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Prospects Exit Development Camp Prepared for Off-Season

by Matt McConnell / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE -- Last Thursday, the Coyotes wrapped up the 2015 edition of their Prospect Development Camp. Twenty-eight hopefuls took part in the four-day evaluation roundup that featured fitness testing, skating drills and off-ice activities including everything from video sessions to a seminar with a nutritionist.

Now that camp is over, what's next?

Photo by Norm Hall.

"We will send these guys back home with a plan and challenge them to work on their own development," Assistant General Manager Darcy Regier said. "The off-season is so critical to their development because once you get to the season, you're playing games and going through the process of really, mostly system practices. So there's a lot of focus of not only strength and conditioning, but also how (they) get better as hockey players."

Of the 28 players who participated, none of their journeys towards life in the NHL will take the same path. Some will be invited to Coyotes training camp in September. Many will head back to their junior teams. Others will be off to play college hockey in the NCAA.

But for a few hot days in July, all of them were afforded an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the eyes of the hockey management staff, hoping to leave a lasting impression for future consideration.

"They were able to compare themselves to their peers and get a feeling of what a true training camp is like," Coyotes Development Coach Steve Sullivan said. "Now they can go home and prepare and know what the expectations are.

Photo by Norm Hall.

"For a lot of them, especially the 2015 draft guys, it’s a whirlwind. A lot of things happened to them once their season ends. Most of them go to the NHL Combine and then the Draft. So most don't have time to rest and then get good training. This (camp) is their last obligation. Now they can go home and put the work in."

Personal preference often dictates the decisions made by many players in choosing a path for development. The Canadian Hockey League offers a "game-heavy" cadence with 72 games a season. The lifestyle is similar to the NHL in that teams play three or four games a week, but end up with a lighter practice schedule when travel is factored in.

"I think (the choice) really depends on what your expectations are," Sullivan added. "For a lot of kids, if they're going to be first-round draft picks, they might want to go right to junior and put in a couple of years with what I think is more of an NHL schedule and regimen. But if your that player that might need a little more working out time, or maybe you're a late bloomer, then maybe the college route is the way for you to go."

That’s because college hockey setup is vastly different. NCAA teams play about half as many games as their CHL counterparts, but end up practicing considerably more. Coyotes prospects Maxim Letunov (Boston University), Christian Fischer (Notre Dame) and Brendan Warren (Michigan) will all continue their development in the NCAA this fall.

Photo by Norm Hall.

Nor is it unusual for players to change their minds regarding their development path. After playing two seasons for the USA National Development Program, current Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy signed a letter of intent to play at Miami University. But he changed his mind and decided to play in the Ontario Hockey League for the Sarnia Sting for two seasons. It should be noted that once a player skates in the CHL, they forfeit their NCAA eligibility.

Consider the path of Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett. An undrafted player, he decided to attend the University of North Dakota as a 20-year-old from Moosomin, Saskatchewan.

"Every kid is different, and kids mature at different levels especially coming through their teenage years," Tippett said. "For me, I was a smaller guy and needed more years to develop and college was going to give me those years. Depending on the maturity level, depending on the level physically, college (hockey) can offer a great opportunity."

Even though their paths may be different, the goal remains the same.

Time to get to work.

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