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Mark Zuckerberg and Edmonton Oilers Player Development? A highly unlikely connection, but in fact a legitimate one as Zuckerberg’s Facebook has inspired the team’s web portal for maintaining constant communication with Oilers prospects playing across North America and the world.
Whether they’re one step away from the big leagues with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, out in California with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors, competing at the junior level in the CHL or USHL, fulfilling a scholarship in the NCAA, or even honing their game in Europe, Oilers prospects are directly connected with the NHL club and its resources via the Player Development site.
Each player in the Oilers system has his own profile page on the site, which is anchored by his Individual Development Plan (IDP) — an extensive program created at the beginning of every season to dictate and track the player’s personal development.
Once an Oilers prospect is assigned to his respective club at training camp in September, important exit meetings take place with the team’s management, coaches and Player Development staff, and the end result is the player’s IDP for the season.
The player is assigned a rating (from one to five) in various categories falling under three main growth areas: skills, thinking and toughness.
“We identify the top two or three things the player needs to improve in order to play at the next level, and we create the IDP based on that,” said Rick Carriere, Oilers Senior Director of Player Development. “It’s a collaborative effort, so the player has an investment in it. He’s in charge and responsible for maintaining his development.”
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In addition to housing the player’s IDP, the prospect profile page includes notes and tutorial videos on skills and habits, fitness and conditioning, life skills, health and nutrition, and a wall for communicating with Player Development staff. Every two weeks, the prospect is required to conduct a self-evaluation based on his IDP and report back to Player Development with an update on his progress.
“They submit their self-evaluation, it comes back to us and we reply with our response and feedback,” Carriere said. “It’s a great way for us to communicate. It’s like a Facebook for our prospects. They have access to our skating coach, development coaches, medical staff, strength and conditioning staff and nutritionists.”
Periodically throughout the season, Oilers Player Development will also compile personal video packages for each player with commentary over their clips, highlighting successful plays and reinforcing good habits, while also identifying situations the player needs to improve upon. Player Development also posts highlight packages of NHL players the prospect should model his game after. Current Oilers centreman Mark Arcobello is a prime example of a success story thanks to the IDP program and Player Development website.
Following his NCAA career at Yale, Arcobello signed a minor league contract and was splitting the 2010-11 season between the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder and AHL’s OKC Barons. Even though he wasn’t signed with the Oilers at the time, the NHL club offered its Player Development resources to Arcobello, and he was more than happy to take full advantage.
One season and a combined 42 points later, Arcobello had himself an entry-level deal from the Oilers. He continued to follow his IDP and ended up playing 41 NHL games last season before cracking the Oilers roster again to start 2014-15.
“Mark got started on his IDP and really started focusing on areas he needed to improve,” Carriere said. “He stayed focused and worked his way up to being a regular in the American League, and now he’s developed his game and created enough good habits that he can function as an everyday player in the NHL.”
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“It helped me focus on a few key areas and get feedback from the Player Development department,” added Arcobello, who scored 22 points in his first 52 NHL games. “By participating in that program, the NHL guys were watching me. The website was really advanced and let me track all the other guys in the system too. The younger guys are
using it even more now, which is really good to see.”
Another Player Development success story with an added element comes from defenceman Martin Marincin, whom the Oilers selected 46th overall at the 2010 NHL Draft. With 56 points in 67 games for the Prince George Cougars, Marincin became a stud at the WHL level in 2010-11, but the Slovakian barely knew any English, which was preventing him from fully adapting to the North American game.
Following Oilers training camp in 2011, part of Marincin’s “life skills” component in his IDP was to learn English, so the team arranged for two ESL teachers in Prince George to work with him that season. His work ethic on the ice, coupled with his growing language and social skills off the ice, allowed him to work his way up to the OKC Barons and ultimately play 44 games with the Oilers last season.
“He followed the IDP the whole way along and every two weeks filled out self-evaluations,” Carriere said. “You wouldn’t believe how much he improved in his writing skills doing that. And on the ice, he learned to be more physical in the corners and harder to play against in front of our net. When he came up to the NHL, he had good habits.”
“It helped me a lot,” Marincin added. “My English got so much better. I was able to talk to my coaches and teammates and understand the game. And on the website, I got to watch videos of my game and that helped me a lot. I still do that here, go on the computer after the game and watch my shifts.”
Arcobello and Marincin are just two examples of how Oilers players and prospects are using Player Development technology to perform at an elite level. Carriere said his department’s main goal is to communicate a consistent message to the players, which has become increasingly more attainable thanks to their own social network.