This year's development camp has been much different than last year for Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock. He spent most of the previous camp in the bleachers of the Dispatch Ice Haus, leaving the majority of the coaching to his assistants, Gary Agnew and Gord Murphy.
Using a variety of drills and situations, Hitchcock (on the ice this year) and his staff are putting the Blue Jackets’ young prospects through a crash course on the National Hockey League. The players are practicing 2-on-2 drills, 2-on-1 drills, power-play situations and how to defend odd-man rushes, as well.
"Every time you have these camps, you're looking at the future." - Blue Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock
He's not complaining about being back on the ice, either. Through two days of the 2008 Development Camp, Hitchcock likes what he sees from the future of the organization.
"It hasn't been very long since I've been on the ice (at the World Championships)," Hitchcock said. "I'd rather be hands-on (from an evaluation standpoint) than sit in the stands. Being on the ice is good, and now I have a feel for the players after the second day."
The first few days, he said, are the most important for many players who are trying to adapt to new surroundings.
"Every time you have these camps, you're looking at the future," Hitchcock said. "These are the names they're going to grow up with. You want to make them feel good, and feel good about being part of the Blue Jackets family."
Absent from last year's camp was 2007 1st-round pick (7th overall) Jakub Voracek. The right winger, who dominated the junior ranks with the Halifax Mooseheads last season, is drawing rave reviews from the coaches for his increasing ability and his size. Voracek has added over 20 pounds since training camp last September, and has looked very strong during the group's on-ice workouts.
Many expect the 18-year-old Voracek (pictured left) to earn a roster spot after training camp concludes, and his performance thus far in development camp hasn't hurt his cause. Hitchcock sees a young player who is becoming more rounded with each step.
"He's working out with players who are on the team, he's getting a real feel for their strength and their level," Hitchcock said. "Now, he's practicing against players his own age.
"We're hopeful that he looks like an elite player in this camp, and it looks he is after two days."
The biggest challenge for the coaches, Hitchcock said, is to help Voracek along so that the style and speed of the NHL game doesn't come as a surprise. The Czech Republic native got his introduction to the coaches last year, but some players, including 2008 draftees Cody Goloubef, Steven Delisle and others are in their first camp of any kind with the organization.
"To me, the orientation is: get to know the people you're going to play with in your career," Hitchcock said.
"The whole thing for us is: 'who can think'?" How competitive you are in small areas, and looking at your skill level. If you can't think, you can't play in the NHL."