George McPhee has taken part in a lot of training camps. First as a player and now in his second career as NHL executive. None of them have been like this one.
McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights hockey operations staff spent a year ramping up for this summer's expansion and amateur drafts building a roster which is now assembled at the first training camp in team history.
To borrow McPhee's phrase, it's a blank canvas in Vegas right now. Jobs are up for grabs. NHL careers will begin, some may even end. McPhee and his group have any number of angles to consider when building this roster. Development is the top priority but the people of Vegas are also going to demand entertaining hockey.
VegasGoldenKnights.com sat down with McPhee is Los Angeles recently and here's a Q and A from that conversation.
Video: George McPhee discusses the start of training camp
VGK.com: This isn't a rebuild where you have to tear down the existing structure. How do you describe what you're doing in Vegas?
GM: This is a build. This is early and we have a lot to do. We accomplished a lot all last year. Now were at a point where there's still uncertainty, we've embraced that. Now were looking for a little clarity.
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VGK.com: Scouting is an art and not a science and a lot of it is about evaluation and projecting. How do you do that?
GM: We're trying to do a number of things. Evaluate what these players are right now; were we right about them when we drafted them? When can they play for us? That's another projection you make. Who might play with who? That's a little bit harder to do. Then I have a tendency to look at it on a macro-level too and look at them all together and say are we a big group, are we a small group, are we a fast group are we a slow group, are we creative thinkers. Again, it's early for us. This is our first crop, but patterns will emerge as to what our team will look like down the road when we're competing for Cups.
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VGK.com: Once you draft or sign a player - they become your players. There's a paternal instinct involved. How do you remain unemotional when making decisions on these players and their futures?
GM: Well it's hard not to be emotional about it sometimes. You're getting these kids at 18 and you're responsible for them. They sort of become like your own kids. It's your job to make sure that they succeed. You want to win as a team, you want to see your team winning. That's one job as a manager, the other job as a manager is to make sure that kids don't fail and to work with them and do everything that you can to turn them into really good players. Don't let them fail. That's the job and you have to be patient in the process as well.
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VGK.com: You're a professional talent evaluator. What else do you look for beyond the ability to skate, shoot and pass?
GM: You try to put yourself in their positon and figure out what are they seeing when they have the puck? what are they seeing when they don't have the puck? What are they doing when they have the puck? What are they doing when they don't have the puck? Those kinds of instincts and intuition are really a big part of his makeup. Things will change with that player while he is developing in terms of strength, size and maturity. But those instincts are really important and I like to really try to get a read on those. Then again, the other part that is important to us is how he gets along with everybody else and the respect that he has for his teammates and referees and the opposition. That stuff is critical if you're building a winner.
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VGK.com: How key is patience when evaluating a player and what he can become?
GM: We wouldn't be in these positions if we couldn't make good reads on players early on. It's our job to be able to watch a player for 15 or 20 minutes and have a pretty good feel for what he might be. You've got to trust your instincts on that, but I think we've all learned that you still have to be patient and give them time to develop and if they're not developing in one positon, can they be a really good player in another position that sort of thing. But you have to be careful. We've all made judgments too quickly on players and they changed
VGK.com: What will you try to take out of training camp from an organizational perspective:
GM: We're looking for some clarity and some certainty. We've had that all year long, but we have to make some very difficult decisions at the end of this month and we have to sort these guys out. You really don't know players, everything about a player, until you work with them. And we haven't worked with these players. We think we have good players on defense and then at forward and int the net, but until we start working with them and see who's going to start working with who and who's on our first line or on our first pair, it's hard to make good decisions. We need these three weeks to help us make good decisions.
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VGK.com: Does expansion create opportunity and the chance for surprises?
GM: Can Shea Theodore be a number one defenseman? Can Erik Haula play higher in the lineup than the third or fourth line that he was on in Minnesota? Certainly things of that nature. I was surprised to hear that Reilly Smith was a pretty good penalty killer. I know he's a good goal-scorer, but I was told he was a pretty good penalty killer too. These are the things we'd like to see. Trying to find some of those unknown surprises that we're all looking for.
VGK.com: There were no games for you last season. Are you looking forward to being involved in the rhythm of the season.
GM: It's why were in this game. We like the games, we like the competition. There's a certain rhythm during the season that's comfortable to us. It's game or it's not game day, it's a home game or it's an away game. But we are accustomed to the changes in the business. Every day that we come to work, something has changed. Whether it's our club or another club. We understand the dynamic in that regard, but we are ready for a season. We're ready for the rhythm of this season and all of the challenges it brings.