BUFFALO — Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach is on the front lines when it comes to player development. It was interesting to hear his thoughts on the value of the Prospects Challenge for Boston’s young players.
“It’s a really good step for the kids, especially the new ones who haven’t been in the pro game at all. They’re obviously going to be playing in front of a lot of important people,” the former Providence College captain said.
“The play might be a little scrambly at times, but it is important for them to get used to the pro environment, to play a game where you are expected to be a professional. It’s invaluable to them.
“For our returning guys, you can see, hopefully, the stepping stone they’ve made this past year, and they’re that much further along toward hopefully being in the NHL,” he said.
When Leach was breaking into the pro game as a player 15-plus years ago, teams played individual rookie games, not mini-tournaments, which have now become yearly events in the NHL. And those rookie games were often bloodbaths.
(Going way back, I remember watching a Boston-Hartford rookie game in the ’80s where a Bruins prospect was assessed three fighting majors and an automatic game misconduct in the first 20 minutes. You might have heard of him: Jay Miller.)
“It’s changed. When I was playing it was kind of a big meatfest. It was rough and tumble,” said Leach.
“Now you see these rosters, there’s maybe eight guys returning who were rookies last year with high-end skill. Then you throw in a couple of guys we’ve signed this past year. It should be a good tournament with regards to the level of play, regardless if it’s scrambly or not,” said Leach.
Everyone wants to get to the NHL fast, but for all but a handful of players, it can be a long process, not a sprint. Leach points to the Prospects Challenge as a milestone along the way for the prospects.
“It’s good for them in that it’s nice for them to take steps. They might not understand it – and I understand their mindset where they want to be in the NHL right away – but it’s like a bank account, I think.
“This experience is something they can put in their bank account. ‘I did my Prospects Challenge. Hopefully performed well, and it’s in my back pocket and I can move on to the next step.’ It might be just a weekend or a little bit longer for some of them, but it is important for their development.
“It’s good grounding. It teaches some of these guys to walk before they run . Whether they are playing in the NHL this year or next year, they will run into times when they run into some tough situations, and you need to lean back on your structure, what you’ve done in the past, to get past that.
“In this game of professional hockey, you’re never always going to be on your game. You’re just not. So to be a bit grounded will help them adjust and get back to that game when those times arrive.”