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Maurice keeping focus on development, not evaluation, during camp

"We're giving... a glimpse of what they're going to be faced with in training camp." -Maurice

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - The drills at this week's development camp may look repetitive, but the skills being learned and refined are critical to succeeding in the pro game.

Something as simple as retrieving a puck off the boards and moving it quickly can make all the difference at the game's highest level.

That's why Jets head coach Paul Maurice and his staff are spending so much time on it this week with the team's prospects.

"We pick four or five real core things - not just even to the Winnipeg Jet game, but to the National Hockey League game - that happen over and over again, then give them a plan on how to handle that," said Maurice, who was inspired to change the format of development camp a couple years ago, after seeing Kyle Connor and Josh Morrissey emerge into full-time NHLers.

Video: DEV CAMP | Paul Maurice

"Those two young players probably had the biggest impact on what we design for this camp," said Maurice. "We asked the simple question 'except for age, what kept Kyle Connor as a forward and Josh Morrissey as a defenceman, what were the things that they needed to improve on the most to play for the Winnipeg Jets the next year?' All the stuff we're working on this week is just that."

A number of the 41 skaters this week have experienced the game at the pro level, whether it be in game action like C.J. Suess did with the Manitoba Moose in 2018-19, or in practice, like Declan Chisholm experienced at the tail end of the campaign.

For Suess, it was his first full pro season, though it was cut short by a shoulder injury on Dec. 14, 2018. But in his 32 games of pro experience (six coming at the end of the 2017-18 season), he knows the value of these drills.

"You have to take them very seriously. The game is all along the boards and about speed. I definitely lost a little bit of touch being off for seven months. So these drills will help a lot," Suess said, adding his status as one of the older players at the camp doesn't change his approach.

"No matter how old I am, I'm still going to try."

Video: DEV CAMP | CJ Suess

Suess is attending this week's camp on a medical exemption, with Tuesday's skate being his first time on the ice since he sustained that shoulder injury against the Toronto Marlies.

He had 12 points in 26 games at that point of the season, which came after a strong performance in training camp.

"I felt that it was going to be a long recovery," he said, referring to the fact he knew his injury was serious the moment it happened. 

"It definitely sucks. It definitely gave me a lot of time to appreciate what I was missing and look forward to next season. I'm looking forward to getting back to training camp and getting going."

Video: DEV CAMP | Declan Chisholm

Maurice remembers how the 5'11, 190-pound Suess performed in camp. While the Jets coach isn't using this week as evaluation for where any individual player is at, he does note the difference between 25-year-olds like Suess and those who are coming straight from the NHL Draft this weekend.

But it's to be expected.

"The gap between a 25 and a 30-year-old isn't that big at all, they've hit their prime. But the gap between 18 and 23 is enormous," said Maurice, saying training methods have changed as the game has evolved. "It was always bigger, stronger faster. Now it's faster, stronger, bigger. Speed is the primary element, endurance is next - being able to drive that speed for a long time. Over time, they'll get bigger and put on mass."

Chisholm experienced that difference when he walked into an American Hockey League dressing room for the first time in 2018-19.

After his third season with the OHL's Peterborough Petes came to an end (he finished with five goals and 48 points in the regular season), the 19-year-old signed an amateur tryout with the Manitoba Moose on Apr. 3.

"It's definitely a bit intimidating. You're coming in, you're going to be the youngest guy. The guys were really welcoming," Chisholm said. "It was nice to get a couple practices in. You see that these guys are fighting for their jobs and they're putting food on the table for their families. Everyone is working hard, 24/7, they're putting it all in and they're all super focused."

Video: DEV CAMP | Dylan Samberg

Now in his second development camp, Chisholm - selected in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft - wants to continue to build his game.

"Personally I want to be that top two-way defenceman that I want to be in the next level," he said. "Focus on the habits that we're working on in dev camp right now - breaking the puck out nicely, tape-to-tape passes, quick-ups, and getting shots through every time."

While Maurice acknowledged there are always eyes on the players this week, his main focus is continuing to develop a relationship with the prospects.

"We're giving, certainly our draft picks, and then some invites, a glimpse of what's coming, what they're going to be faced with at training camp," said Maurice.

"It's a good week for them."

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