The Vancouver Canucks’ 2023 prospect development camp comes to a close Wednesday evening with a scrimmage at UBC. It’s an opportunity for the players to try to apply at least a few of the concepts that have been drilled into them throughout the many on-ice sessions of the previous few days.
Of course, putting those concepts into practice is a lot easier said than done. Abbotsford Canucks head coach Jeremy Colliton, who has been running the camp, knows that the prospects have had a lot of ideas thrown at them in not a lot of time.
“There's so many things that we're trying to get in. There’s not enough time, right?” said Colliton. “We're kind of jumping from concept to concept, just really trying to expose them to it.”
In many ways, this camp is all about that initial exposure. It provides a base of knowledge that the Canucks’ development staff can refer back to in the coming months and years as they continue to work with the prospects.
“Whether these guys are in Abby, whether they're back with their junior teams, whether they're in Europe, we have people who hopefully will continue that process,” said Colliton. “A lot of it, it's the first time they've been exposed to these ideas. We're just getting it out there and then hopefully they can keep building as they go through their development curve.”
A significant investment in prospect development
The Canucks have prioritized their prospect development team since Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin took over as president of hockey operations and general manager. The team’s development in the AHL was a significant problem and that’s an area where Rutherford had previously seen a lot of success with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Accordingly, the Canucks overhauled their Player Development department. Assistant general manager Cammi Granato was brought in to oversee development, with Ryan Johnson and Chris Higgins taking on director and assistant director roles. Mikael Samuelsson was hired to work with the team’s prospects in Europe, while Mike Komisarek was brought in to work with prospects across North America.
In addition, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were moved to the development side, giving them more on-ice time with players in the Canucks’ system. The Canucks then added goaltending development coach Marko Torenius, a former goaltending coach out of the KHL.
Those moves gave the Canucks one of the most robust development departments in the entire NHL. That’s a significant investment in money and personnel that the Canucks hope will pay dividends in the years to come.
"It helps with the details, the really fine-tune details."
The development staff were far from the only coaches on the ice. Canucks skills coach Yogi Svejkovsky led the majority of the drills with his detailed teaching style, while guest skating coach Allie LaCombe led position-specific skating drills.
Meanwhile, Colliton worked throughout the week to keep the pace of practices high to help illustrate the jump necessary from junior hockey.
“Pro level, American League, NHL, the pace is much higher, and it can be an adjustment for the guys, so just want to expose them to that and what it might be like,” said Colliton. “I think they've responded well.”
The multiple coaches on the ice provide a good mix of group teaching and one-on-one attention. Throughout each practice, coaches like Higgins and Samuelsson could be seen pulling players aside to reinforce a concept or provide specific feedback, something the players clearly appreciated.
“It helps with the details, the really fine-tune details, whether it's footwork or hand positioning or where your eyes are looking, the small details like that,” said Akito Hirose. “It's easier to have somebody pick up on that when it's just an individual session.”
"How's the work ethic, how's the coachability?"
With the pace of practices and the vast array of concepts they’re trying to teach, there’s little time for evaluation of where these prospects might fit in the future.
“I'm not watching 35 skaters out there and making a ranking,” said Colliton with a smile. “There's just no time, but there's still an opportunity to observe and kind of make an assessment.”
What Colliton is assessing is not necessarily puck skills, skating, or hockey sense. Instead, he’s looking for the things that will lead to players making major improvements in their game.
“The only thing you do evaluate is how they respond to the feedback,” he said. “How's the work ethic, how's the coachability? Can they absorb a concept and then do it?”
The Canucks have invested significantly in development, but it's partly up to the prospects to take the concepts away from camp and apply them in their upcoming seasons.