versus a teaching environment.” Said Wickenheisier.
There are plenty of ways to view this decision. In some instances, it makes sense to go more into the development of players. When you’re able to have more time with them, it allows you to slow everything down and make it more about learning. However, with the short amount of time the Maple Leafs have, it makes sense to change things up this year.
“What we’ve done is we’ve introduced concepts into gamified drills,” said Wickenheiser, “we want to see how players can think the game, how their compete level is, what type of character they can demonstrate under difficult circumstances, and then their skill ultimately.”
Electing to make the development camp more about competitiveness allows the Maple Leafs to see what they have in their players. One of the things they can look at is how fast these players can adapt to new situations. Take a player like Jeremy McKenna for instance, who arrived in Calgary, quarantined for 14 days, and then played his first AHL game on the day his quarantine finished.
Observing how quickly prospects react and adapt to new situations reveals what type of player they can be. When you have that knowledge, it makes it easier for staff to know when prospects could be ready for the next step of their development.
Another ripple from this camp is that with it being so late, it allows players to be more prepared heading into their next season, wherever that may be. One of those players is Nick Robertson, who will likely compete for a roster spot on the Maple Leafs this year.
“I’m trying to use it as much as possible as an advantage going into the rookie tournament. It’s kind of a conditioning camp for myself,” Robertson said.
I wonder if teams will look to change their development camp dates from June, to now closer towards the next season to allow players to be more prepared going to their perspective clubs. There’s some sense to that, however, teams will likely look at what they think is best. Whichever way teams arrange it, I do believe bringing a more competitive aspect could benefit players a fair bit.
Although there’s already a sense of competitiveness, with scrimmages, I believe it will help the players a lot if there are more high-compete aspects. The most important part, though, is finding the right balance between not being too competitive, and not being too much about development.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a great development staff, especially with Wickenheiser leading the way. Since the camp is compact, the rookie tournament will be an interesting way to compare organizational talent, but also the way each team used their time in the last few days.
We’ll also be able to see what effects this camp had during the season with a few players hoping for spots with the Toronto Marlies. It’ll be exciting to see in the coming days which players stand out, and who might need a bit more work.