The Development of Player DevelopmentPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Hockey is played virtually year-round in virtually all corners of the globe. If the annual NHL Draft is the end of the scouting season, the next begins virtually right away, with scouts heading to amateur tournaments and camps as soon as the dust settles after the draft. With the NCAA and major junior seasons about to get underway, the Caps’ scouting and hockey operations staff has already been in full swing for weeks. For Caps director of player development Steve Richmond, that means visits to the team’s drafted prospects – both signed and unsigned – and making sure those kids know the Caps are interested in their lives, their development and their progress. A native of Chicago, Richmond played collegiate hockey at the University of Michigan before embarking on a decade-long pro career that included five seasons in the NHL. During his playing days, NHL teams had rather primitive concepts of player development. Richmond’s own experiences of trying to crack the NHL in the early to mid-80s fuel him in his current position. “I draw a lot on my own experiences, and that’s one of the reasons George created this job,” says Richmond. “It was because we knew what it was like to be signed and then put out to pasture to find your own way. We knew that wasn’t the best way to do it.” Richmond, Caps general manager George McPhee and Caps assistant general manager Brian MacLellan were all members of the 1985-86 New York Rangers, and all three were undrafted players who excelled at the NCAA level. But once they made it to the pros, they found themselves largely on their own. It’s one of the reasons the Caps created Richmond’s post. “When George created this job, we really didn’t know how it was going to work or what was going to be involved in it,” says Richmond. “But we know from experience; we know their positions. We were put in a minor league system our first year and we never saw anybody the whole year. We know how we felt and we know what kids need.” Richmond is a sort of surrogate parent, showing up a few times during the season and checking in to see how kids are doing and what they need. He’s a friendly face with a sympathetic ear, and a guy who knows exactly what these kids are going through. “They need us to come and see them,” says Richmond. “When I walk into the room – not because I’m a great guy but because I’m with the Washington Capitals – I’m spending time with them, taking them to dinner, watching them practice, talking to their coach, talking to them on the phone, e-mailing them, and they respond to that. They need it and they want it. And it helps them and it helps us. We get to know the kid, too. Obviously we know them on the ice. But in today’s world you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good person coming into that locker room. “So far, I think we’ve done a good job of making sure we have not only good players, but good people.” Nearly three decades after they played together in New York, the trio of McPhee, MacLellan and Richmond has developed a front office chemistry that seems to be beneficial to the organization. “The staff has been together pretty much since I’ve been here and this is my 10th year,” relates Richmond. “We know what our philosophy is and what our thinking is and we can bounce ideas off each other. We don’t get mad at each other if we say someone is wrong, and we discuss things. We have that relationship where we know that we’re not trying to put anybody down; we’re trying to get better and get new ideas. “When you’re together that long, you form habits and you develop chemistry. We come up with new ideas and we throw them out there, and George gives us the opportunity to implement new ideas and to try different things.” Many other teams have created similar posts; ex-Caps captain Chris Clark was recently named to a player development position with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s good for the players and for the organizations, and it’s evidence of evolution from the old school to the new.
If you’re not reading Hockey Prospectus (both the book and the Web site), you should be doing so. Today, HP’s Corey Pronman (whom you should be following on Twitter), compiled his list of the NHL’s top 100 prospects. The Caps have two players in Pronman’s top 10: center Evgeny Kuznetsov is ranked