LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Mike Sullivan has spent his entire 12-year coaching career working with professionals, including last season as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks.
But this week he's spending time as a guest coach for USA Hockey at its National Junior Evaluation Camp.
"It's exciting," Sullivan told NHL.com. "I love the opportunity to work with the younger kids and get to know them. They are the U.S.'s brightest prospects. To have the opportunity to get on the ice with them and spend three or four days with them is exciting for me. It's a fun three or four days on a lot of fronts. It's great to be able to get to know some of the other coaches from the U.S. and share experiences. I look at it as a great learning opportunity."
It's also a great opportunity for the coaching and managerial staff; Sullivan and Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato, who also is helping at the camp, supply a neutral element that other members of the staff, most of whom work in junior or college hockey, might not have.
"I don't really know these players because I'm not used to dealing with this age group, so I don't have any preconceived notions or expectations," Sullivan said. "I think that's one of the reasons they bring some of the pro coaches to the camp, because we can share what we see or our observations without any preconceived notions from having seen these kids in the past."
Sullivan has worked with the USA White squad, and one of the players that has stood out to him has been Auston Matthews, at 16 the youngest player in camp.
"I've seen him both in practice and behind the bench in games, and in my interactions with him I'm amazed at his intelligence, his maturity and his ability to handle the competitive environment that he's in," Sullivan said. "He's been one of our better players at 16 years old. He makes a lot of real subtle plays that maybe doesn't jump out at the average fan, but when you watch it up close from the bench they're the type of plays that help teams win. He makes really good decisions, positionally he's in the right place, and a lot of it is instinctive because he has great talent. His intellect and his aptitude has been impressive."
One other player that has caught Sullivan's eye is Jack Eichel, one of the top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft. But it's not just Eichel's outstanding play that has drawn Sullivan's attention.
"He's from my hometown [Chelmsford, Mass.] and he's going to my alma mater [Boston University], so I might have a bit of a bias," Sullivan said. "But he's a tremendous player and fun to watch."
Sullivan also will be heading to Boston when the camp is over, but his future is far less clear than Eichel's. He was let go by the Canucks when coach John Tortorella was fired in May, and said he'll use the rest of the summer to look for his next opportunity.
"It's one of the challenges of coaching and choosing coaching as a career," he said. "There's some highs and some lows. None of us wants to be on the outside looking in. We all want to work, we all want to be part of it. We all love the game. Right now it's my turn to be on the sidelines a little bit. But I'm hoping an opportunity will present itself and I look forward to the next challenge."