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Development camp building team concept

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

For the Dallas Stars, their current weeklong development camp is less about evaluating their players of the future, and much more about molding their individual prospects into a cohesive group. Since the 31 players in camp played last season in many different locales scattered across the world and most aren’t familiar with one another, the camp has been most effective in introducing them to the others and to the club’s management staff.

With daily on-ice sessions combined with off-ice workouts at the club’s practice facility at the DrPepper StarCenter in Frisco, the camp is also designed to expose the hopefuls to the standards of becoming a Dallas Star.

The goal is to get everyone on the same page moving forward, and although many will return to their various colleges or junior teams, several will make up a key portion of the Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa next season. Therefore, it is important that each has a feel for what the Stars’ organization stands for and what it expects of them.

“There’s no question that it’s a team sport and everything we’re trying to do here in this development camp, and I think generally with our organization, is that everything is about the team,” said Stars assistant general manager Les Jackson, who oversees amateur scouting and player development for the organization. “All the activities during the development camp, the groups that we put together to try to work with each other. I think it’s selling the Dallas Stars and saying that you’re one member of the group, but you have to buy into the team concept. At the end of the day, that’s why we’ve had a lot of success in Dallas, because we get guys who play for one another and that’s critical.”

Another way of promoting team-building in camp is for the prospects to engage in other off-ice activities together such as a skeet-shooting excursion Wednesday.

“The boys all went out and took part in a fun event,” Jackson said. “They have different teams competing against one another. It was midweek, it was a good day just to get away from the rink and relax. Now, we’ve only got a couple of days left, so we can finish the week strong.”

For the prospects, the camp is an important step in setting them up for their summer workout regimen and ultimately, preparing for September’s training camp.

“I want to come into this camp, get my legs under me, get some ice time, get to know the guys and just learn as much as I can,” said defenseman Marc Fistric, a first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in 2004, who skated in Iowa last season. “This camp is a lot of puck work, so I’m working on my hands, and that’s one of the things that I want to get better at. When September comes, hopefully I can earn a spot on the roster.”

John Lammers
“I’m looking to just learn a lot and get to know the guys,” added left winger John Lammers, a third-rounder (No. 86 overall) from the 2004 draft who split last season between AHL Iowa and Dallas’ secondary affiliate, Idaho in the ECHL. “Basically, just learning and working hard. It’s not really much of an evaluation. I’m sure they’re evaluating at all times, but we’re just trying to go out of our comfort zone and work as hard as you can at things you’re not used to doing.”

Lammers is correct in assuming there isn’t a whole lot of assessing or grading going on, but the camp is a vital part of the process of the players getting acclimated to the organization, and vice versa.

“It’s not an evaluation,” Jackson confirmed. “It’s July and I don’t think it’s fair to the players to try to evaluate them at that point. We’ll save that for the winter. This one’s about orientation, an opportunity for them to visit different areas of their training, have people talk to them about nutrition and have J.J. (McQueen, Dallas’ strength and conditioning coach) talk to them about how to train properly off-ice.”

During the on-ice instruction, the prospects worked on their offensive skills, an area the big club would like to improve upon next season. And none other than Brett Hull, the NHL’s third all-time leading goal scorer, provided some tips to the youngsters.

“We did some skill development on the ice, trying to create different offensive mindsets that they don’t normally get to practice,” Jackson noted. “That’s really what it’s about.”

“The drills are kind of challenging, but I think the name of the game is just trying your best and trying to improve,” said 2005 third-round selection (No. 71 overall) Richard Clune, a left-winger who will turn pro this season after four years of playing major junior hockey. “This is pretty challenging, you want to challenge yourself here, and I think everyone benefits from it. I’m just trying to keep an open mind, listen and take everything in.”

While most of the youngsters in camp are Stars’ property, there are a few that are here on a tryout basis. Among them are North Texas products Adam Kraus, a goaltender from Irving who will attend Boston University this fall, and Ben Van Lare, a winger from Richardson who played the last two years with Des Moines of the USHL, the United States’ top junior league. 

Another notable attendee is defenseman Eric Doyle, a defenseman who was rated 28th by the International Scouting Service - and 36th by The Hockey News - for last month’s NHL Draft, but was never selected. 

Richard Clune
“They’re tryout players that we’re going to take to our rookie tournament in Traverse City, so we’ll have an evaluation there,” Jackson said. “For those guys, this is an opportunity to express their game, and whether we sign them or not is really not our call, it’s them. They have to show us something that’s going to make us want to add them to our group. When they go into Traverse City, they’re going to have four or five games to play with some of our own players, who we have a good feel for, as far as measuring their ability and their level. They come in and compete right with our guys, so it’s a real good comparison. If one of those young kids shows us something, we would definitely sign whoever we feel has that opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for those players.”

After the camp culminates with a skills competition at 10:45 on Saturday morning that is open to the public, the players will disperse again for the remainder of the summer before most return in September for training camp. But they won’t be leaving empty-handed.

“We will give them two or three things that they have to work on in conditioning-wise,” Jackson said. “And on-ice, we give them two or three things that we feel that will enhance their development. We keep it relatively simple, because a lot of these things are corrected through just playing and maturation and experience. We don’t overload them, because time will decide where they’re going to go to.”
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