Gripping a medicine ball while skating in a crouched position up and down the ice, then weaving through cones, positioning the puck around obstacles in a six-by-10-foot space and finally firing slappers past screens - that’s just a 15-minute sample of the action at Predators Development Camp on Wednesday morning. Nearly three dozen prospects powered through five sections of stickhandling, shooting and skating drills on Centennial Sportsplex ice during day three of the week-long camp.
iPads and other cameras followed each skater’s progress through the labyrinth of drills as players tried to polish their skills, while also topping the output of the participant before them.
“They tape everything, and they show us after what we need to work on, what we are good at and what we should keep doing,” forward Viktor Arvidsson said. “This is why they call it ‘development camp,’ you're supposed to get better and work on things that you need to work on.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the principle behind a drill when it has you crouched, carrying a dead weight and taking power strides, however.
“The medicine ball one is pretty tough, you are holding it and your body is kind of at a 90-degree angle, so it is a little different than normal skating where you are standing up,” blueliner Garrett Noonan explained following his turn skating. “It gets you into good habits, but it was tough for sure. The other one where there were a bunch of sticks and cones, that kind of reminded me of an obstacle course; you had to just take your time a little and get it down pat.”
Fellow defenseman, Alexandre Carrier, a 2015 draft selection, agreed with Noonan’s second pick for the session’s toughest test.
“Stickhandling [was the most difficult drill], because as a defenseman, you don’t stickhandle as much as the forwards,” said Carrier. “So it was pretty hard because it was in-tight turns.”
Regardless of their level of difficulty, the varying on-ice challenges were designed with a desire to impart long-term teaching opportunities. Preds Director of Player Development Scott Nichol explained he wants prospects coming away from the camp with a foundation of proper habits and a strong work ethic the organization has seen mold draft picks into NHL stars year after year. Wednesday’s drills and video clips can help to start that process.
“We all have things set up where we can go back and watch our videos from camp,” Noonan said. “Watching yourself, you get to see what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. You can implement that into what you do. Video is a really big part of the game now. Maybe you didn't like what you were doing today, then you can go watch it and then say ‘on Friday, I'm going to change it’. So it’s huge.”
As much as the Predators Development Camp is an integral tool for players to progress in their respective careers, the coaches certainly do their fair share of observing and planning for the future too. With so many Nashville prospects in one spot, it’s natural for coaches throughout the organization to take notice of who may be coming down the pipeline soon.
However, there are different approaches taken from the bench bosses in attendance. Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason uses the week to get to know some of his future players on and off the ice, while Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette is a proponent of the camp as a whole and what it does for the participants.
“These are young players that are just drafted or recently drafted into an organization, and there are so many talented people inside of an organization that can help these young players reach their potential and ultimately find their way,” Laviolette said. “It’s terrific because it does help develop these guys and get them ready for the National Hockey League.”
Evason and his staff in Milwaukee will likely see a number of these players in the American Hockey League before their possible stint in the NHL, so there’s an added emphasis to learn about the skaters on all levels.
“What we’re trying to do is get a feel for what they do on the ice, but as important, we get a feel for them personality wise,” Evason said. “We try to touch base, initiate the communication factor with them, sit down and talk to them. Even if it’s not a sit down, just grab them in the room and have a quick chat about their specifications and open the door to start that communication, which is so important in our game.”
Nichol Knows Best:
Scott Nichol knows what it takes to make it to the NHL. After skating in more than 660 games in the League, including four seasons with the Predators, he now uses those experiences to teach prospects how to realize their dream.
It’s clear the participants of the camp appreciate the advice from Nashville’s director of player development. Defensemen Garrett Noonan, attending his fifth Development Camp, and Jonathan Diaby, his second, believe there’s always something to take from Nichol.
“He obviously played in the NHL for so many years, and he knows what it takes for guys to get here,” Noonan said. “He’s been unbelievable for me and all the guys. He’s a great guy to go to if you ever have questions about hockey or just life in general. He’s been awesome since he’s come here.”
“He’s just a great tool for us,” Diaby said of Nichol. “He’s always there, you can call him whenever, text him whenever; he’s helping you a lot and he’s just great to us.”
Only three years removed from his playing days, Nichol has a way of relating to the players that is unique to his resume.
“I think I can still talk the talk, and I understand [what the players are going through],” Nichol said. “I just want the guys to be good people and good humans. That’s going to take them a lot farther than their hockey career is going to take them. All the superstars that I’ve played with were always the best guys, and there’s not many guys out there who are bad guys. If they are, they don’t make it or they don’t last in the NHL, so I think they’re good habits to have.”