Scott Pellerin, the Maple Leafs' Director of Player Development, spoke to the media today at prospect camp to shed some light on the methodology behind this week's camp. Here's what he had to say...
What was behind the break down in drills?
We kind of broke it into different positional situations. We focused on the breakout elements and then transitioned into more neutral zone with forwards and D in both areas and then we moved into the offensive zone. Always continuing the concepts of moving back into the defensive zone so we start that. You saw the way we transitioned in our zones, we did breakouts, Darryl worked into his neutral zone tactics, Mike Ellis and his staff worked down at some offensive zone stuff. That was kind of the concept and for the first three days we'll do that. It ties everything in to the Leaf language we're trying to build.
Why not as much scrimmaging this year?
It's July. I don't think it's fair to them. What we're trying to do right now is establish a criteria, an identity of what it's going to take to play for the Leafs and what the standard is. We've had some communication obviously with Mike Babcock with what he wants, what style of player he wants and we've designed this camp to bring out that performance in these players. That's why we're doing it. You won't see a lot of scrimmaging. The last day we will have some element. It builds up. You want to create the foundation for their game and then we kind of grow their game where they kind of put it all together. We have three days practice very similar to this. The fourth day we'll make two teams, we'll have more of a full practice where the D are with the forwards so they're putting all the things we've moved together in the first three days. Then the last day will be more game-like situations. There's a method to this madness right now.
How did you put the program together?
I've been fortunate enough to get this opportunity to be the Director of Player Development, it's something I've thought of for a long time — how I'd do it. You always think of how you'd do things if you were in charge and this is something that, with the great staff and a lot of support, we've talked about it and we all bought in. All of our coaches here from the Marlies to the guys in management, they all agree with it and this is the way we're going to do things.
Did you see a lot of these guys in your field work?
Yes, a number of them. I started in December and got on the road right away. It's about creating relationships and creating trust. We're doing this for a reason and we're here to help them. To see some familiar faces here and to create some new relationships for our staff is really important.
What about the kids at Minnesota-Duluth, for example? You could see them but couldn't work with them?
You talk to them and I know their coaches so you trade that communication and do all the things you have to do. To see them on the ice and be on the ice with them, that's the fun part to have this opportunity. To meet all the guys and really work with them. They did a good job today, I was happy.
What about players who are closer to the NHL level like Casey Bailey who played for the Leafs or Zach Hyman?
I wouldn't be able to give them as much of an evaluation after one day. I saw them play — I didn't see Hyman play in college, I saw Casey play a couple of games at the end of the season. It's July, we're not here to evaluate guys, we're here to help them learn how to be a pro. We want to share. All the ice stuff is a bonus. We're teaching them how to lift, we're teaching them how to eat, we're teaching them how to talk to you guys, we're teaching them how to be a pro. That is what — this is orientation, this is development camp, it's all these other things. We have to branch out from our foundation but those things are just as important as what we're doing on the ice.
Did you have a say in fun off-ice activities?
We want to create — what I see is paintball is a time for the guys to get away. You start creating relationships. They're going to be teammates down the road and they're going to sit back hopefully at some point as a Maple Leaf in their locker at the Air Canada Centre and say, 'Hey remember that time we were in Collingwood playing paintball and you shot me in the backside?' Those are the things. You create those relationships to be together. We want them to feel they're able to do all of these things as a team.
People always talk about draft but not so much development, what do you think the key is to making that work?
They work together. The good teams — I was fortunate to be with the Kings and they had very similar ideas, we've tweaked it in certain areas with our own identity — but it's a process. Right now what I really like is the communication from top to bottom. From Mike to Mike's staff to Sheldon's staff, we're kind of that bridge from when they're drafted to when they finally get here. This is a great opportunity for us to help them and for them to see and understand what it's going to take to make it and have the best chance for them to make it at the next level.
Is it fun to see a lot of wide-eyed 18 year olds?
It was good. I can't imagine — I didn't have this opportunity when I played and a lot of players didn't, but to be able to come in and be part of the Maple Leaf organization, to come to a development camp like this, to be on the ice. You can tell, it was a lot of stuff going on. I think it was exciting for them. It was good feedback and we'll learn from it as a staff. We're not perfect, we want to strive to be and the players are the same way. We want to all develop together.
Does the quality of the forward group help ease the pressure on big name prospects?
I agree with that and there are guys that are going to surprise you. You look at the skill level we have and I think it makes it easier for the guys, they don't have to feel that pressure. We want to make it comfortable for them. The whole part of this, like I keep saying, we want them to push their development, push their skill level to a certain point that they fail. I want them to push themselves to get better. I don't want them to feel in their comfort zone. I want them to get out of their comfort zone so they can be better. In this environment a guy like Mitch (Marner), he's not going to feel bad pushing himself to get better because he has other guys doing the same thing. They're all in the same boat together. I was really excited the way that whole group of guys pushed themselves today.
Is this the first step in building a player who can play for Mike at the NHL level?
This is day one. We just started putting some bricks down. As you go, some guys will go through this. Yesterday we talked and Peter Holland happened to be working out upstairs and Mike Babcock grabbed him. You look at guys, they have different timelines, there's different development in the process. Some guys are going to be faster than others, some guys it'll take them five years. They have to understand this is level one, this is the beginning. It's going to take time and that's okay. The patience is there, we're here to support them and go through that and that's going to be the fun part. I was part of it, seeing guys for six years in Manchester when I went and saw guys doing their first development to when I was in the (Los Angeles Kings) locker room when the Stanley Cup was in there... They went through all the development camps. They went through four or five of those and you look at guys like Jordan Nolan, I'm just using examples here, but you can go through different teams that I know and it's different for everybody. Guys at the right time have to be ready and this is the start of it.