When it comes to the Boston Bruins, development camp is about a lot of things: nutrition, being a professional, understanding the organizational mindset, and some hockey in there as well.
Many of the prospects worry if they can’t make it for the entire camp; especially the first-timers, but the Bruins staff understand that education may keep a prospect from a day or two of camp. Sometimes even a lingering injury, or a recent recovery, may keep a prospect off the ice, but that doesn’t mean he can’t benefit from the other aspects of camp For Ryan Lindgren, whom the Bruins drafted in June, in the second round (49th overall), a class he had to attend prevented his arrival until late the first day of camp. And Mark Naclerio has a lower back injury that kept him off the ice on day two.
Prospects aren’t expected to be perfect at camp or to already know everything. On the ice, during the drills, the staff would rather see the players go at half speed and nail the skill, whether it be working on edges, puck control or a combination of things.
“Honestly, if they come here and they learn one thing to help them forward, that’s important. We’re throwing a lot at them: nutrition, workouts, stretching, not to mention the on-ice stuff.,” Providence Bruins coach, and development camp staffer, Kevin Dean said. “So if they take one thing from each area that’s going to help their game and for most of these kids it’s going to be a long process. It’s going to be more than just three months and the next season before they get called up, so that process is slow and steady and, you know, if they make incremental progress everyday, they should be in good shape.”
There is a reason most of the prospects will return to development camp each summer as they continue in college or Major Juniors—because it is about progression. The Bruins want to see a returning prospect improve in areas of their game or off-ice fitness. Last year, Jakub Zboril arrived at his first development camp a bit out of shape. He shared surprise at the level that was expected when talking to the media during camp. This year?
“Well [Zboril’s] in better shape for sure, in terms of his body fat and his body composition. You know he skates well. Just in practice, I’d like to see him a little more focused at times and dialed in but he’s awfully talented, he skates incredibly well. You can see when the game starts, even the little small ice games, he seems to make plays and be effective,” Dean offered. “For him, you know everyone has a little different part of their development, and for him it’s going to be probably as much as just being a good pro; learning to come to the rink and have that mind set ‘I’m going to get a little bit better today,’ and then his progress starts and I think with his talent level he’ll be pretty good.”
The Bruins will let the prospects know what parts of their game they need to work on, and what they expect the players to do between the end of this camp and the beginning of training camp. Most of the players will be honest and say that the criticism is important to their improvement.
For those who are at their third or fourth camp, or more, it’s also about leadership—understanding how the new guys feel and not only welcoming them but being vocal on the ice and encouraging off. Most of the returnees remember that feeling of their first camp.
“I just try to calm the nerves as much as possible. I remember my firsts few years, just being really nervous to step in the locker room,” said Matt Grzelcyk who is likely at his last development camp. “You’re not really familiar with all the staff and stuff so, just go up and try to introduce yourself to as many people as you can. I mean, they’re all great kids, that’s why they got picked by the Bruins in the first place, so it’s been a fun experience to go through.”
Even if the new prospects have heard about the way a team works their development camp, there is often no way to truly predict what will happen.
“You know, to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect. You know, I came in here and, you know, obviously I’d never been to development camp before and, you know, you hear a little bit from other people about what theirs was like here or other teams, even a little bit about what the Bruins was like,” shared first-timer Charlie McAvoy, whom the Bruins drafted this past June in the first round, 14th overall. “But, you know, it’s hard to really know until you get here and experience it, you know, first hand. And so far I’ve had a great time and it’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of fun to play hockey again, you know, from taking a good chunk of the summer off, but yeah, I’m having fun and it’s a great group of guys.”
For the Bruins management, it’s a chance to view the progress of their prospects. It’s an opportunity to watch them in drills and perhaps catch things when games aren’t on the line allowing that chance to correct problems.
Development camp is all this and so much more in Boston. Prospects experience community service opportunities. They will have a number of moments that foster team bonding, sometimes involving a visit at Fenway, home to the Boston Red Sox. The goal is to make the players comfortable with the organization but also for them to always know where they stand in their game and what they need to focus on in the coming months.