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McCudden's creativity sparks skill growth

Jackets learn from coach's ingenuity in drills to sharpen their craft

by Alison Lukan AlisonL /

In the world of hockey, what do you do if you want to improve your shot? Or master the ability to deflect the puck? Or gain more skill with the puck? If you are a Blue Jacket player, you work with assistant coach, Kenny McCudden.

"He's been a great resource for us," Jack Johnson said. "Guys want to feel sharp with their skills and you don't always get to work on that during practice. Skills are the game within the game. If you don't feel like you're sharp at your craft and handling the puck, your confidence is low, so to have Kenny for that has been great."

McCudden joined the Jackets in 2015 after working as the skating and skills coach for the AHL Chicago Wolves for 16 years. The Chicago native also worked with numerous players at various camps and he provided individual instruction for NHL players who sought him out.

"He understands the personalities of an NHL player," John Tortorella said. "He's dealt with a lot of these guys for a number of years. They look to (McCudden) to talk to about certain things about their game. He's not as threatening in certain situations and they can look to him for help. He's a big part of our hockey club."

And many of the Jackets do.

McCudden makes himself available to all the players. He consistently checks with Tortorella about what time he can have access to the ice before a team practice, and once McCudden's out there, many players join him.

Sometimes it's players that are recovering from injury, sometimes it's players working their way back into the lineup, sometimes it's players who simply want to get better. Working with McCudden isn't just something that the Blue Jackets players enjoy because he helps improve their play, he does so with creativity and unquenchable enthusiasm.

"He's full of positive energy," Johnson said. "It's one of the things we always talk about and that we love about him. No matter what's going on, he's the most positive guy in the room."

McCudden brings some fun to the work at hand. He's known to have named drills after certain players. And every Jacket is quick to point out that they can't recall a single drill they've done twice.

"What he brings to the club, I like a lot," Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "(With McCudden), you work on a lot of skill work and a lot of small area things that you don't get to work on in practice. I like to work with him when I can."

Video: CAR@CBJ: Sedlak knocks bouncing puck in from knees

Access to a coach with McCudden's expertise is something that the players are very thankful for. Zach Werenski went to McCudden for more touches when he didn't feel like he was seeing the puck enough in games. Tortorella credits the assistant coach's work with Lukas Sedlak in helping the young center return from injury during the season.

"He always comes happy to practice," Bjorkstrand said. "He loves working with us guys, he always has drills for us and the way he approaches us is in a really good way. It makes me excited to work with him because he makes us feel like he really cares about us and wants us to get better in a different area in the game.

"Once and a while when you score a goal you go up to him and say, 'that was all you.'"

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