With Tampa Bay Lightning’s annual development camp taking place July 2-6, Lightning beat reporter Missy Zielinski sat down with the Bolts director of player development, Stacy Roest, to learn what the expectations for the 2014 Development Camp are, which prospects are expected to be the next names fans should learn and how they choose non-draft invitees to attend camp.
Missy Zielinski: What are your expectations for development camp as a whole?
Stacy Roest : A lot of teaching. This is our chance to test the guys physically and see where they are at. I want it to be more of a learning thing, where guys leave the camp wanting to improve themselves – whether it’s off ice work, power skating or whatever else. At the end of camp we also have a fun 3-on-3 tournament too. We want to have fun, but get work done too.
MZ: What are some of the skills taught at camp that young players are often missing and will help them be one step closer to making the leap into the NHL?
SR: It’s hard to find players that have everything. Some players have a great shot or puck handling is great or they see the ice really well, but their skating skills aren’t that good. Power skating is a big thing for me because you can always improve your skating no matter what level of hockey you are at. If you can’t skate, then you can’t play the game.
MZ: Who do you think are the next group of guys to keep focus on now that so many rookies made the jump to the NHL in 2013-14?
SR: We have a good group of guys coming up with the Syracuse Crunch. We have Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Connolly, Cedric Paquette, Henri Ikonen, Joel Vermin, Tanner Richard as far as forwards and three new defenders – Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Blujus and Jake Dotchin. The talent is there. We had a rough year in Syracuse, but I think one step backward is two steps forward for us. A lot of those young guys played big, big minutes because of injuries in Tampa. Also, don’t forget about Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy as the goalies…the future is bright in Syracuse.
MZ: What are your expectations for some of our young blueliners like Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek?
SR: The biggest thing for guys like them or anyone in that spot is getting pro experience. It’s a different game when you go from juniors to pros, but the biggest thing is not to rush them. There’s a fine line between letting them play in the NHL and getting them the seasoning they need – you want to do it the right way and get them the right experience first. Also, Koekkoek has had some shoulder issues, so he needs to get healthy and stronger first and foremost.
MZ: Adam Erne and Henri Ikonen both made names for themselves in camp last year, how are they coming along?
SR: Erne finished in Syracuse last season and he goes along with that great group of prospects to watch. He’s smart, skates well, is good with the puck, has a good shot and is a big body. We were happy to get him where we got him in the draft. If we put him in the right situation in camp, he could be here for a while. As far as the end of his campaign last year, he lacerated his spleen and was out six weeks, so he only played one playoff game.
Ikonen is tenacious, works hard, is an easy kid to coach, and is a great kid and teammate. He also came to the Crunch at the end of the year and had a good seven to eight games. We’re looking forward to him having a great year next year and getting some more experience.
MZ: Is the expectation for Erne and Ikonen to stay in Syracuse and get AHL experience next season?
SR: Erne has to go to either Tampa or the Quebec Remparts (his junior team) because of his junior age. If he plays good in the summer…18 and 19-year-olds do make the NHL. Same with Ikonen, but he can also go to Syracuse. I was told every time you come to camp, you have a chance to make the team. That’s the attitude they have.
MZ: As far as non-drafted invitees at development camp, like Andrej Sustr and Cody Kunyk, how do you choose players like that?
SR: Director of amateur scouting, Al Murray, and senior advisor to the general manager, Tom Kurvers, looks for free agents in the draft, if a kid isn’t draft eligible or if he passes through the draft. We only have so much room, but if we like him and we’re happy with where our roster is, we invite them. It’s all about the availability of spots and if they fit into our plans. If they do, we invite them to camp.