Penguins' prospect camp continues evolution
Tom Fitzgerald laughs when recalling what life was like for hockey's top prospects when he entered the NHL.
Things have changed quite a bit, sophistication replacing the barbarism.
Fitzgerald, the Penguins assistant to the general manager, has become one of the key figures in mentoring the organization's prospects. The annual progress report will take place this week at Consol Energy Center, beginning Tuesday.
“Things have gotten so much better,” Fitzgerald said of the annual summer gathering. “When I was a rookie in 1988, I went to Islanders training camp. We had games against the Rangers and Devils rookies. Those were wars. Survival of the fittest. Put the foil on. It was scary. There were literally fights on every shift. Just scary stuff.”
The game has evolved, and so, too, has the development of players.
Scuffles always will be a part of hockey — they even break out occasionally in practices and scrimmages — but the Penguins, like the rest of the NHL, favor a different approach in this generation.
Fitzgerald believes prospect camp is of significant importance to the entire organization, the grooming of young talent something that can't be underestimated.
“This camp is huge, a big deal,” Fitzgerald said. “It's an introduction to what the Pittsburgh Penguins are all about. This is how we work. This is how we prepare our guys. This is where they find out how important video is. This is how they learn. And that, to me, is so important.”
On-ice performance is crucial, but isn't the only tutorial the NHL prospects will receive this week.
“It's all about learning to prepare for all kinds of different things,” Fitzgerald said. “We help these kids with their nutrition. We help them with social media, which gets more important all the time. We use sports psychologists. The mind is so important in hockey. They need to learn about all kinds of different things, and they will.”
The camp serves as preparation for September's training camp. Learning coach Dan Bylsma's up-tempo system often takes time, particularly for defensemen, who must deal with a puck retrieval system that is different than in most junior and NCAA systems.
“That's a big thing for me,” said defenseman Scott Harrington, the team's 2011 second-round draft pick who figures to start the season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.
“The system in Pittsburgh is so much different than what I was used to playing in London (OHL). The pace in the Penguins' system is so much faster. It's difficult to get accustomed to, so this rookie camp is a really good thing.”
Harrington will be one of the blue-chip prospects on display this week. He will be joined by fellow defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta — both were first-round picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft — in a meeting of three blueliners expected to make it to the NHL over the next few seasons.
Other top-tier prospects, such as goaltender Tristan Jarry, the team's second-round pick last month, will also garner plenty of attention.
“We look forward to rookie camp as an organization,” Fitzgerald said. “Pittsburgh's system is demanding, and it's good for these kids to get an early start.”
Note: Penguins assistant equipment manager Paul DeFazio will become the head equipment manager in Wilkes-Barre this season. Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton equipment manager Teddy Richard is the Penguins' new assistant equipment manager and will work with head equipment manager Dana Heinze.