When it comes to rosters for NHL training camps, there are names of players that are recognizable by contract or draft status. However, on every roster, there are names that even the most knowledgeable of fans might not recognize… those players are the camp invites.
“It’s all about finding that diamond in the rough, being able to find a guy that nobody else knows about,” said Blue Jackets Director of Hockey Operations and Player Personnel Don Boyd. “There are people out there, success stories that turn into real contributors to NHL teams. It’s very important to leave no stone unturned in trying to find somebody that can contribute.”
During training camp the club will be trying out amateur, as well as, professional players in an attempt to find those who can contribute to the organization now and in the future. While the experience level of the players may differ, the Blue Jackets use tryouts at all levels as a chance to build the organization.
“A lot of these players have been talked to by other teams, a lot of these players have been asked by other teams, and a lot of these players have been recruited by other teams to come to their training camp,” Boyd said. “So both the kids and the veterans have shots to contribute at some level in the organization, that’s why they’re here.”
For younger players the experience of competing under a tryout contract with the Blue Jackets has benefits beyond just the opportunity to make the team. They are given the experience of training with a professional organization as well as the opportunity to skate with elite talent. They are also given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential in front of scouts from many other teams and leagues.
“The younger guys are getting a taste of what it’s like to be a pro,” Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland said. “They’re talking to our coaches, they’re learning about nutrition, and they’re meeting their peer group.”
MacFarland said it’s important to teach the younger players how to make the life commitment needed to be a professional hockey player. Players in camp learn the importance of taking care of their body, eating the right things, getting a good amount of sleep and how to work out properly.
For the more experienced players competing under tryout contracts, training camp represents an opportunity to extend their careers. Many of the older players trying out at Blue Jackets camp are either player’s from overseas or unsigned free-agents trying to break into or stay in the NHL.
“The older players come in on a tryout basis because they feel there is a good fit,” Boyd said. “They view it as a good opportunity to extend their careers or play with certain people that would make it a good fit.”
MacFarland identified Jared Aulin as a player who viewed the Blue Jackets as a good fit to tryout for this fall.
Aulin, 27, is attempting to play professionally for the first time in three years. The center was released by the Springfield Falcons of the AHL following the 2006-2007 season after he suffered a series of shoulder injuries. Aulin decided to return to Calgary University where he still had one year of eligibility to play with the Dinos. Following the 2007-2008 college season, Aulin remained to study at Calgary where he picked up bartending to earn money. This season he decided to attempt a come back at the professional level.
“I was able to get my shoulder fixed and I decided to give hockey another try,” Aulin said. “I’m psyched to be here, it’s nice to get back and be around an elite atmosphere.”
For players like defenseman Doug Lynch a tryout contract represents a second chance to play North American hockey. Lynch, 26, had brief stint with the Edmonton Oilers in 2003-2004 but has since bounced around between the AHL and the ECHL until finally spending the last two seasons playing in Austria.
“I wanted to come back and try North America again,” Lynch said. “I’m hoping to play pretty well, show what I can do, be physical and hopefully, they’ll see something they like.”
Like the other veterans at camp, Lynch knows the importance of playing hard and getting exposure at every opportunity possible.
“In pro hockey someone is always watching you,” Lynch said. “I was over in Austria the last couple of years and there are scouts in every building and everywhere you play. Hockey is such a small world that if you make a good impression on some people they’ll give you a chance down the road.”