DETROIT – While Joey Jaws Chestnut is scarfing down 70-or so hot dogs in 10 minutes and most other ‘normal’ Americans are hosting Fourth of July barbeques this weekend, a group of young NHL hopefuls will be put through their paces at the Red Wings annual six-day development camp in northern Michigan.
For the fourth straight summer the Red Wings will head to Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City for their annual camp intended to familiarize recent draft picks, free agents and camp invitees to the organization’s culture and coaching staff.
For the prospects it’s a crash course in the dos and don’ts as they look to transition from college and juniors to the pros.
Forty-four players, including 17 previously drafted prospects led by the Wings past two first-round picks – center Dylan Larkin and forward Anthony Mantha – are expected at the camp, which begins Friday morning.
“The development camp is where we bring all our players who are not signed to contracts, all our draft picks, players that we own and anybody that’s on an entry-level contract,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We bring in our strength coach, Peter Renzetti, we bring in our training staff, we bring in our nutritionist, we bring in our P.R. department, and we spend five days educating the young players on off-ice conditioning, on nutrition, on dealing with the media, and at the same time it’s an opportunity for the organization to get to know these players.”
Camper will be split into two equal groups – Team Lidstrom and Team Yzerman – with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies in each. The groups will work together in on-ice skill development that will feature two intra-squad scrimmages.
The organization will also introduce the prospects to dietitian Lisa McDowell, who has worked with pro, college and Olympic athletes since 1996. She will teach the prospects about good cooking and nutritional habits.
Drafted players are usually three to five years away from breaking onto an NHL roster. Development camps give teams the chance to evaluate the progression of prospects, which is a lot different from when Kris Draper was starting out in 1989.
“After you get selected that’s when the real work starts,” said Draper, a special assistant to Holland. “They’ve obviously done a lot to get picked but it’s what you do after that to get yourself into the NHL. These kids, with the nutrition, the personal training, the education that these guys get it’s far superior than when I was a kid and that’s what you see in the talent that’s coming up right now. It’s impressive.”
Fans will get their first look at five of the Red Wings latest draft picks. Besides Larkin, the draftees selected last weekend in Philadelphia expected at camp are Dominic Turgeon (third round), Christoffer Ehn (fourth), Julius Vahatalo (sixth) and Axel Holmstrom (seventh).
Because of NCAA eligibility rules, the offseason conditioning camp is the only time that NHL teams can work-out their drafted players that have taken the college route, like Larkin, who will be a freshman this fall at the University of Michigan.
“Dylan will come to our development camp and he will get to learn what our culture is all about right off the bat, and so will Tomas Nosek, who we signed from the Czech Republic, so does Anthony Mantha, and all of the new guys along with Alexey Marchenko, Richie Nedomlel and Marek Tvrdon who have already played in Grand Rapids,” said Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings director of player development. “It is a great blend and every year makes such a big difference that when you have a player who has been a 3-4 year player out of the draft and a one-year pro, you see the maturity level.”
However, the camp isn’t all about work as the prospects will have some fun opportunities built into their northern Michigan visit during one of the region’s busiest times of the year with the annual National Cherry Festival. Some of the fun planned for the prospects will include a Fourth of July fireworks show; a guided tour of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight squadron; attending a minor-league baseball game; and a curling tournament.
The camp will conclude with a team barbeque next Wednesday.
“We’ll have a barbeque where we sit out and Chris Chelios and some of the vets will talk a little bit about their careers,” Holland said. “You’re really trying to create that Red Wing’ culture, educate them about the Red Wings’ culture and what’s expected of them to one day play their way into being a Detroit Red Wing.”
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