The Red Wings Development Camp is constantly evolving, and each year elements are added, removed, and tweaked, in order to provide the best instruction for the young prospects; both Wings draftees, and free agent camp invitees. Development Camp plays a crucial role in preparing these kids to be professionals hockey players. Covering everything from the on ice skills they'll need to be successful, to how to interact with the media, proper nutrition, cooking, yoga, stretching, how to work out, and what specific areas each individual needs to work on, and a whole lot more. There's a particular aspect of development camp this year that has really impressed me and that I think will be a huge advantage for the entire organization.
After spending a year as an assistant coach in Detroit Jeff Blashill became the head coach of the Griffins, and the similarities between he and Mike Babcock are remarkable. They use the same terms, share ideals and philosophies, and sometimes when reading comments or quotes, I'm not sure which one is speaking. Babcock and Blashill speak frequently, and they not only communicate well, but understand each other. The results of this continuity were evident last year when Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul, and other call-ups were able to come up to Detroit and not look out of place at all. They knew the system, they understood how the Wings play, they knew what was expected of them, and what Mike Babcock was looking for in both their performance and attitude. Their success in playing with the Wings was largely due to the training from Jeff Blashill, and the consistency between both teams.
That connection between the AHL and NHL last year was fantastic, but the consistency and quality of coaching did not translate to the ECHL Toledo Walleye, who were a complete dumpster fire. Largely as a result of the failure of that team, the Walley have a new head coach this year in Derek Lalonde, and have cut affiliation ties with Chicago. The Walleye will now be a Red Wings only ECHL team, with a new head coach who is friends with Jeff Blashill and a coach who the Wings organization believes will do a much better job in helping our young prospects develop into successful players. Derek Lalonde most recently coached the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, and like Blashill, is a former assistant coach at Ferris State, so he already has experience in developing young player. Lalonde is one of the coaches here in development camp, is already working with the kids,learning more about how Blashill coaches, and what exactly the Wings expect from their players, as well as the coaches. This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that the ECHL coach has ever been in attendance, much less participated. I'm impressed and very pleased to see this, because none of the Wings kids in Toledo last year were any good at all, and I know some of them could have been, and should have been, much better. Jared Coreau's rookie pro season? I've crumpled it up and thrown it away, it's meaningless to me because it's not at all indicative of the goalie he is and what he can do. Even Jiri Fischer mentioned the "quality" of the Walleye team when asked about Coreau's rough season. That entire team was garbage, and on a garbage team with poor coaching, how can you expect young players to grow and improve? I'm very pleased with the changes the Walleye have made so far, and I think it's going to make a big difference in player development at the ECHL level.
Why does this matter so much to me since it's at the AAA level? Because the quality of the AAA team, impacts the quality of players that come into the AHL, how prepared they are, and how far along in their development they are. The more they develop and learn at the lower levels, the less they have to learn as they ascend through the ranks. If the results of the consistency and continuity we saw in the last two years between the Griffins and Red Wings is any indication of the results we'll see between the Griffins and Walleye in the near future, the entire organization will benefit.
I see this as another step in the Wings organization embracing the development of their young prospects, knowing they'll need to rely on them more and more in the new NHL. Ryan Martin was very involved in choose the new coach, which shows how much the Wings care about who's teaching the prospects. The Wings have always been a model franchise when it comes to developing young talent, and cutting ties with Chicago, making a necessary coaching change, and having Lalonde at the development camp are huge step to improve the quality of development at the AAA level. I can't overemphasize what an enormous difference Blashill has made in Grand Rapids, and by extension, Detroit. I'm hopeful Lalond will make a similar impact at his level.
The quality of instruction, and incredible attention to detail her in camp have been superb. Blashill and the rest of the coaches make sure to explain something to players if they don't understand, or don't do something correctly, and also utilize positive reinforcement when they see players doing well. There's a lot of emphasis on personal responsibility, and teaching the players to want to be their best, not only when someone is watching them, but in order to be the best they can be. As coach Blashill tells the players, you have to earn it every day. No one is entitled to anything, players and coaches alike have to work hard and earn their position every day. It's a philosophy and a lifestyle that's shared by Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings, Jeff Blashill and the Grand Rapids Griffins, and now hopefully Derek Lalonde and the Toledo Walleye. It's a philosophy and a lifestyle that I'm proud to say my teams have.