A group of Blackhawks prospects are in London, Ontario, for the 2013 Rookie Tournament, where they will face off against players from the Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Toronto organizations.
By competing against players that are at the same level as the Blackhawks prospects, the tournament offers a chance to compare developmental systems while providing the opportunity to check the growth of the prospects in a balanced and competitive environment.
“This is a great opportunity for us to see each individual player and how their development has progressed over the summer,” said Mark Bernard, Director of Hockey Administration and General Manager of Minor League Affiliations. “We had some of these players at our Prospect Camp back in July and left that camp with new ideals and what they had to work on. We can see where they’ve progressed from there.”
The Rookie Tournament also allows prospects to do some team bonding with players that they could very well play with for a long time in the Blackhawks system.
“Some of these guys have been together in prospect camps or have played against each other, but this gives them an opportunity to be together as a team, as teammates,” said Bernard.
Instilling the expectations that come along with being a part of the Blackhawks organization is a top priority for the developmental coaching staff.
“We’re trying to make sure they realize—as we call it—the 'Blackhawks Way' of doing things,” said Bernard. “We want them to act and behave professionally at all times. The way we do things is very professional, whether we’re in Chicago or Rockford. We want the players to get used to that and get it ingrained in their system.”
So far, the players have heard the message loud and clear.
“It’s definitely a first-class organization,” said center Drew LeBlanc. “It’s a good group to be a part of. From the management all the way down, it's top notch. Just to be a part of such an elite program is something special and something we take seriously.”
For LeBlanc, a free-agent signing earlier this year, this tournament marks the first time he’s skated alongside prospects in the Blackhawks system. After finishing his collegiate career with St. Cloud State and earning the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the most outstanding player in NCAA hockey, LeBlanc is looking forward to settling in with his fellow prospects over the course of the tournament.
“When you come into a new group of guys, it’s just about trying to see what the team dynamic is, trying to see where I fit in and get comfortable with all the guys,” he said. “There are probably guys that you’re going to play with throughout your career, so it’s good to get to know them and build some friendships.”
The 24-year-old LeBlanc is one of the older players at the tournament, and Bernard sees this as a chance to learn more about him off the ice.
“We know what he can do on the ice,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for him to step up and show us what he can do as a leader.”
The same can be said for blueliner Dylan Olsen, who at age 22 has already logged 28 regular-season games in the NHL. The fourth-year pro says he’s looking to show the newer prospects the ropes over the next few days.
“I like to think that I know what it takes to be a pro hockey player,” said Olsen. “Most of these guys have played maybe one or two games in the NHL, and some guys haven’t played any. It’s up to me to be a leader and show them what it takes to be a pro hockey player. The dedication that it takes, what you have to do off the ice to take care of yourself, what you have to do before games to be prepared… These games are intense, at a higher speed, and you can’t afford to take days off.”
At the end of the day, there is one fundamental goal for the prospects spending the week in London: “It’s all about development,” said Bernard. “That’s why [Director of Player Development] Barry Smith is here today. He’s out on the ice, and he’ll be out on the ice with them all week.”
The Blackhawks prospects take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first game of the 2013 Rookie Tournament at Budweiser Gardens on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m.