The Dallas Stars wrapped up their 2019 Development Camp session with a scrimmage on Friday afternoon. And while the camp is an opportunity for prospects to show off their skills, it’s also a chance for the coaches and player development coordinators to teach and build relationships with them.
“Why do the Dallas Stars even host development camp?”
It’s a question that is asked by Stars fans and fans of the 30 other NHL teams around this time of the offseason, and rightly so. After all, most of the prospects on the ice are 1-2 years (at minimum) away from challenging for an NHL roster spot. On top of that, over half of the development camp roster will likely never even see NHL action.
Pair that with the fact that most of the days are spent on the prospects participating in drills used to assess their individual skills and growth and it can be difficult to invest in the week-long journey.
And though it may seem like an ultimately basic question, Dallas Stars player development coordinator Rich Peverley gave an informative and in-depth answer when asked on Thursday afternoon about the purposes of development camp.
“It’s a big time to learn,” Peverley pointed out. “I think J.J. [McQueen] does a great job at organizing and getting great speakers. We had a Navy SEAL here for two days and was working with us and speaking. These are people that have invaluable experience in life and they’ll make you a better team and a better individual. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do.”
So, contrary to popular belief, development camp is about more than just seeing how Jason Robertson developed during the 2018-19 season in the OHL or what 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley brings on the ice. Instead, it also provides good personal lessons for players.
“When we’re here, it’s learning on how to work out,” added Peverley. “Some guys have never worked out. Some guys think they’re working out hard, but there’s always ways to improve.
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“There’s so much learning going on and we hope that they take it home. If it’s on-ice stuff, they can do it by themselves. If it’s nutrition, they can do it by themselves because they’re all going to their own teams except for the guys going to Texas. I think it’s a great learning tool to soak up and absorb as much as they can.”
Over the five-day experience, Dallas Stars prospects (and even undrafted prospects invited by the team) are exposed to a lot. While working on the ice in drills and scrimmages with coaches like Rich Peverley, Vernon Fiddler, Derek Laxdal, and Jeff Reese is important, it’s only one part of the deal.
In addition to on-ice action, prospects also take part in workouts off the ice with the Stars’ strength and conditioning coaches. They hear from motivational speakers, take part in team-building exercises (the prospects participated in a ropes course this week), and receive other noteworthy lessons like social media training and other aspects that come into play in the life of a professional athlete.
To top it all off, the players get a chance to begin building relationships with the coaches and management within the organization.
“A lot of these players I will have [in the AHL] in the fall, so it’s good for me to start building relationships with them moving forward and I can continue that in Traverse City and Dallas’s mini camp,” pointed out Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal on Friday.
The Stars have been hosting development camp for the past few years as similar camps have become a standard around the NHL. Some notable players at the Stars’ camp over the past few summers include Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa, and Jason Dickinson. So while development camp is a time to absorb personal lessons, it also provides a chance for certain prospects to get ready for the path to the NHL.
“The thing that I like is that it’s a chance for these players to come in here and obviously gives us a chance to start building the book on these kids. But it’s a chance for us to see what we have moving forward in the prospects and the depth.” – Derek Laxdal on development camp
And in this week’s session, there were a handful of those high-caliber prospects that might have a shot at NHL time in the 2019-20 season. Among that group is Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Joel Kiviranta, and Emil Djuse.
“I think this is the deepest development camp I’ve seen in my five years,” Laxdal added. “I think Dallas has a wealth of prospects moving forward. Not only players that are going to start the season in Texas [AHL], but some of our draft picks as well. It’s good to see. You have to build your team through the draft in a salary cap world, but it was very positive and it’s a great chance for me to start building relationships.”
There are plenty of intentional lessons from the coaches and player development coordinators that the prospects can draw from, but there are also some unintentional teaching points that could end up being just as impactful.
On a number of occasions during the past week, Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn and defenseman Stephen Johns were both on the ice. Benn would be on the ice before development camp sessions began and used the time to work out and practice. Johns, on the other hand, took part in a handful of drills with the prospects as he continues recovering from post-traumatic headaches that kept him sidelined for the entire 2018-19 season.
Having those two around can be a good visual lesson for prospects and give them a glimpse of just how much work and effort goes into being an everyday NHL player.
“Jamie [Benn] is here in the morning and he pushes himself as hard as anybody,” Peverley mentioned. “The kids coming in and seeing him finish, that almost is a lesson tool that is better than any of this stuff. They have to see it.”
All in all, development camp gives the organization a chance to interact with prospects and assess their talent and potential growth since the previous camp. But it’s also a chance to teach important life lessons and help set the players on a course for success as a hockey pro.
“They’ve got to learn on their own sometimes, but we can give them some advice as well,” Peverley added.
And while that may be difficult for fans to observe from the stands as players go through the same shooting and skating drills over and over, it definitely serves as a good reminder.