Director of Player Development Scott Pellerin spoke about the opening of 2017 development camp after the on-ice sessions on Friday.
Foundation pieces along the way – how important is this camp as it’s evolved over the last few years?
Pellerin: It has evolved. This year is a little bit different but we’re excited about the format. It’s a good first day for us to get some logistics done with our medicals and our physicals and getting an opportunity for some of the free agents to get on the ice.
You guys had an awful lot of players in camp compared to previous years.
Pellerin: We have it set up a little bit differently this year. We have our draft picks and prospect group, and then we have two free agent teams. We’re kind of blending both philosophies together. It’s a new kind of way that we want to establish this type of camp. That’s why [we’ve got] the high numbers.
Is that also looking for the Marlies?
Pellerin: It gives us an opportunity to evaluate some of these players. Free agent players that have come here in the past maybe haven’t had that opportunity to really show what they can do. This will give them a much better opportunity.
Is what you’re doing with the players differ by group?
Pellerin: No, you saw with the free agent group today that we did a lot of development teaching. We’ll be doing that throughout the week. And we’ll obviously be doing lots of that with our prospects.
What went on last night and what was the dinner like?
Pellerin: It was great. For a lot of these guys, it’s the first time they’re representing the Toronto Maple Leafs. We talked a little bit about the responsibility of that and being at this camp and what an honour it is. It was just kind of for everybody to get together and talk about the curriculum and our philosophies.
With the defencemen you have this week in camp – Timothy the first-round pick and Eemeli, the second-round pick this year. Both look like they have a lot of potential. What do you see from them and what is your hope for what they can develop into in the future?
Pellerin: Obviously, with all of the new draft picks, we haven’t been on the ice with them yet. We’re going to get on the ice here and do a little bit of a skating screen. We’re excited to see every single player we have here. Let’s be honest – some of the guys, being where they were drafted, it’s obviously a little bit more exciting for everybody. We’re going to treat everybody the same. Everybody is going to go through the curriculum we put forth here. We’ve got a great staff of people that worked for the Maple Leafs, and that’s kind of our agenda this week.
Is a guy like Bracco, who has been here before, a role model for some of these guys at this point?
Pellerin: Some guys have gone through the camps throughout the years. He’s maybe at a different level in regards to what we’re teaching, so we adjust our teachings. This is his third camp, I believe. He’ll be doing things a little bit different; maybe in a different group or with different guys in our staff to work on things to improve on what he learned in his first camp. For other guys, they might be on level one. It’s kind of a level one and a level three type of scenario.
How has his development in junior impressed you and the organization?
Pellerin: I think, for us, I don’t really like talking about individuals. I think it’s an opportunity for everyone to create a team atmosphere. Our plan is to really come up with a development plan for each player. That’s the model and criteria that we’ve put together. Bracco’s individual player development plan might be different than Brooks’. That’s kind of what we want to see – what areas they are strong in, but also the areas where we see he can really improve. Bracco has areas that he wants to improve on, too, so we’ll attack those individually.
What are those areas?
Pellerin: I wouldn’t get into specifics, but there are areas that everyone has to improve on and it falls into the plan that we have.
In terms of the free agents, the team hasn’t shied away from smaller players. It’s almost as if being 5’6 these days does not matter.
Pellerin: Out there today, there are guys who are 5’6 but there are also some big guys out there. I was looking around like, “Oh my gosh.” At this point, it’s about who can play hockey and who has the compete level, who can make plays. Let them go out there and compete and be the best hockey player they can be. That’s an opportunity for them to do that.
How much do you know about the free agents going through the selection process, and how much of it is knowing a little bit but not enough, and this is your chance to get to know more?
Pellerin: Exactly. For me, it’s a chance to get to know them and see them on the ice. This is what is all about – get them to come in here, get them to introduce themselves. We all had our nametags. It’s basically first introductions and seeing them on the ice, first impressions. I’m excited to see everybody on the ice – our free agents and our prospects. I can’t wait to get this week going.
What sort of activities do you have planned for them off the ice to sort of complement what they’re doing on the ice?
Pellerin: We’re very fortunate to have a great staff here. We are going to be doing some nutrition seminars. We have a couple of media seminars to help a lot of these young guys deal with the media, especially in this market. Strength and conditioning seminars – we’ve got a couple of guest speakers coming in. We’re going to a Blue Jays game tonight. We’re going to try to have some fun. This is the first time we’ve done it in Toronto since I’ve been here, so it’ll be a good opportunity for all of our prospects and invitees to experience this great city.
Is there a social media aspect to it as well?
Pellerin: Absolutely. Steve Keough and his staff are prepared to go through all of the ins and outs of this environment.
The first-year prospects – is there a core principle that you are hoping to instil throughout the course of the camp?
Pellerin: There is. I think [it’s] the culture and what it means to be a Toronto Maple Leaf. That starts from yesterday when they came in. How important it is, what the responsibility that is, and whether you’re an invited player, a seventh-round draft pick or a first-round draft pick, it doesn’t matter. That culture is there.
I’m pretty sure the nutritional standards are much higher now than when you played. If they had told you to cut out what they’re telling them to cut out, how would you have reacted?
Pellerin: It’s interesting because it is so different. We’re talking about nutrition and we’re talking about other aspects of strength and conditioning. You look at all these players and they’re in very good shape. That side of professional hockey and junior hockey and college hockey has really, really improved. They’re taking advantage of it. I wish I had known it a long time ago, that’s for sure.
It’s only July. Is it important that a few of these players separate themselves from the rest of the group when all things are finished Wednesday?
Pellerin: We just want them to improve and have some takeaways from this experience. You can tell there is a lot of opportunities, when you were watching us on the ice, that we were taking the opportunity to teach, to correct. We want them to learn the right way. Obviously, it’s an opportunity for some of these guys to show what they can do. I wouldn’t say separate, but for us to take notice.
Where do you draw the line with players who aren’t here who needs this and who doesn’t?
Pellerin: The guys who aren’t here all had specific reasons why they aren’t here – other commitments or travel issues, and stuff like that. We’re focused on the group that’s here and we have time to work with the guys that are going to eventually be with us at other times.