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Rookie camp, the pipeline, and the art of developing the future

Insight from Assistant General Manager Steve Sullivan as 2019 Rookie Camp begins

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Gila River Arena's hockey pulse was activated on Thursday with the first on-ice session of rookie camp commencing shortly after 1:00 p.m.

Call it the unofficial start to the 2019-20 season.

All included on the Coyotes' rookie roster, 27 players total, consisting of 15 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders, joined the team's development coaching staff of Mark Bell, Alex Henry, and Zac Bierk, along with the Tucson Roadrunners' coaching staff of Jay Varady, John Slaney, and Steve Potvin.

Overseeing the art of the development process and a major influencer in constructing the organization's prospect pipeline is Coyotes Assistant General Manager and Roadrunners General Manager Steve Sullivan, who provided insight on the main focus the camp.

"This is a measuring stick to see where our guys are at, and with the tournament this weekend, it's to see where they're at versus a lot of the other teams' prospects in our division, so it's great to see for a measuring stick that way, but also for us to see how much our players have developed in comparison to the year before."

One more practice will be held at Gila River Arena on Friday morning before the roster travels to California for the 2019 Anaheim Rookie Faceoff, where they'll play in three exhibition contests against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, and the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

The rookie roster consists of three first-round draft choices in Victor Soderstrom (2019), Barrett Hayton (2018), and Nick Merkley (2015), along with seven names that dressed in the American Hockey League with the Roadrunners last season. There are also three free agent signings and six players attending on invite.

A wide variety of background and trajectory makes up the rookie roster as a whole; it's not only the first step in putting the organizational puzzle together for the coming season, but one of the most difficult ones.

"There are a lot of variations to it," Sullivan said when asked of what he and his staff look to identify during camp. "There are guys here in rookie camp that are going to be fighting for an NHL spot; some guys will be fighting for call-up positions, some guys will be fighting for as many exhibition games as possible in main camp, some guys will be fighting for contracts, and some guys are just fighting to come to main camp, so there are a lot of things on the line."

19 of the 27 players on the roster attended development camp in June, but there is a different tempo to the approach taken from those skating, those coaching, and those analyzing during rookie camp.

"In development camp we're clear with the players in that they're not being judged or analyzed, it's not an evaluation," Sullivan said. "This is where we flip the switch a little bit, and it is an evaluation now. We want to evaluate where everybody's at in their development path, and where they fit right now for our organization this upcoming year."

There are no boundaries to where impressions are made; development is also gauged by growth off of the ice, which more often than not, translates to how a player evolves on it.

"We want good human beings in our organization, we want to make sure we've done a good job of bringing in players that we think are going to be the types of people we want to be wearing our logo, that's the most important thing," Sullivan added. "When they're on the ice, they're representing the whole organization, so we want to make sure they're conducting themselves on and off the ice in the best manner they can."

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