Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas addressed the media on Tuesday as the club kicked off its 2015 Prospect Camp. Here's what he had to say...
What do you hope these players get out of this week?
You just think they come in and they learn as much as they possibly can that'll help them go through the summer and absolutely maximize their potential throughout the summer. We don't bring them in here to play 4-on-4, 5-on-5 against one another. I think a lot of mistakes are made when some players have been on the ice a lot and some haven't been on at all. We're trying to bring them in here and have them leave the camp having learned as much as possible that can help them become better Maple Leafs, Marlies, junior or college players, wherever they're going back to.
What's the logic in bringing more than 50 players to camp?
We've got a lot of needs in our organization. The thing was, as we went through it, you always want to keep it small, that's what you set out to do. What ended up happening was there were a lot of players we didn't want to turn down that had an interest and just made sense for us with where we're at in our current state as an organization.
Is this camp also about evaluation and seeing where these players are at?
I think we know where they're at, I don't think anything has really changed from their last game until now. The only thing that would really change in their game is what they've done in the weight room so far. We see guys — have they been working out? Have they gotten stronger? In terms of evaluating them on the ice, the guys that are high skill players are going to dominate the 3-on-3 and YouTube and the fans on Twitter will go berserk about it but it doesn't really have a big effect on us. We know what they are as players and we're trying to build into them in the areas that they're weak right now more than try to evaluate how they are overall.
How would you describe the organization's philosophy in terms of handling top prospects?
Patience is the key. We're not going to rush them at all, we've reiterated that over and over and it seems every time I come to one of these I have to reiterate it again. We're not going to bring them up unless they're ready to stay up all the time. We want them to be 100 per cent ready to play for the Maple Leafs. We don't want them to start with the Marlies then go back to the Leafs then go back to the Marlies. One thing I learned last year, my first year here, even though players — guys like Sam Carrick, Stu Percy — get off to a great start and make the team, there's a huge component of confidence. When you're on the Maple Leafs and go back to the Marlies, even though they came in and had great seasons, you've got to build back their confidence and it is a bit of a jolt to their system. We want our players to be carried on a steady route and be ready to come to the Maple Leafs when they're absolutely ready to do so. That may draw the ire of fans and media and even the players themselves when they think they're ready, but we're going to stick with it and we're not going to waver from it.
What about the 18 year old players who say they're ready to play in the NHL?
We want to hear that. If they come here they say, 'I don't know.' They're very good players and they're very confident players and we want them to say that. We don't want them to come and say, 'Yeah I think it's going to take forever.' It's our job to be patient. Their job is to make it as hard as humanly possible on us and push themselves as much as they can through the summer. It's our job to say no and it's their job to force us to say yes. If we deem they're ready at the beginning of camp and through exhibition, that's great. It's also nice to have a group of players that have the opportunity to do it because they're good enough, skill-wise. They know what's expected of them strength-wise through the summer and that's what's going to make the difference for them.
Where are you in terms of accumulating prospects compared to a year ago?
I wasn't here a year ago, but from when I walked in I think you look now and you've got Kapanen, you've got Leipsic, you've got Marner, you've got Dermott, our whole entire draft class from this year, plus players we've acquired in Harrington and Kapanen and Leipsic in trades. Zach Hyman as well in a trade. We haven't traded any prospects for short-term players at all. I think you look at the depth of the pool, especially at forward, it's a very, very deep pool of prospects with high-end skill. We're happy with that and we realize we need to make some improvements on D. We'll continue to do that as we move along here but we're happy with where our prospect pool is at, at forward. It's a really exciting pool.
Are you interested in other player moves after a busy week?
We're always interested in good players. Right now I think we've got some cap space, we're a popular team for teams to call and they're trying to move some big contracts. For us, if it fits with what we're doing, we're going to do it. I think we've shown this last couple of months that we're not going to waver from our plan, which is to bring in players we find as really good value, giving them a great opportunity to come in and prove where they're at and they can parlay that into a bigger contract. Whether that's with us — in the case of Daniel Winnik, he comes in, has a great season, moves to Pittsburgh and comes back on a bigger deal — or things like that. That's what we're focused on right now, we're not going to try to fix anything quickly, we want to do it right.
What benefit comes with having stopgap players that make it harder for Marner or Nylander to make the roster?
I don't view them as stopgaps. I think they're good NHL players and we want it to be difficult for our young guys to make the NHL roster. We don't want it to be easy. We don't want them to come in and be able to walk right onto the team. That's not going to be good for anybody because it means they're not going to be supported by anybody on the club. For us we want them to come in and have a challenge. If they can beat out one of those established NHL guys it means they're ready to play. That's going to be up to them.
What do you like about Kapanen?
We saw him in the rookie tournament, we saw him at the World Juniors, we've seen him a lot. We saw him in Wilkes-Barre. I get a kick out of when people call him small. He's not a 5-foot-9 guy even though that's what people would report. He's a 6-foot kid who's going to put a lot of weight on, he's got great explosiveness, great skill level, works hard at both ends of the ice. Like I said last week when we stood here, we wouldn't have done the deal without him and we're really excited about him.
What did you see in Nylander's growth and where can he take that?
I think that's up to William, where he wants to take it. He's got elite skill and elite instincts with and without the puck. It'll be really interesting to see how his summer comes along, how hard he pushes himself. He's a self-starter, you don't really worry about him getting better. It's just a lot of fun to watch how much better he's going to get. He doesn't need to be pushed and prodded, he just works his butt off every day, does a lot of the things we're trying to instill in our group on his own. He doesn't need constant hand-holding or anything like that. It's going to be really exciting to see him this week as a leader of this group because he just has that quality and then see him when he comes into training camp in early September, comes back here and see how good he has become over the summer in terms of strength. You don't worry about his speed, you don't worry about his skill, you just worry about him as you would any 18 or 19-year-old being strong enough.
Where is Gauthier at in his career?
Gauthier is always a guy people bring up and want to talk about. With Frederik, he's been on two Team Canadas, he's been to a Memorial Cup, he's won a championship. We were talking about him yesterday with Babs (Mike Babcock), he's a guy coaches always really like, they play him a lot, they use him in every defensive zone faceoff, every important faceoff he's on the ice. He's a guy you go and watch and you may not find him as visually appeasing as you do a high-end skill guy like Nylander or Kapanen or Marner, but boy, he's extremely effective. He's going to play a role for us as we move forward here that's going to be very, very valuable to us as an organization, it's just different from the other guys. You can't have all the same sort of players and I think that's why we really like Fred and are excited to see him start this season as a pro.
How important is this camp for college players before they go back to school?
What we want to see them take is we want to impart with them and have them leave here knowing what we want them to work on and see them push themselves in those regards throughout the season when they go back. All the college guys are like that. It's our last chance to work with them every single day and get our hands on them every day and then they go back to their programs. Their programs have been great, they've all developed really well but this is our chance. I think the onus is on us this week, not them, to let them know what we're looking for so they can come back throughout the year and force us to sign them.
Has there been any conversation with Bracco about going to Boston College or Kitchener?
Not yet, no.