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Tencer's Blog: Fitness coach weighs in

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
After development camp wrapped in Sherwood Park on Saturday, I stuck around for what turned out to be a very enlightening 45 minute conversation with Oilers Fitness Consultant Simon Bennett. The conversation ended up all over the map, but everything stemmed from the initial question that I wanted answered: should the Oilers and their fans be concerned about the slight frame of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Oilers Fitness Consultant Simon Bennett.
Bennett laughs that he was asked the same question, over and over and over again, by the Oilers management and scouting staff in the time leading up to the Entry Draft last month. He gave me the same explanation that he gave the club throughout the draft process: Nugent-Hopkins isn't being drafted to be a body builder.

In other words, they don't need the kid to excel at the bench press, they need him to excel in areas like balance, agility and explosiveness.

Upper body strength isn't irrelevant, of course, but Bennett explains that it pales in comparison to the importance of core strength when analyzing athletes in hockey.

"I think there's a big danger in getting too obsessed with his weight and falling away from the fundamentals of physical development," he says. "Really, what you have to do with this kid is build him from the ground up. Let's build his legs up and put most of the weight on his legs."

Bennett explains that power from in the upper body doesn't necessarily need to be generated by the upper body. Strong legs are an absolute must for any hockey player and strength in the core can generate more than enough power to be transferred out to the arms.

In very simple terms, the upper body can harness the power generated by the lower body and core. Bennett wants you to imagine Pavel Datsyuk when looking for a practical example of a player who performs at an elite level without having overly broad shoulders or a mean score on the bench press.

The Oilers strength guru spoke of a number of players that he has seen in the past who focused too much on weight gain or bulking up and hurt their game performance as a result of it. In the NHL, he says, it's just not worth doing it if you're going to lose half a step.

"We need to make sure that this kid is developing an athletic frame and an athletic base," says Bennett. "We can't start trying to cheat and cut corners and become obsessed with the fact that he might be too slight at this point in time."

When he talks about developing an athletic frame and athletic base, Bennett is speaking very specifically to hockey. He reminisced of a time when NHL training methods were carbon copies of NFL training methods. He feels that hockey specific training is becoming so specialized that in a couple of years, off ice testing might not even exist, making way instead for direct analysis of what the player is physically capable of on the ice in various tests.

For what it's worth, he looks around the league and sees the Edmonton Oilers at the front of the pack in this area, crediting the overwhelming focus and devotion of resources on the player development side of the club.

So, what's the plan for Nugent-Hopkins this off-season? He'll come into camp somewhere between 175-180 lbs and he's right on the border of that range right now, if you're wondering. That represents a significant increase, 8 or 9 lbs., from where he was at the end of his Western Hockey League season in the spring, and Bennett says it's simply not realistic to expect anything more.

"I don't think we can get too panicky about what he needs to do inside of the next year, or say he needs to put on 15 or 20 pounds," Bennett tells me. "Hormonally, we need to wait for mother nature. We have to wait until his body is able to receive the right type of training. We have to be careful with his rate of development."

Author: Dan Tencer

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