Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson visited San Jose’s top development affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks this past weekend. Wilson, like all National Hockey League general managers, make numerous visits to their top development affiliates throughout the season.
Wilson doesn’t make the trip because he has to, but rather because he realizes the importance of having a strong development system.
“It’s very, very important to the entire organization,” Wilson said. “Roy and Cunny (Worcester Head Coach Roy Sommer and Assistant Coach Dave Cunniff) have done a great job there considering the amount of players that have matriculated up from there.”
This year, the Sharks have leaned heavily on their Worcester club as many future NHL players have spent time with the top team.
“We had 10 players up here this year at many different times,” said Wilson of a list that includes Benn Ferriero
, Jamie McGinn, Derek Joslin, Frazer McLaren, Joe Callahan, Logan Couture
, Jason Demers
and Ryan Vesce.
While minor league affiliates can always take a bit of a hit when players get promoted, there’s always a very direct benefit. Players who’ve spent some time in the NHL play better when they return to the AHL.
“That team is playing very, very well,” said Wilson of the Worcester Sharks. “They have some key players there that will be key players for us moving forward. They’re on a roll and it was fun to watch them play this weekend. They are playing outstanding hockey.”
The Sharks not only own the Worcester club, but they are heavily vested in the program.
“We’ve got a great staff and everybody is involved in the development of our players,” Wilson said. “We want to win there also.”
When necessary, the Sharks have their key hockey operations people visit Worcester, which is an hour outside of Boston.
“We have (Scout) Bryan Marchment go in there and (Development Coach) Mike Ricci,” Wilson said. “(Director of Scouting) Tim Burke is there a lot and so is (Director of Pro Scouting) John Ferguson. I like to get there, (Vice President and Assistant General Manager) Wayne Thomas gets there and (Goaltending Development Coach) Corey Schwab is there. That tells you the importance of developing of our own players.”
One reason why the Sharks have their top development affiliate in Worcester is because of the travel, or lack thereof. Teams in their division are within a maximum two-hour drive, so players can spend most nights in their own bed. In addition, they get more practice time because they don’t spend a lot of time on planes or busses.
“I think being in Worcester is crucial,” Wilson said. “Their travel is very minimal because of the corridor they play in. The development time is really valuable to us. The work these players have done is one of the reasons we always give them the first opportunity to come and play for this hockey team. That they have the ability to come up and play for us is crucial to this organization.”
Not every player in Worcester started their career as an NHL Entry Draft pick.
“Drafting and developing is crucial to what we do,” Wilson said. “It’s not just drafting. Sometimes it’s a free agent from college (Ferriero) or juniors (Brandon Mashinter
) and when we sign them, it’s our responsibility to give them all the tools they need to succeed and develop.”
Wilson named a few players who’ve impressed him.
“Logan (Couture, a center) has been outstanding,” Wilson said. “Nick (Petrecki, a defenseman) is right on track and playing very well. Our goaltending with Alex Stalock
and Tyson Sexsmith
, I’m very pleased with them.”
Players like these look at those here and know they control their own destiny as roster spots are available to those who perform the best.
“Right across the board, there’s an understanding that we look to see who’s coming up next,” Wilson said. “The coaches have done a magnificent job with the players.”
Wilson notes the Worcester team is always part of the organization’s pulse, so whether Wilson is on site or not doesn’t make a difference.
“I like to observe and watch where they are at,” said Wilson. “Last year Todd (Head Coach McLellan) and I both went down there and the guys were nervous and they didn’t need to be. They now know we believe in them and see every game in real time or on DVD. One game doesn’t differentiate a whole lot. The coaching staff has input on who’s playing well and who deserves the opportunity.”
Wilson, who was the team’s director of pro development from 1997-03, gets excited when a prospect earns his way to San Jose.
“I think it’s the most satisfying part of this job,” Wilson said. “I come from a development background. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see a young player figure it out, grow and come to the NHL. They all take different time frames. Some times we’re spoiled like with Marc-Edouard Vlasic
. That’s the aberration. Usually its years of going up and down and growing physically and mentally. That’s really an exciting part of our job, to see people pursue their dream.
“It’s the foundation of what we do, developing players,” Wilson added. “Not all will play for us, but if we can make them better, whether it’s for us or another team, it’s a mutual goal for all of us. We take great responsibility in that as an organization.”
The Sharks feel so strongly in Worcester and the AHL that every player drafted by San Jose in Wilson’s tenure had played for the development squad.
“Every player since we’ve taken over, every single one of our players in the last six years has played in Worcester,” said Wilson with pride. “It’s a part of their rite of passage. We think it’s important for them to understand and go through the process. I think they’ve enjoyed it and respected the process. The AHL is a very good league. It’s good for them to establish themselves.”
CHECKING IN ON “CRANKSHAFT”
Defenseman Douglas Murray
missed the latter portion of Wednesday’s game vs. Los Angeles after colliding with Dany Heatley late in the first. He did come back to play, but deferred later on just to be safe.
“I was just taking a rest,” Murray said with a smile. “It was a little tweak. There’s not a lot of pain. It was more of a decision not to make it worse. I don’t think it was anything really serious.”
Murray is questionable for Friday night’s game with Dallas and if he can’t go, McLellan said recent signee Jay Leach could make his Sharks debut.
“He’s better than we thought,” said McLellan about Murray. “We’ll see more tomorrow.”
McLellan ordered a good portion of his team to take a day away from the ice and had them simply do off-ice workouts.
The Sharks will play hosts to Dallas in a rare 7 p.m. start Friday at HP Pavilion. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.