Although the game has changed in many ways over the years, O'Connell said that some things remain constant.
"I've had the pleasure of dealing with hockey players all along. No matter what team you've ever played on, most players have been a rookie at one time and a veteran at one time. There's a responsibility that they learn from the older guys to try to help them through," O'Connell said.
"It's just a continuing process that you do. From when you really start getting serious about the game, you're a rookie. You're maybe a veteran for one year or two years, then you move on. You go to high school, or you go to college or whatever. That's no different than right now in the (Flyers) development camp. Some players have been here for three or four years. They understand what these young kids are going through."
O'Connell has learned never to get too high on a prospect based on what he sees in camp or a small sampling of games. However, he said that he was impressed overall by the group of players at the Flyers' 2021 Development Camp from both a skills and character standpoint. One thing he looked for was for the older prospects who'd been through previous camps to take on a leadership role with the first-timers.
"From what I see so far, they've been outstanding. They lead the drills. They want to do the drills correctly. They clean up after themselves. They show the utmost respect for the trainers. It just happens perpetually. As an organization and as developers, we have to help set that tone as well to make sure that there's healthy respect for the people who helped them get better, the people who run the facility, the coaches as well as the trainers and everyone," O'Connell said.
Voice of experience
A longt-ime NHL defenseman who played 860 games for the Blackhawks, Bruins and Red Wings between 1977 and 1990, O'Connell first turned to the coaching side of the game, including stints as an assistant coach and, later, interim head coach for Boston before moving to the front office. As the assistant general manager for the Bruins, O'Connell served under the legendary Harry Sinden. O'Connell then became the GM from 2000-01 to 2005-06.
For the next 15 years, Massachusetts native O'Connell worked for the Los Angeles Kings. His role evolved to director of the player development program and senior advisor to the general manager. Largely for family reasons, he stepped down after the 2020-21 season.
"It came time for me to make a decision on if I wanted to do my job correctly, I need to spend a certain amount of time in whether it be LA, or Philadelphia. I made the decision that I had to be a little closer to my family. I've got a growing family. I've got six grandkids. As you know, in this business and being in this business for a long time, you miss quite a bit. I think it was my time to stop missing as much so I made the decision. I told Los Angeles I most likely wouldn't be coming back," O'Connell said.
Then Dean reached out . We've had a great run, myself and Dean. We've similar backgrounds growing up in the Massachusetts-Boston area. He played a role in this. I met with Chuck and really like what they have in place here. It worked out. I'm extremely happy to be here and be part of the Flyers organization.....I'm really looking forward to becoming an important part of the Flyers structure and hopefully, help them win a Cup down the road."
The Flyers 2021 Development Camp was a bit different in focus than other years. This was largely due to its timing. By necessity, rather than being held early in the offseason -- very shortly after the NHL Entry Draft and prior to the World Junior Summer Showcase -- this year's camp took place just a few weeks prior to September training camp and the start of hockey seasons.
"We backed off the time constraints or the time period we're on the ice. We want to make sure that they're going in the season feeling healthy. Whereas you said, development camp is usually held late June, early July. We get a hold of them and we can probably give them a little bit more work. We're very cognitive. We want to make sure we give these players as much as we can. We don't want to overdo it with them. We want them coming into the season healthy, so they have a great showing at training camp. Give them, especially the players who are signed, the ability to make the teams they want. They want to do the best they can at camp and have the best showing. It's a different camp altogether," O'Connell said.
"Also, we want to make sure that we give our young players, the recent draft picks who haven't been to these development camps, the opportunity to understand what the Flyers are about and how the development is going to work for them. Really what's important to be a Flyer. What you need to, what you need to understand if you're going to play for the Philadelphia Flyers. You have to do this, this and this to play. A little bit of education for the younger players, but also as well as the older players who've been around. There's an emphasis on getting these guys into proper shape physically, mentally, emotionally, for the start of the training camp."
Views on Flyers prospects
On the third day of this year's development camp, O'Connell spoke remotely with the media for about 25 minutes. Much of the discussion focused on O'Connelt's impressions of prospects in the Philadelphia system.
"With regards to who's impressive, a lot of young impressive athletes here. For the most part, the attention to detail and how they follow directions has been outstanding. They're very willing. I really look forward to working with them all and getting them to realize the dreams that they started back when they were young, young men, so young kids. I look forward to digging in with these young men," O'Connell said.
He also delved into his assessments of various individual players.
"First off, he's a terrific, enthusiastic kid. Very personable. Loves the game. Right off the bat, watching his first couple of workouts, it was really his shot that impressed me. Boy, he's got an incredible release. An NHL shot. Those are my first impressions after watching him a few times.
"Just in some of the drills, he's got some things that I think we can really help him with. Experience will really help him, but he's a hockey player. Looks the part. He looks in great shape. We just have to make sure we put him in those right situations. Give him the necessary confidence that the young players need. They come up and they come down.
"We've got to make sure we fill in those times when his confidence might lack or he might get too confident. I think he's got a really good chance to be an outstanding NHL player. Get him to use that shot. Get him in the open spots. Get him to understand where his spot is on the ice, where he's going to score the most. Looks like a scorer to me. I'm excited about his future."
"I met him a few times off ice and worked with him a little bit on the ice. I'm just getting really familiar with what his game is all about. But I've had lengthy discussions with the development team as well as upper management about where this guy could end up.
"Very, very quick. Sees the ice extremely well. He looks like he's going to be a point producer in the NHL to me. Whether he's rusty now or not, I don't know. I haven't been following his career. I'm digging in a little bit with watching his games from last year and watching his practice habits so far this year.
"I like what I see. He's a young player. He has all the tools. We just have to do what we can to get him in those game situations where he can show them off and help the team."
Cam York and Egor Zamula:
"They're both high IQ players. They both see the ice very well. Different skill sets, of course. Egor is a much bigger player, stature-wise. Very smooth with the puck. Probably not as dynamic as Cam is. Both very smooth. Cam is a little bit more dynamic. Quicker hands, probably more of a compact player of course, but both are extremely smart. One has length. One doesn't have the length, but I think that Zamula's length is going to really help him defending. Cam's foot speed and agility is getting in and out of tight situations and being able to make the quick plays are going to be very effective.
Both are going to, I think, have great capabilities to be extremely effective, not only in the NHL, but on a winning NHL team."
"He's a big guy, for sure. Again, I'm just getting to know all these players for the first time and it takes a little while since we have so many players in. Enthusiastic. He's got a great range. He has an NHL body. So far, from what I've seen with this, I think if we can really help define his game, what we feel is going to be best for him to have the best impact on not only his career, but the success of the Flyers. I think that's what we have to help him just identify his game."
"He's a fun player to watch. Every time he gets on the ice, he kind of brings me out of seat watching this kid go. Very enthusiastic. We just want to educate him as much as possible in a short period of time. He's going to be a fun player to watch and fun player to develop. Language has increased and improved dramatically since he's been here. Hopefully, we'll send him the right message when he leaves us.
"We'll just get to spend a little bit of time with him over the course of this year and kind of watch how he develops. Help him develop. We're looking forward to having this young man in the organization for a long time."