Strength and power.
These represent the basic characteristics to succeed in the NHL. If there was one lesson emphasized this week in the Arizona Coyotes rookie camp, it's that command of these variables is essential.
Of the 36 skaters and three goaltenders who participated, few are given a reasonable chance to eventually land on an NHL team. Yet the passion and commitment shown by this group of 18- and 19-year-olds left a mark on the Coyotes’ coaching staff.
“I like the way each one showed up and their conditioning,” assistant coach Sean Burke told reporters after Thursday’s final session of the three-day camp. “We looked at how they came in because it’s hard to do a true evaluation in just three days. This was more a matter of getting used to each other and the organization. It was also an important first look for the staff.”
As part of the transition from junior hockey to life in the NHL, Arizona coaches emphasized the attention to detail and the need to minimize mistakes. Turnovers are a frequent reality in any NHL game, and errors and sloppy play in the defensive end usually results in goals.
That’s why stress was placed on the attention to detail and the importance of strength.
“For me, it’s a question of getting stronger so I can win battles in the corners and along the boards,” said center Ryan MacInnis, the Coyotes’ second-round selection in the 2014 draft. “When you’re stronger, you’re in a better position to control the game.”
MacInnis should know about power and strength in the NHL. His dad, Al MacInnis, played 23 seasons as a defenseman in the league with the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. He won a Stanley Cup with the Flames and was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“(My dad) just told me to work and work hard,” MacInnis added. “The stronger you get, the easier the game becomes.”
At 6'3" and 185 pounds, MacInnis will return to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, his junior club, this fall and work on his shot. At the time of his draft selection in late June, Tim Bernhardt, the Coyotes director of amateur scouting, told reporters MacInnis needs to develop more scoring chances, and a lethal shot is a valuable weapon in any forward’s arsenal.
While the camp served as an essential introduction to the Arizona team, it also represented the first step in that critical transition period.
Even at the AHL level, where many will skate professionally for the first time, the jump is startling. The speed, power and creativity becomes intensified, and players must make the necessary transition in a hurry.
“(The coaches) told us how important details are throughout a game and in any situation,” Brendan Perlini, the Coyotes’ No. 1 pick in 2014, told reporters after Thursday’s session. “We need to do the little things right in order to progress to the next level. They were specific and I took it all in. Even after three days, I could feel myself grow as a player and know what I have to do to get the next level.”
During the three days, the emphasis was not about evaluation but about creating an atmosphere in which players were introduced to an NHL franchise. While players arrived with varying degrees of skill levels, they now go back home to address additional segments of this critical transition.
“The off-ice program is just as important as developing any on-ice skill,” Burke pointed out. “Now, these guys leave and take with them a conditioning program, a nutrition program and land program. If they want to get to the next level, they can’t cut corners on any of these programs.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.