On Prospect Development – Learning from the Red Wings

The Blue Jackets are in the midst of one of their most volatile off seasons in their entire existence. What they do this summer, and early next season, could have drastic positive or negative effects on the team for several seasons. One of the more positive notes is that RJ Umberger has asked for a trade, effectively opening up a spot on the right wing.

Kerby Rychel is having one hell of a season in Guelph, as he leads his team in points on their way to the Memorial Cup Final this Sunday. He could fill that spot on the roster, potentially, but it might be a smarter move to keep him away from the NHL, at least for one more season.

Rychel turns 20 on October 7, 2014. That (as far as I understand) makes him eligible to play in the AHL, rather than having to return to the CHL next season. By all means, it would be a positive sign to see Rychel get most of his playing time with Springfield next season.

Learning from the Red Wings

Mike Babcock has been with the Red Wings organization for the better part of a decade. In an interview on the Marek VS Wyshynski podcast, (perhaps it was Hockey Central. Both he and Ken Holland were on either show the same day so I might be mixed up, regardless the point can be made) he stated how important it was for his young players to develop in the minors before being called up to the NHL level. In essence, he wants his players to learn how to play both sides of the puck, mistake-free, before they make the transition.

Simple enough right?

It’s a strategy that has proven effective year in and year out in Detroit. Most recently, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar were readily prepared to step in when the Wings began facing serious injury problems in the latter half of the season. Without either of those two players the Wings would not have made the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season.

Babcock stated that he talks to his minor league coach in Grand Rapids on a regular basis, getting development updates in an effort to coordinate lineup changes and prepare to move a player to the NHL. They don’t rush players.

It’s a simple strategy that works. The Wings haven’t had too many high draft picks in the last two decades, however they typically have some young talent making its way into the lineup every season.

Back to Rychel

As I stated earlier, Rychel is having one of the best seasons for all forwards in the OHL this season. However junior league hockey is anything but mistake free. Obviously, the quality of competition is severely lessened than it would be in the minors, and Rychel has yet to be tested against “men”.

You can’t hurt a player’s development or career by giving him extra time to round out his game, but you can screw it up by rushing him to the NHL. Without time to develop in the minors, players bring their bad habits with them.

Rychel does good things other than crashing the net and scoring goals. He reads plays well, blocks shots and makes smart plays with the puck. However, my untrained eye and lack of attention can’t pick up on his weaknesses and I’m sure there are a few.

It would be fantastic if one of the prospects showed up to training camp and looked as good as Ryan Murray or Boone Jenner last season, but that remains to be seen. If there is a prospect who is ready to make the immediate jump then it’s probably Marco Dano or Alexander Wennberg. Dano has received some playing time in the AHL this past season, while Wennberg has been skating against men in the Swedish Hockey League.

Jarmo and JD should concentrate their efforts to bring in one or two veterans into a lineup that is already very young, rather than allowing five or six skaters, who are only a year or two removed from juniors, to take over.

The Springfield Falcons would be fun to watch with Dano, Wennberg and Rychel on the top two lines, developing chemistry and learning to play with each other. And it would give me something else to write about.

Nick Biss

About Nick Biss

Co-founder and editor. @CBJduck or email biss.nick@gmail