"We talked about how we want to play as the New York Rangers, and the areas we want to prioritize in terms of exposing young prospects to what it takes to be an NHL player, and in particular, a New York Ranger," said head coach Tom Renney of one such meeting held at the end of the 2005-06 season.
That season-ending meeting helped set the stage for this year's Prospect Development Camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center. Thirty young men who dream of one day wearing the Rangers' jersey as NHLers have spent the past week pushing themselves to the limit at this camp, and they all feel their participation has brought them one step closer to realizing their dreams and becoming even better hockey players.
Tom Pyatt, a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, is known for being one the best conditioned players in the Rangers organization, not just among the prospects. He represented Team Canada in the 2006 World Junior Championship tournament, and credits the Blueshirts' 2005 prospects camp for helping him reach that goal. Even though he's in great shape to begin with, Pyatt said he still feels the rigors of such an intensive camp.
"Monday was a tough day with the on and off ice fitness testing, but it helps you get stronger," Pyatt said. "We have had some really good workouts and it's a great learning experience. It's been a great week"
Lewiston MAINE-iac star Marc-Andre Cliché, drafted in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, also took part in his second prospects camp this year, and he agreed with Pyatt's assessment.
"I think this is really great because we are taught the correct techniques in here to reach the next level," said Cliche. "It's a chance for a lot of us to get the experience we need."
Cliche also spoke about the respect each player has for the Rangers staff, including Special Assistant Adam Graves, who is one of the camp's instructors.
"To be on the ice with Graves, it's unbelievable," said Cliche. "He's a great guy and I love him. He loves to teach us about his experiences, and he was such a great player. It's a great opportunity and he's taught me a lot of things."
The feeling is mutual for Graves, who said he has really been impressed with this year's crop:
"These kids want to be here. They want to come to this facility every day to train to play at Madison Square Garden and be a Ranger," said Graves, who played 772 career games for the Blueshirts. We hope to get the right structure in place to get each player to commit themselves to getting there and being the best they can be."
University of Maine graduate Greg Moore is another player who has taken advantage of the prospects camp over the past few years.
"This is my third summer at camp and I have learned a lot of things that have helped improve my game," says the 6-foot-1 forward who grew up in Maine. "Even the smallest little things from the coaches on the ice can have a huge impact on your game. They have especially stressed an outstanding work ethic both on and off the ice. It's a standard that definitely helps. It builds my motivation for the summer and brings a lot of confidence to a lot of players who come in here and play with their peers. We know we've been in a Rangers camp, and now can go home and play with our competitive peers that we have played with before and play with a better level of confidence."
Goaltender Chris Holt participated in his fourth camp this year, even though he's just 21 years old. The only player at the camp with NHL experience, he has taken a huge step in his development by becoming both a leader on and off the ice for his peers.
"I've been talking to the young guys a lot," said Holt. "They all want to know what its like up there. They want to know what its like during the season, how all the guys are, what the locker room is like, and everything that comes with playing in the National Hockey League. This is the first year I have felt like a leader, and I am hoping to steer these guys in the right direction."
If he has his way, Holt has helped to reinforce the need for fitness, which has been the top priority at this camp.
"Fitness is always the number goal here at these camps," Holt explains. "It should be the number one priority for all these guys, myself included especially. Personally, after last year's camp [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Reg Grant and the coaches helped me make my weight, and I lost a bit more than twenty pounds to get where the coaches wanted me to be."
For many prospects, this camp marked the first time they have been on the ice since the end of their junior, college or European seasons, and they all say it feels great to be back on the ice.
"We are doing a lot of flow drills," says defenseman Michael Sauer
, the 40th overall pick in the 2005 draft. "We worked on a lot of passing and shooting the first few days, and now it's been a lot of battle drills. Fighting for the puck along the boards and in front of the net, and positioning yourself along with your opponent. We have had a some really good workouts."
Brodie Dupont, one of two Rangers third-round draft picks in 2005, said he's extremely grateful for the Prospect Development Camp.
"They makes you realize what it takes to make it at the NHL level, and last year's (camp) helped raise my game a bit," says the star center for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, who netted 30 goals for the first time in his career and more than doubled his scoring totals from the previous year. "I'm coming in here this year looking for advice. My mindset is obviously these guys are here for a reason, so I'm going to ask them a lot of questions."
Hugh Jessiman, the Rangers' first-round pick in 2003, is another fan of the camp.
"This is my third camp, and I am a stronger player both physically and mentally as a result," he said. "It really has been good for me because it gives me a chance to soak up a lot of what they are saying and use it the rest of the summer. It's always been very useful for me."
Lauri Korpikoski, the Rangers' second of two first-round selections in 2004, has a unique perspective on this year's camp. That's because last year at this time, he was getting ready to enter the Finnish Army, where he served from July until January.
"The army was a little bit tougher, but this camp is right up there," said Korpikoski. "They work us really hard, but it will pay off."
For Bobby Sanguinetti, the Blueshirts' first pick in this year's draft, the camp has been the latest stop on the non-stop roller coaster ride that was the last week and a half.
"It's been crazy running around with the travel from Vancouver," said the New Jersey native. "At the draft you are anxious to see where you are going, and then you find out and relax for a bit but then you are on the move again. But I am happy to be here. I am a little tired because they are working us real hard, but it is really great to be here."
Sanguinetti said he hopes to one day play alongside many of his fellow campers in the NHL.
"There are a lot of guys from the junior leagues," he said, "and it's the elite from each team. Everyone here is the best player on his respective team. They are bigger and stronger, some are older, but I still have a little time to improve and work on what I need to. It shows where I am at this point of my development and what I need to work on."
Amidst all the hard work and pressure, the kids still know how to enjoy their downtime. Moore has been the man to beat on the Ping-Pong table, while Sanguinetti and his former Owen Sound teammate Trevor Koverko have played countless games of pool. The players have also watched the World Cup soccer matches whenever they can, whether it is Marc Staal
catching a game while working out, or Ryan Russell joining Rangers assistant captain Darius Kasparaitis to watch a game on the big-screen TV in the players' lounge.
There have also been some lighthearted moments on the ice. Everyone laughed as Graves and assistant coach Mike Pelino fought along the boards for the puck, or when Graves had to sprint down the ice after being stoned by Goaltender Miika Wiikman.
And on Friday, as Holt was turning aside shot after shot from the likes of Moore, Brandon Dubinsky
, and Cliché, it was Pelino who managed to net the first goal. The assistant coach had fun with the moment - pumping his fist in excitement.
"It's a real aggressive camp," said Dubinsky. "They work us really hard but its good to get us into shape. It's something we all have to work on and I think I am getting prepared to make the next leap."
The players know they are under the constant watch of the Rangers' front office and coaching staff at camps like this one. Seated above the rink, Renney, President and General Manager Glen Sather, and Assistant General Manager Don Maloney closely eye the talent they have amassed over the past few seasons.
The timetable for each player's arrival on the Rangers' NHL roster is different, although those who have been in the system for a longer period of time are more likely to see action next season.
"It depends when you have been in," said Renney. "There have been guys who have been in camp three or four years ago, and that's realistic. I would say the evolution is somewhere in between three or four years before a draft prospect should be with the Rangers. There might be a surprise or two and we're always ready for that. We are always excited about surprises, and there certainly could be a couple."
One of those surprises came last year, in fact. In just a few months, Petr Prucha went from Development Camp prospect to a high-scoring Rangers regular.
"Last year we had Prucha at this camp and we all know the year he had," Pelino said. "We are keeping our fingers crossed that there is another Prucha out there and, hopefully, there will be a few of these guys knocking on the door come September."