Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spoke to the media on day two of the Leafs Prospect Camp. Here's what he had to say...
Ball hockey worked for your Olympic team a couple of years ago, what do the guys hope to get out of it here at camp?
That's a real good question and I haven't asked them, I didn't know we were playing ball hockey. I just came up to watch these kids play so I'm learning just as you are. Obviously we have people that are doing this and because I haven't been here as long, I haven't set up this development camp. They're doing what they do and I'm watching and we'll go from here. That's what I think you do. You have good people and you let them work and you talk to each other to come up with the best plan moving ahead. It's good for me to see some of the kids here today. I don't know who they are and we drafted them. When you coach in the National League as long as I have and you don't coach in Canada you don't see any junior kids and you hardly see any college kids. You don't know who the players are. Now you get a chance to see them and it's nice to put a face to a body and a skillset and we'll continue to watch them.
They're playing paintball, what are you going to be doing this afternoon?
I'm not playing paintball, I'm going to pass on the paintball. It's just like anything. The expectation from this camp for me is real simple. As much as everyone is excited about the on-ice stuff, that for me is about the fourth thing. The nutrition factor, strength training, the media factor, learning how to be a pro and learning what you need to go home and fix for yourself. What I mean by that is, you can come here and skate with one of our guys for a few days but if you don't go home and find a guy to help you, a few days of this isn't going to help you, just like your strength training, just like your life. To me you're the CEO of your own company. It's not your mom, it's not your dad, it's not your agent. It's you. You have to take responsibility for where you're going and how you're getting there.
Does development camp messaging sink in better with prospects now versus 10 years ago?
I don't know the answer to that. I've been in the game a long time and I think I've coached maybe one player that didn't want help in all the years I've coached. If you've got something to offer, they're all in because they want to get better. That's what I think most players are like. These are developmental opportunities for them. The guys that love it the most and have a passion for it are going to separate themselves from the group. That's just a fact. All you've got to do is look at the best players in our league. The true superstars have a will, a determination, a heart, a soul different than the rest of the players and that's what separates them. There's lots of good players but the guys that are truly great, it oozes out of them. That's what we're looking for when we watch these kids.
Is there something in Detroit that made them have such good development?
They had real good scouts, they have the best general manager in hockey, a great owner who let the GM run a real good program and they kept good people and they kept building. When they made mistakes they didn't dwell on it, they just went ahead and kept building. They hired good people and let them do their jobs. There's no question that Ken Holland — everyone talks about Lidstrom and Yzerman and Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but the superstar there is Ken Holland.
What kind of player can Kapanen be?
That's a good question. Right now he's just a kid, he played in the American League as a kid last year. I'm a big believer that you shouldn't rush these guys, you should give them an opportunity to get their confidence and if you're a scorer just score before you move to the next level. He's got to develop his body, but obviously he has a skillset that's elite. He's bigger than I expected, he's got a lot of work to do on his body but he's got the talent base that's going to lead him to, I believe, being a top-six forward in the NHL one day — at least that's his skillset. Now, what's his determination? What's his work ethic off the ice? We're going to find all of these things out over time just like you guys are.
What do you want to see from Gauthier? Have you talked to him?
I haven't talked to him and I don't plan on really talking to him here. If I bump into him — I just saw William in the hallway — I'll talk to him. I just came here to watch him, I'll get to know these guys at camp. A Mike Babcock type of player is the most competitive guy on the ice. The more skill you have, the more you compete and the more you do it right, the more I like you. My favourite usually changes on a daily basis based on how you play.
Are you happy with Nylander taking away the message of "work hard and be good people" from day one?
I just talked to him here obviously. He's a kid with upside skill. I was just talking to him, asking him who he plays like and what he wants to be. He's very clear that he feels he should play in the middle and he likes to have puck a lot. That's a great thing. Now he has to work hard enough to have the puck a lot. He's got developmental work to do obviously, he's a kid, and it takes you a long time in this league to be an impact player for most of these kids. We've just got to keep helping him to be the player he's capable of being. I just said to him that when he takes a job he'll have a job. Real simple. Jobs aren't given to anybody, you've got to take one and we now have I think 13 NHL forwards signed, if I'm not mistaken. If you're one of these other guys you've got to take somebody's job.
How much do you enjoy getting in front of these kids and reminding them what they have to become?
Number one, if you keep it short they appreciate it. Obviously a kid like him is at their first camp and he's looking to play in the National Hockey League and we're betting on him playing in the National Hockey League. The work he does between now and the next three or four years is going to determine that. It's interesting, Peter Holland talked to the guys yesterday just about you get drafted and how long it actually takes for you to be an NHL player. They're on a journey, they have to understand it's a journey, we have to understand that too. You don't rush them, you give them the time you need but you do everything you can to enhance their opportunity, help them grow as people and men and players. When you do those things, over a period of time, you end up with a pretty good team. It takes longer than we all want. That's just the reality of the situation. You just plug away. You guys are going to talk to me every day probably and every day I won't have any answers for you, probably, but I'll just try and tell you we're on a journey.