It has been an exciting first six weeks of the AHL season, and today, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how things have gone so far for our affiliate in Springfield.
The team has gotten off to a real good start, but what's most exciting is how hard they've worked and the consistent work ethic being brought to the table. It's really been there since the start of training camp. The coaches have done a great job of teaching and demanding accountability, and also delivering the message of what's expected -- and the players have responded. Right now, they've had some success early on and the credit goes to the players and staff, but it's a long season and there's still a ways to go and a lot of hockey to be played. They know that, but so far, so good.
I've been very impressed by the entire coaching staff in Springfield. Brad Larsen, as the head guy, has set the tone and he's so passionate. That shines through every time you talk to him, whether it's in person or on the phone. He really loves the game, loves coaching the game and the players love that about him. He's done a great job with that. Nolan Pratt has done a solid job working with our many young defenseman, and he's a good young coach in his own right. Jared Bednar has brought in experience; he's been a player in the minor leagues, he's been a head coach in the AHL and he's a great sounding board for all of us. It's a great group there, and they all work well together and complement each other. Their communication with our players has been excellent and we're excited about what they can continue to accomplish on a daily basis.
There's been a total buy-in from our players, as well, and that's a credit both to players and to what Brad's staff has implemented. There are some players that haven't been in the lineup every night, but their work ethic in practice has been very good and when they play, they know what's expected. A perfect example would be Jake Hansen; he didn't play much early in the year but he got a taste, and when we had some injuries the last couple of weeks, he's stepped in and played hard every night. That's what the team has done a great job of...the work ethic is a good foundation for our group and I hope and trust it's going to continue.
What has also impressed me is that the team has gelled together nicely. They do a lot of the little things very well, like supporting the puck and blocking shots. They all do it, and it's not just a group or two or three guys playing that way consistently. On any given night, they're getting production from everywhere in the lineup and the goaltending with Curtis McElhinney and Paul Dainton has been great. Those two have been there for us the whole way and have been able to come up with the big, timely saves when we've needed them. That's a huge boost to your team, and we've been fortunate to have that so far.
With Curtis, he's been a good goaltender for a long time. Obviously, the concern for him and for us was how his injury would heal and how he would perform early on in the season. He responded tremendously both physically and mentally, and has shown he's got the full trust in his body to do the things required of him without thinking about it. I think he's over that hurdle now, and really, the only thing that was going to help him was playing games and enjoying some success in the early part of the year. He's played very well and has been a key component of us getting off to a great start. With Paul, there's been no letdown. It's a credit to him and how hard he works on a daily basis; he knows he may go a week or two at a time without seeing the net in a game. Practices are his games, and he's been sharp and ready when called upon. Both guys deserve a lot of credit.
Moving ahead, our team has to continue doing what it's been doing in order to improve. Like I said, it's a long road ahead but you can tell the players are willing to put the work in to get better and ultimately achieve their goals. We've got to play sharp, smart hockey and we have to continue to get the solid goaltending. If we build upon the things put in place so far (working hard in practice, competing for pucks, and playing as a team every night), we're going to be in good shape as things progress. The players have executed the system and structure our coaches have put into place with such a high level of enthusiasm, and it's great to see. We feel pretty good that points will come -- we may not win every night, but we think we have a chance to be in the game every night. Those are things we focus on: our system, our structure, playing with passion and competing. If we do that, the rest will take of itself.
To close out this update, here are some of my thoughts on a few of our prospects playing in Springfield:
Ryan Johansen: Ryan has played well. He's that big, right-handed skilled centerman that teams are always looking to get. He's playing a lot and playing with skilled people on his line. Early in the season, he played with Cam Atkinson and now he's with Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Tomas Kubalik. He's logging significant minutes in all situations, and I think that's the biggest thing for him. He knows he's expected to play an important role and he's done a nice job. We all think he's only going to get better as the season moves along and take his game to another level.
Matt Calvert: Right from the first day of training camp, Matt has been very consistent. His game is tenacious; he hounds the puck and plays the north-south game with tempo. He has a big heart and plays bigger than his size, and that makes him really hard to play against. Combined with the skillset he has, it makes for an effective hockey player.
Tim Erixon: He's been a really good player for us and is a key part of the back end. He moves pucks, is a big contributor to the power play and has a big shot from the point. He makes good decisions when the puck is on his tape and has shown that he can anchor heavy minutes in all situations. We're pleased with his play early on here and confident it will continue.
John Moore: Johnny has always been a great skater, but he's gotten a lot stronger and you can see it in his game. Like Tim, he's playing a lot of minutes. He carries the puck up the ice a lot and can beat guys with his speed. Another thing is he's eating up minutes on the penalty kill and is doing a good job. He can play against the top lines in the AHL, and the coaches are leaning quite heavily on him thus far.
Cam Atkinson: He's such a quick, fast player and teams have trouble defending him. He gets on pucks in a hurry and has great edge control. He's fearless going to the net and he can score; Cam has scored some timely goals for us down there and he's a weapon on the power play. He's put in a lot of work to becoming a better two-way player, and we're seeing signs of progress.
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault: He's consistently been a force on our top two lines, and that's why we signed him in the summer. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in heart and determination. He has very good hands and can make plays as well as finish them off. What has been most impressive is how this guy competes; he's another guy that doesn't shy away. He wins races and competes hard...we're really excited about his future with our organization.
We'll talk soon. Go Jackets!
That’s how long it has been since I joined the Blue Jackets as a senior advisor and it has been a very challenging but rewarding time for me. There have been a lot of changes to the hockey club over the past nine months as a result of a season that was difficult for everyone in our organization and our fans. But as I look at where we are today compared to where we were last December, I am very excited about our team moving forward.
The team really responded to Todd Richards who was able to get more and more guys playing together as the season progressed. He had the team playing a very strong game at the end of the season and the way we finished over the final 20 or so games really gave us a lot of hope for 2012-13. I believe Todd was the main reason for that, which is why I was very happy that he was brought back as head coach.
Since the end of the season, we have improved our team in every area – coaching, forwards, defense and goaltending. Todd’s staff, with the additions of Craig Hartsburg and Keith Acton, is very smart and experienced and will help our players tremendously. Our lineup is much, much stronger, particularly on defense. We already had a strong core at that position and have an even deeper group now. And while you never know where you’ll end up in the standings, I do know we will be very much improved.
When I arrived here I found a club that was in disarray, which can happen very easily when a team goes through the trials that this team did over the first two months of the season. It seemed that anything that could go wrong did and when you experience seasons like that – which I have – it is easy for a team to be torn apart. We obviously didn’t play very well, but it also seemed that every bounce went against us. It is said that you make your own bounces, but I don’t believe that is always the case, and when it isn’t it can really wear on guys.
Part of my excitement about the upcoming season comes from observing our players at the end of last year and what I have seen in the off-season. We have a group of guys who will never let what happened happen again. We also added guys who won’t let something like that happen. That process began with the addition of Jack Johnson, which was incredibly important. It continued with the moves we made this summer.
We showed at the end of last year that when you come to play and compete every night then you have success. That was the mindset we had at the end of the year. Guys that take that approach night in and night out were the types of players we were looking for… and the type of players we found.
Here are my quick thoughts on the new players who have joined the Blue Jackets during the off-season:
While I haven’t seen Sergei play a lot, everyone I talked to said you’re going to love this guy and that he is one of the hardest-working goaltenders they have ever seen. He also has a great personality, is very upbeat, but very competitive.
I really enjoyed meeting Ryan, watching him during our Development Camp and seeing how he handled himself as a number one draft pick. He is a really humble guy who takes pride in his game and carries himself very well on and off the ice. I believe he will be a very good player for us for a long time.
Nick is another player who really fits the type we wanted to bring in. He is a person of high character and is a solid player who wants more responsibility on the ice and in the dressing room. He is a hard-working guy and comes from a hockey family as his father (Mike) was a very good player in the NHL for many years.
He is a quality, quality guy and for our defensemen to see him every day and play with a guy like that will be a huge asset. He has done everything in his career. He has been an offensive defenseman, a shutdown defensive guy, a leader. He is a guy who logged 30-35 minutes a game at times earlier in his career. He has played every role there is for a defenseman to play and is a consummate professional.
I have always been a fan of Brandon’s. I have seen him a lot. The Rangers have brought me in for a number of events and I always appreciated the way he plays. He has a great work ethic, has speed and grittiness. He is just a solid, solid hockey player. He is the real deal and the type of player we need.
I have been really impressed with him. He plays at both ends of the ice, has quick hands and quick instincts. I think he is a real gem. He is a young guy who is still emerging as a player and has tremendous upside.
I started watching Tim during the second half of the season and he is a good, young player. I drafted and signed his dad. (note: In Patrick’s first season as general manger of the New York Rangers, the club selected LW Jan Erixon with their second pick, 30th overall, in the 1981 NHL Draft.) His dad is an awesome guy and from everything I have heard, Tim is the same type.
The makeup of our team is very different from a year ago and I am really looking forward to getting started. I think this team is going to be an exciting one to watch and believe it is going to be a successful year.