They may be sporting the same logo, but when the Nashville Predators prospects split into two squads for an 11 a.m. scrimmage Saturday morning at Ford Ice Center to conclude Development Camp, don’t expect to see anyone go easy on the competition.
After five days full of on-ice testing and practices, off-ice team building, meetings, community service and even a cooking class, the prospects are eager to show the coaching staff, and the fans, what they’ve got.
“We’ve become close throughout the week here,” forward Justin Kirkland said. “We’ve gone through a bit of adversity together. The days aren’t easy, but come tomorrow, there’s going to be no friends on the other team. We’re all competing for that contract and we want to leave our mark on all the scouts and the coaches.”
Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol, who has overseen the camp, believes the testing and team building are integral parts of the week, but what he really wants to see are those competitive factors that can’t be measured with a stopwatch.
“The numbers are great, we like the numbers, but it’s all about what’s inside their chest,” Nichol said. “We just want them to compete and give it their all and just get a little bit of a taste of having the coach, having the GM, having somebody watch you all the time…so when training camp comes around, maybe they’re not so nervous. It’s all a process.”
Forward Anthony Richard and defenseman Alexandre Carrier, both drafted two weeks ago in the fourth round by the Preds, got their first taste of life in the NHL during Development Camp and are not only making the most of their opportunity, but also embracing the chance to impress on Saturday.
“It’s perfect for me because I’m a little guy, so to practice against bigger guys and guys from the Milwaukee Admirals is perfect for me and my development,” Richard said. “I’m going to push myself very hard on the ice tomorrow.”
“You’re battling for a spot on the team, so you encourage your own teammates, but on the ice, you’re going hard and trying to beat the other guy to get better,” Carrier said. “If everyone does that, I think everyone is going to get better, and it’ll be good for the team.”
For others, it’s about keeping it simple at the end of a long but rewarding week.
“The camp is always an opportunity to get better and you’ve just got to have fun with it and not worry about who’s watching,” defenseman Jack Dougherty said. “Just be you and play how you usually play. There’s a lot of good players out here, so you can’t get down on yourself if you screw up. There are guys in here looking to make the Preds this year, so it’s going to be a real competitive scrimmage, and it’s an event everyone looks forward to when they come into Development Camp.”
Nichol stated earlier in the week the importance for the prospects to realize while they’re all teammates, they’re still competing to eventually earn a spot with the club. With camp winding down, it’s clear those sentiments haven’t been lost within the locker room.
“We’re all good guys here so everyone respects each other and they’re our friends here, but we’re still trying to compete for a spot and the better one is going to get it,” defenseman Jonathan Diaby said. “It’s a competition and you’ve just got to work hard.”
So while there likely won’t be any friendships built across the benches tomorrow, there’s sure to be some quality hockey on display. And the prospects are anxious to put on a show.
“The people of Nashville are great, and it’s fun to go out there at Ford Ice Center and play in front of the fans,” Diaby said. “We’re trying to be good ambassadors for hockey and trying to get to the people to come see us and the youngsters, too, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Vanderklok Focuses on Goaltenders’ Foundation:
Blocking white pucks or cross-crease drills can be great tools, but establishing the proper pathway for Preds prospects to mature as individuals and hockey players is what’s paramount, says Nashville Predators Goaltending Coach Ben Vanderklok. That’s why the coach, who recently entered his seventh season with the Predators organization, focuses even more on the mental rather than the physical with his masked mentees at the Preds annual Development Camp.
“I think the biggest thing for the entire group is instilling the beliefs and morals of what our organization is all about,” Vanderklok explained following Friday’s camp session. “The biggest thing is instilling those core morals that we believe in and giving them some key things that they need to work on, so they can come back here with those areas improved.
“It’s a variety of things; we had an opportunity to sit down yesterday for an hour and had a sort of fireside chat on what’s important to me and what’s important in terms of the professionalism side of it, the skill and technique and what we want to instill moving forward.”
Hours of video work, skating drills and workout plans still have their merit, of course. Vanderklok says the more data and video available to help instruct players just starting to find their way in the world of professional hockey, the better; for an NHL veteran like Pekka Rinne, however, he might take a more hands-off approach.
“Especially with these young guys, I rarely use the term that less is more,” Vanderklok said. “With a Pekka Rinne, less can be more; we need to back off a bit. But with these guys, less isn’t more. So with the amount of video we have and with our video staff, all that we have access to is fabulous. I have the ability to access the information to coach and do my job extremely thoroughly. I believe in the visual learning. With (goaltender) Brandon Whitney, he sent me a text saying, ‘This will be great for me because I’m a visual learner. Visually I can see myself making saves, and it’s great.’”
Examples like Whitney’s circle back to the very thing Vanderklok wants the teenaged and 20-something goaltenders walking away with - the fundamental understanding of what is required to become an NHL player and specifically one with the Nashville Predators. Sometimes that foundation takes longer to solidify for some rather than others, and that’s why Vanderklok and the Preds are willing to be patient.
“Everyone is on a different timeline,” Vanderklok said of the Preds prospects developing. “We all want everyone to go straight to the NHL and every player wants to do that, but that doesn’t make it the right situation for them. I think everybody is on a little different timeline or path. With Marek Mazanec returning to Milwaukee, he’s been there for awhile now, he’s played some NHL games. Now Juuse Saros is coming in after playing two years in the Finnish Elite League, but it’s his first year in North America and it’s a different situation.
“It doesn’t mean that guys don’t progress in different ways than we thought, but we like to have the plan in place that we believe in - and that’s to give them time to develop and make sure they're ready. And that can make the situation smoother.”