Power forward prospect Keven Veilleux
, the Penguins’ second-round pick (51st overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has been an early bright spot of the development camp.
Veilleux, who stands at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, played in only nine games this past year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton due to a shoulder injury. However, the 21-year-old has fought his way back to health, and has looked strong in the early part of camp.
“Keven’s situation – in the past, decisions concerning his bad shoulder and how he came into camp conditioning-wise and who he was working out with – we feel like we have that under control,” Fitzgerald said. “The one thing is that you can educate these kids on nutrition and conditioning and stay in touch with who they’re working out with, but the bottom line is that they have to do it with conviction. They have to believe in it. We can’t want them to be hockey players more than they do, because it won’t work. It just won’t work."
Veilleux has put in the work in the offseason to rehab his shoulder, and made quite an impression on the Penguins' brass.
“Keven, for us, our first impression was that he came in, and you can tell that he has worked out this summer," Fitzgerald said. "He has worked hard. That’s the growth and development of all these kids from one year to the next. You’ll see it the more that you are around these kids year in and year out. They go from being basically babies to young men to being in the prime of their careers. Keven hopefully by now has figured out everything that we have tried to teach these kids over the past few years. He’s starting to figure out that he wants to be a hockey player.”REVERSE RECRUITING
Fitzgerald brought up a good point about a few unsigned players that were invited to the development camp. Although it may appear on the surface that the unsigned players that attended the camp are here on a tryout, the opposite is true. Fitzgerald pointed out that it is the Penguins who are trying out and recruiting the players for when they become eligible free agents.
“I was just talking to one of the gentlemen from Boston College, Brian Gibbons
,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not a tryout for these guys. They were invited to our camp for a reason, because whether it was myself or scouts or (assistant general manager) Jason Botterill or pro scouts – whoever it was, they noticed these guys during the winter and said, ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity to get this guy into our camp, let’s do it.’"
And once the player accepts the invitation to camp, it’s then the Penguins' job to sell the player on what the organization is all about.
“Like I just told Brian, he’s not here on a tryout,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s here for a reason. He’s here, because he earned the right to be asked, and he accepted this opportunity. Basically, we’re trying out for him, because a year from now when he’s a free agent and graduates from college, he will know what we’re all about as an organization, and then he can make that decision knowing firsthand, because he is here – on what we do and how we treat our players.”NO SURE THING
Fitzgerald was pretty frank when asked about how the current development camp affects a player’s chances for making a roster spot with Pittsburgh.
“It affects it very little,” he said. “This isn’t a tryout for guys. It’s an opportunity to come in and grow as a group. There will be first impressions. Every time that you see somebody you have a first impression on a kid.
“You come in as a draft pick. You’re nervous in the first year, and you’re not sure what to do. But you try to instill the leadership part on the older guys to let some of these younger guys lean on them with questions to make them feel more at home and more comfortable so that they can just go out and do what they do. As far as going into September, the camp makes very little difference, because this is July, and it’s basically a classroom type of environment where we’re trying to instill some things off the ice and try to control what we can do on the ice.”BODY RX
One of the keys to the development camp is teaching the players how to take care of their bodies – meaning what to eat, drink and supplements to take, as well as the proper workout and conditioning programs.
While the camp only lasts a week, the Penguins organization stays on top of all their prospects throughout the year to make sure they are sticking with the program and getting into the best possible shape.
“That’s one thing that we do as an organization. We are on top of their off-ice conditioning and whom they work out with,” Fitzgerald said. “Myself, Mike Kadar – the strength coach here – and Joe Lawrence – the strength coach in Wilkes-Barre – we stay on top of these guys through e-mails and through their conditioning coaches. We know exactly where they’re at. When we bring them in on July 12, we can see them firsthand.
“I can’t be in Montreal or Minnesota or Boston. I can’t be in all of these places. The trust factor that you have used to educate these kids pretty well means that they go home and it clicks and they get it. They know what is needed and what they need to do as pro hockey players – not just saying they want to be pro hockey players but doing. Saying and doing are two different things.”
The Penguins staff gets their first firsthand look at the prospects conditioning during their fitness and medical evaluations at UPMC Sports Medicine Complex on the South Side. The testing was conducted early Tuesday morning, and even Fitzgerald acknowledged that it is the most difficult portion of the camp.
“Definitely the hardest,” he said. “They’re at the rink here at about 6:30-6:45 a.m. They’re off on the bus. The anxiety is built up, because testing is hard. You put your body through an exhausting morning of full-out (exercise) until you almost drop.
“You talk about first impressions, and that is the initial first impression. What kind of shape are these kids in? What kind of shape are our second- and third-year guys in? The anxiety level – I know it well. I still remember it like it was yesterday with a short five years ago at my last camp. You get nervous. I’m an 18-year veteran, and I’m still nervous about how to test. What you do is what they see and what they think of you, because it’s a first impression.”