The Blue Jackets philosophy for growing its team is rooted in drafting the right players and developing from within. A key piece to executing that strategy lives in Cleveland with the Cleveland Monsters AHL team and head coach, John Madden.
"It's one of the most important jobs in the organization," John Tortorella said. "That American League job as a coach and a trainer, as an organization (the job is) to have people ready. We're thrilled about the proximity and how it's gone along there."
Madden is in his first year as head coach of the Monsters. He joins the club having won three Stanley Cup Championships and a Frank J. Selke Trophy during a 13-year NHL career and with three years of experience as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Madden also played 149 games in the AHL in his career, and he takes the responsibility of developing the players he has into NHL-caliber athletes very seriously.
"The way we do it is we focus on fundamentals and the systems but we also want the players to think," Madden said. "What I mean by 'think' is I don't want them to be robots I want them to make real hockey decisions. We talk about game management, puck management. Things that, if they get called up, you can't do in the NHL."
Madden and his coaching staff keep their systems as aligned as they can with the way the Jackets are playing in Columbus. And Madden is in constant communication with Jackets' assistant general manager and Monsters' GM Bill Zito to align the way the Monsters work to develop players in the AHL.
Video: John Madden chats with Bob McElligott about new job
"We focus on things that fit with where we project a player to be and put them in those roles to have success," Madden said. "Whether they will have success here in the AHL or move on and have success (at the NHL level), we think about how they fit into our organization a year or two down the road and that's how we coach them."
The approach appears to be working. As any NHL season will test an organization's depth, the Jackets have looked to Cleveland throughout the year. Players including Markus Hannikainen, Oliver Bjorkstrand and most recently T.J. Tynan have joined the Jackets on ice and fit in well.
And while players moving in and out of the lineup can be a challenge for Madden, or any AHL coach, the message that the NHL is always a possibility for his players helps provide additional incentive when Madden is working with his team.
"The success of the Monsters last year and the number of players from that team now with the Jackets makes it easy to have new players come in," Madden said. "We can say 'hey, from the team last year there's 6-7 guys playing the National Hockey League' and that's the leverage you have. It's pretty easy to get motivated and get playing and the one thing I always say to them is 'it can happen quicker than you think, and when your opportunity comes you want to make sure you're prepared."
With 16 games left to play in the regular season, the Monsters currently sit at 27-26-3-4 and sixth in the Central Division. While the focus is intensifying on working to get into the post-season, Madden is enthusiastic about the season as a whole.
"Every guy who has been here has been great to work with they all want to learn," Madden said. "They work hard every day. That was a really big thing for me. I feel privileged to coach guys that want to come and work every day and learn and that's been a real positive for me. "