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Strength coach has plan for each prospect

Saturday, 07.11.2009 / 2:56 PM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

"I used to have to call the prospects and ask them if they wanted to come to St. Louis so that we could show them how they could fast track their development into being an NHL player.  Now they are calling me to find out when they can come and how long they can stay. We've had upwards of 16 players come to town to work on their physical makeup -- six or seven have been here since late May."
-- Nelson Ayotte

Blues strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte talked about the then-and-now evolution in St. Louis' prospects.

"I used to have to call the prospects and ask them if they wanted to come to St. Louis so that we could show them how they could fast track their development into being an NHL player," Ayotte said. "Now they are calling me to find out when they can come and how long they can stay. We've had upwards of 16 players come to town to work on their physical makeup -- six or seven have been here since late May.

"Most of these kids spend their own money to come to work out. It's a huge but important commitment and investment in their future. But you can't buy the confidence and camaraderie they get from pushing one another."

Ayotte likes to say that lifting and training is a science. And for each of these prospects, there's a right way for the journey they have as aspiring, young hockey players.

Said Ayotte, "For every Ian Cole or Erik Johnson, who were physically imposing before they were drafted, there's a T.J. Oshie, David Backes or David Perron who had never really worked hard in the weight room on the specific set of muscles they needed to improve their skills and give them the best chance to make them more confident in themselves and better on the ice."

Oshie is just one of five players that Ayotte singles out for radically changing his physical look.

"David Backes is probably the most dramatic," Ayotte said, laughing. "He was a scrawny kid. But you could see he was smart and dedicated. He went to one skating camp after another to improve his power and, in the meantime, worked with us to get stronger and stronger.

"Yet it doesn't stop at him getting a career-high 31 goals last season. He checked in the other day and he was 12 percent quicker and faster in his testing."

Perron was passed over in his draft year, then snatched up by the Blues a year later. He went the extra mile in his commitment, coming to St. Louis and learning every day about training and eating while living with Ayotte and his family.

"There's a commitment to becoming a pro, becoming a player -- and David welcomed the opportunity," Ayotte said.

Backes, Perron and Oshie are the current Blues players who are stark reminders of the work you have to do to make it to the NHL. Ayotte also puts Alex Pietrangelo and Philip McRae -- first- and second-round picks a year ago -- into that mix of magical makeovers.

Take it from Johnson, first pick in the 2006 Draft, about how the growth process never stops.

"The biggest thing about the evolution from draft day to the NHL is that even after you make it to the NHL you can never be satisfied," Johnson said. "There's always another level you can take your game to. Never a day goes by that you can't be better."

Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares