In terms of the prospects’ collective growth, do you have to look at them all with an individual time frame?
Yeah, a lot of these guys are 18, and some are college kids like Luke Witkowski, who is 22, so there’s a big difference between an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old. Some of the kids we invited are here for the first time, so it gives us an opportunity to see them up close. They’re all at different stages of their development and we’re pleased to have them here. Some aren’t as educated in terms of the speed or the conditioning and what it takes to become an NHL player, so this is really their first opportunity to learn.
With Namestnikov being here last year, do you see him as one of the leaders this time around?
As the kids who were just drafted come in, it’s an intimidating atmosphere for them to come in. Generally, they’re pretty reserved, but you look at Namestnikov this year, and he knows a lot of the kids from playing with them last year, and there are a few more Russian kids this year, so you can tell he’s much more comfortable and much more assertive.
What are your impressions of the two first-round draft picks from this year?
With Koekkoek I really like his skating and I saw him play earlier in the fall and was really impressed. He’s an excellent skater, that’s really the first thing that jumps out at me. With Vasilevsky, I’ve seen him play and he’s just a big guy who’s very athletic.
Do you see JT Brown a bit ahead of the curve among the other prospects at camp?
Well he played five games with us at the beginning of the year and we were extremely pleased with how he played. I also had a chance to go watch him at the World Championships as well, and we believe he’s an NHL player. His skating is at a very high level, he’s very smart and he has really good skills. He’s not here for a tryout, he’s here to get him back in here and see what kind of shape he’s in. It’s more of checking up on him and seeing how his conditioning is and how he looks in the offseason. He’s going to have a lot of competition in September with Brett Connolly and Cory Conacher, but he’s a young guy who is all about the team and we’re happy that he’s here.
Do you like the organization's depth, where it is right now?
We certainly like the core of young players whether it be kids playing in juniors, college or in Norfolk last year. We like that, but with the big club, we made some changes and had some trades at the deadline. We’re also debating right now with free agency if we fill some of those spots with experienced NHLers or do we let our young guys compete for those spots. That’s the tradeoff, but we like the young guys who are up and coming. We have to be patient and not force them into the NHL.
Could you talk more about Vasilevsky and what sets him aside from other goaltenders?
I had a chance to watch him play last year and he’s very big and he’s very athletic. The trend in the NHL the last few years is that goaltenders have both of those traits. They’re 6-feet-plus, and he’s very athletic. That’s what we like about him. He has a good ability to move in the net, has a good style and structure about him, but he also uses his arms and likes to make saves. I look at Jonathan Quick in the playoffs this past year as a guy who is so athletic and makes great saves, so he’s kind of redefining his position. We think Vasilevsky is that same type of mold.
Where do you distinguish the goal of the camp this week, in terms of it being more of an audition or just merely an opportunity for the players to better themselves?
It’s not an audition at all. We get a chance to see the kids on the ice, off the ice, what kind of shape they’re in, and what they need to work on. We see how they skate, how they shoot the puck, and we get to know them a little bit better in their skills. This isn’t really a game situation, so we read a player and track him on his individual skills and conditioning. Once you get into games, that’s when you see more of the hockey sense and the competitiveness. But this week, it’s an opportunity for them to get to know our staff, for our staff to know them, and help them out with whatever they need to do to become pros. That includes working on their skating, their diet, and all the different aspects of their game. They come here and then we send them back home for the rest of the summer to really work on it and to get better.
Do you think there is any added pressure here at camp on the former first-round picks to perform or stand out?
I don’t know if there’s pressure, but there certainly is added attention. Those are the guys who everyone is looking for. There comes added attention, but not so much pressure, because once the draft is over, they’re the same as anyone else.