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Chayka on Prospect Camp: ‘Future is Bright’

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – Coyotes General Manager John Chayka is giving thumbs up to the annual Prospect Development Camp staged last week at Gila River Arena.

“This was a huge step forward for us,” Chayka said of the five-day camp. “We hope it gives us a competitive advantage moving forward. We see this year’s camp as a blueprint, but we’re already taking about little ways to improve things at next year’s camp.”

Objectives of the camp included introducing the recent draft picks to the team’s culture and gauging the progress of past participants. Making the group feel that Gila River Arena is their home away from home and a place they should strive to be on a full-time basis also was part of the plan.

2016 Prospect Development Camp. Photo by Norm Hall.

“We wanted them to dress in the Coyotes locker room and train in the Coyotes gym and watch video in the same manner that our NHL players watch and break down video in our theatre room,” Chayka said. “Those are things we wanted them to get a taste of and get a sense of what it’s really like to be in the NHL. A lot of these players are close to being in the NHL and some are extremely close. Hopefully, when they come back for main camp (in September) they have a comfort level here that can help propel them to make the team because we want them to make the team.”

Chayka said he liked what he saw from all the participants, but the second- and third-year campers impressed him most.

“Those guys really stepped up into leadership roles, on and off the ice, and took the first-year guys under their wing,” Chayka said. “That was special to see.”

Newcomers Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun did not disappoint.

2016 Prospect Development Camp. Photo by Norm Hall.

“You watch the practices and you notice him, but when the puck drops it’s a whole other level,” Chayka said of Keller, whom Arizona drafted seventh overall last month. “He’s a fun player to watch.”

Regarding Chychrun, whom Arizona drafted 16th overall, Chayka said: “He impresses me with his blend of size and skill and playmaking. He kind of separated himself on the back end among the defensemen.”

The camp ended Friday night with a scrimmage played in front of 3,500 spectators.

“I thought it was a great environment,” Chayka said. “Sure it’s the middle of the summer, but the players got a chance to show us some of the stuff they’ve been working on all season to date. You could see the players had fun with it and enjoyed it, and the fan support was amazing. It was a good event for everyone. I think our skill level really shone through. It’s a pretty special group of talented, young players trying to make an impression. That’s what stood out to me. In my opinion, the organization has never had this level of talent before at this level, so the future is certainly bright.”

Nick Merkley, whom Arizona drafted 30th overall last year, attended the camp but did not participate in the on-ice practices nor the scrimmage because he’s still recovering from a knee injury. He did skate alone.

John Chayka. Photo by Norm Hall.

“He’s doing everything possible to improve and working with our medical and training staffs to get back,” Chayka said. “It was good to see him back on the ice. He’s a really good player and we still think very highly of him, of course. He’s progressing very well. His injury is not going to be an issue in the future.”

In addition to the scrimmage and the on-ice practices, the camp also featured a trip to Chase Field to watch an Arizona Diamondbacks game, visits with patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and discussions on nutrition, finances and social media.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” Chychrun said. “I think they did a great job of getting us out – to the baseball game, to the hospital. It was all fun… It’s good to be here and kind of get a feel for the facilities they use every day and what it’s like to live here for a week.”

Dylan Strome, attending his second camp, agreed.

“It was good,” Strome said. “We got to do some different things this year that we didn’t get to do last year like the hospital visit and the scrimmage. They’re building this camp each year, and that’s what the Coyotes are doing – building each year and getting better. That’s what this organization is trending toward and that’s what we want to do.”

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