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Wings' development staff adjusts during pandemic

Technology assists in helping prospects

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

In a normal year, everyone in the Detroit Red Wings front office would have already met their 2020 draftees and hosted them, along with their other prospects, at development camp at Little Caesars Arena.

Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there's nothing normal about this year.

The NHL is set to return to play with a 24-team playoff this weekend, beginning with a qualifying round.

The Wings are among the seven teams that are not involved in the playoffs, along with the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

The NHL Entry Draft, which will now be a virtual event, is tentatively set for Oct. 9-10.

Originally, the draft was set for June 26-27 in Montreal and the Wings would have held their development camp the following week. The lack of a development camp and differing health regulations all over the world have made it difficult for player development departments to do what they would typically do.

"It's made it actually even more challenging because normally we know exactly what we're used to, what we're getting," said Shawn Horcoff, Red Wings director of player development and assistant director of player personnel. "These kids are going to go, they're going to have a local trainer, a local skills coach, a local skating coach. It's very easy to kind of plan out a summer plan for the summer. Even though they're individualized programs, the overall structure is very similar.

"That's all out the window now because each kid is different. Some kids have access to ice, others don't. Some kids have a gym that they can go to and train, others don't. We're really confident with where our guys are at right now, who they're working with and that they'll be ready for whenever their seasons are, whenever they start, they'll be ready for them. I think overall, we're happy with where we're at this summer given the circumstances."

Horcoff said that he, Dan Cleary, assistant director of player development, and Niklas Kronwall, advisor to the general manager, have remained in contact with all the prospects every week and via a monthly Zoom call.

"On top of that, we're in contact with their trainers, their skating coaches, their skills coaches, really anyone that they're working with we're in close contact with to help with the structure of their workouts, to just let them know what we see and what we'd like to see them work on this summer," Horcoff added. "It has been more difficult given the situation because each person's different and that seems to change every week. This might be yeah, the rinks are open or maybe this week for some of the guys, they had some local COVID infections and now the rinks are closed and you have to kind of adjust. You're calling around trying to find ice.

"So it's been a challenge for sure on the development side because everything's fluid and every single individual's program is different and is structured different so it's been a challenge. But we're really happy with where we're at, we think we're in a good spot with all our guys."

Phil Osaer, head of goaltending scouting and development, said they are all relying on current technology to help them maximize the ways they help the players.

"We have found ways, whether it's current guys sending video when they can get on the ice and us going through that together, we've done various different meetings virtually with our nutritionist and our strength coaches and the strength coaches that are working with our guys when that was allowed," Osaer said. "Then we just really tried to talk the guys through what they did have, what they could do within their local health authorities' guidelines."

Because of the technology, Osaer feels they have been able to keep and strengthen the relationships they established in person during the season.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we were able to still maintain a really good level of engagement without being as hands-on as we perhaps would have all liked to be," Osaer said. "For me personally, being in my first year of course, it would have been nicer to be able to have some more time together with them in this offseason but throughout the season I had spent time with each one of them a fair amount so we were able to hit the ground running with that.

"We've just basically tried to not leave any stone unturned as far as working on vision training, I mentioned nutrition, and strength and conditioning. We've had them watch a lot of hockey that's relevant to them as well, the games from the leagues that they're going to be playing in and doing a little bit of active engagement as far as what their seasons are going to look like and how can they prepare to have the best results."

Osaer said goaltender Kaden Fulcher, who is back home in Ontario, Canada, got creative and managed to procure a puck machine to help him train during the pandemic.

"It shoots pucks, it kind of looks like a tennis ball machine," Osaer said. "It's like that and it shoots pucks out. He had sent myself and Brian Mahoney-Wilson (Grand Rapids Griffins goaltending development coach) video of him in full gear outside of his barn watching pucks come flying at him and he was catching them. One of the things that he identified that he really wanted to improve on is tracking with his high shots and he found a way to do it, which I admire that. He's been very good about listening to all the rules and regulations so he hasn't been able to get out very much at all so he found a way, which is something that I admire, that he took those steps."

Osaer said while he is working with the goaltenders in their development, he also wants to get to know them as people.

"There's a lot of different things that go on in these young athletes' lives," Osaer said. "We want to evaluate them for what happens on the ice but make sure that their transition, whether it's with their family or how it is in the city they're living in, if it's a new country, are they able to navigate the grocery stores or if it's a new team, how are they blending in with their team and making sure all those things are okay. I definitely try to keep up with them on the personal level to make sure that they're doing okay.

"I'll speak with their coaches quite a bit and their strength coaches to mainly know that we're here to help support and relay their message if they think we can be of any assistance, just try to help them learn what it'll take to transition to be a pro. For the guys who haven't had that day-to-day environment at all, it's important, and for those who have played in other countries, it's also good that we can continue to discuss the day-to-day rigors of playing pro hockey in North America, because it is a little bit different, and we want them to be as prepared as possible, physically obviously but also mentally and emotionally so when they get here, they're able to have as much success as possible right off the bat. Because it's a tough job to learn on the job as a goalie."

Detroit's prospects are expected to be all over the map as usual once their seasons start, and some in Europe have already begun.

There remains uncertainty about how much hockey will be going on in North America, whether it's in the American Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League or in college due to the novel coronavirus.

Horcoff said they'll be ready no matter what happens.

"Until we know or are told differently, we're training these guys like the season's going to start," Horcoff said. "The nice thing is at this age, the majority of these guys need to be in the gym, they need to be training, they need to be on the ice working on skill and skating. They're younger so recovery's not really an issue like it would be for somebody 33 or above, or mid-30s to 40. So we're working them as hard as we normally would.

"We have guys playing in Europe, we have guys playing in college, junior, they're all over the place, so really we're just taking it day by day and once we find out more clearly what's going to happen with their seasons, like Sweden or Europe seems to be up and running, maybe a little bit of a delay in some places, but they seem like as of now they're going to start on time.

"For the North American guys, we're going to train them like they're ready to start in October until we're told differently. Once we are, we can adjust and work with their teams if they're local or just work with them if they're staying at home. So we'll figure it out as we go."

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