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Development Camp All About Development

Really, that's the entire purpose

by Ryan Boulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--It seems silly and obvious to say, but the fact remains that Colorado Avalanche development camp is about… well, development.

Organizational prospects, new faces and even a handful of free agents are brought out to Colorado with the sole purpose of making them better, smarter athletes. There's on-ice instruction, video review, fitness sessions, nutrition lessons, meetings and even a trip to the Manitou Springs Incline. All of these things are about informing, educating, training and yep, developing these players.

"We try to hit on every single point, and hopefully they take the information and they put it to use and they go to work," Avs director of player development David Oliver said at the conclusion of the event. "That's what it's all about. We give them all of the information, and we can't hold their hand the whole way. The guys that really want to play in the NHL, they're going to take the information and they're going to do it."

It can seem like a lot for a player coming out of high school or junior leagues or even out of the professional ranks in Russia, like defenseman Andrei Mironov. The 22-year-old native from Moscow has spent the last four days learning everything, including English.

"It was a great experience. A lot of work, but a lot of interesting work as well. [I] never did that stuff in Russia, so it was really interesting to learn new stuff," Mironov said through his de facto translator and fellow countryman Denis Smirnov, a 2017 Avs draftee. "[I] tried to learn everything from each practice from each coach and then kind of put it all together and use it in [my] game."

That's the objective of a summer program such as this. The development staff wants to teach everything from power skating to edge work to efficient transitions to passing to nutrition, and on and on. They're building a blueprint for the future and establishing expectations now that will pay dividends later.

Video: Avs director of player development recaps camp

"Every year we try to hit everything that these kids need to kind of implement into their summer programming so that they can be ready for training camp and kind of prepare them for the journey ahead to the NHL," said Oliver. "Our staff, we sit down and we go through it and meticulously try to figure out what the best approach is. This year, we've got a lot of on-ice content. We split them up into very small groups so that the message would be heard loud and clear, and the kids have loved it.

"You get the forwards with me and [Brian] Willsie and the 'D' with [Brett Clark] and [Adam Foote]. And then on top of that, we have Tracy Tutton doing the skating. So the ice has become a huge component of what this camp is all about, and it seems to have taken off. These kids love it, so we'll probably continue to do a similar thing next year, with a few tweaks here or there."

While the impact may not be immediately noticeable to the casual observer, the players and coaches notice changes right away, and players like Swedish defensemen Anton Lindholm, who attended camp the past two years, have openly credited the work they've done in Colorado during the offseason as helping them make it into their first NHL games.

"Those are the bests conversations, texts, emails that you get; the appreciation that the kids show. Whether it's one thing, it could be the smallest little detail that helped them make the jump to the NHL," said Oliver. "I mean, four kids out of this camp last year ended up playing with the Avalanche. We're super proud of that, and we're hoping we can continue down that road, that our kids are going to keep pushing for spots in the National Hockey League. That is our priority. That's our No. 1 goal. I like this group of kids in here. They're skilled, they're fast and they work, and that's a pretty good combo."

To a person, each and every player identified at least one specific thing that they will be able to focus on while training for and playing in the coming season.

"Just the work ethic that's involved here. Every day you have to be a professional, and you kind of learn that early on at this camp. You just learn everything about that, working out, eating right and doing the right stuff on the ice, as well," rear guard Conor Timmins said of his takeaways. "Just probably nutritional stuff and working out. My core has to get a lot better and I think Casey [Bond], the strength coach, really helped me out with that. So I think I'll definitely try and put that into my daily routine."

 Video: Cale Makar reflects on Avs development camp

"Just building strength, overall body strength," said blueliner Nick Leivermann. "That's the main thing. Everyone at this level and college, because I'm obviously coming out of high school, is a little bit stronger than I am. So for the next two months or so before I head off, it's going to be strictly working out every day and building body strength and body muscle."

Said Cale Makar: "I had never done such complicated… power skating. I've done it before, but not to the extent of what Tracy [Tutton] was teaching out there. So I found that really cool and I kind of wanted to pick her brain a little bit and ask her a few questions, for sure."

Tutton's work has been hailed as perhaps the most eye-opening portion of development camp for the three years she's done it. Everyone learns something from her, and many players have gone on to work with her individually during the offseason. She has the ability to quickly show and correct bad habits and deficiencies, turning each player into a more efficient and effective skater.

"It's all about repetition. You know, a lot of these kids, when they go home they play summer hockey, shinny--that's what we call it up in Canada," Oliver said. "You end up doing stuff that you just don't do in games. Sometimes you fall into a rut where bad habits creep in. It's pretty hard to hide when Tracy has a camera out there and then she gets you dialed in and she goes through it slo-mo. You can see pretty quick, but these guys are so athletic. Like she gives them one or two or three things, and boom, boom, boom, they implement it and they go to work.  

"She does still-frame shots, and when we go at night and we go through everyone's still shots and how they skate in their video. It's incredible, like in one, two, three sessions, the difference she can make in these guys. It's been a lot of fun this week.

The opportunity to get some hands-on time with the newest members of the organization, guys like Nick Henry, Peter Kvaca, Makar, Timmins, Smirnov, Leivermann and Mironov, is an important part of their introduction to the franchise. They can be indoctrinated into the organizational philosophies, beliefs and paths of growth immediately.

Video: Conor Timmins reflects on his busy week

"It's nice to have the young kids coming in here. Logistically it was a little bit haywire this year, but I loved it," Oliver said. "I mean we were here 24 hours after the draft ended, and we had every kid in here. So it was different. The kids, it's an eye-opener for them. They're real nervous and quiet the first couple days, and then they get to meet each other. The older guys like Tyson Jost and [Nicolas] Meloche--it's been nice having [A.J. Greer] and [Ben Storm] around here--they have been through it as well. They help get them into the Avalanche mindset, which is 'We're going to work hard, we're going to skate hard, and we're going to do everything we can to make you a better hockey player.' It's nice to have that reinforcement from the guys that have been here." 

Players like Cam Morrison, who skates at the University of Notre Dame; Makar, who is headed to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and even future Fighting Irish defensemen Nate Clurman, who will head to the Tri-City Storm of the USHL next season, and Leivermann, who will play with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL for a year, get a chance to have some hands-on training while they are allowed. NCAA rules prohibit that kind of work during the year. 

"It's our only time. We get a week to get these kids to come in and get our hands on them and make sure that they understand what our expectation is," Oliver said. "Whether it's a year, two, three or four years down the road, they're going to understand how hard it is to play in the National Hockey League because of the work ethic that we try to implement here. 

"I had a closed door meeting with just our kids and my staff, and we walked through it. We walked through the expectations of training camp. Whether you're coming this year or not, you need to have the information. For some of them, the path is going to be shorter than others, but the reality is it's not that far away, whether it's a year or three years, and the preparation starts now. And we get to get our hands on them and have a little bit of fun that way, and they love it. I went to college. I get it. It's a totally different mindset when you get there. When you come into the pro room, it's a completely different atmosphere."

Now, they leave. After four grueling days of fitness testing, intense learning and some team building, the attendees disperse back to their hometowns, summer residences, training programs, gyms and families with a whole new toolset and the directive to put it to good use. 

Some will be back for the rookie and training camps in September, and the expectation is that they'll be ready to compete at that time.

Video: Nick Leivermann discusses Avs development camp

"The kids that are returning to main camp, rookie camp, they know what's ahead of them. They know the testing. There's going to be no surprises," said Oliver. "Coach [Jared] Bednar has laid it out there for them, so it's up to them."

For those players that aren't turning pro, the ones returning to junior teams and the USHL and their respective colleges, next year's camp will likely offer some of the same but also something new and refreshing. 

"We're always thinking. We're always talking after every session [about] what we can do better," Oliver said of taking notes for next summer. "We're no different than the kids. We're learning every single day on the job. It's learning different personalities, learning how to interact with different kids, and the content of the camp will always change a little bit because I don't want it to be monotonous every year.

"We may cycle back to something we've done three or four years ago when everyone's been through the program. We've done some really cool things over the last four or five years, and we'll bring those piece-by-piece back in, but the mainstay now, I think, is going to be the ice and the skating because they just love it. These kids, they want to work out there, and it's been a real fun group."

Leivermann, hardly done with his first camp experience, is already excited about what next year will offer him.

"It's been pretty crazy, but it's been full of fun events, and I'm glad to be here. So it's a pretty special week that you get to have every summer, and I'm excited to be back next year," he admitted. "Obviously, it's a little bit tougher than a normal week spent at home, but it's worth it. Skating every day and working out with guys like these, coaches and the trainers is something that not everyone can get. So it's pretty special to have it."

And don't worry about Mironov, despite having everything else to learn, he still found time to improve his knowledge of his new language.

When asked whether his English had progressed over the last week, he paused and then, without the need for a translation, replied,"Yes, of course," before breaking out into uproarious laughter.

See, development camp really is all about development.

Video: Andrei Mironov reflects on Avs development camp

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