July 21, 2014
EAST LANSING, Michigan - Several Spartan hockey players had the opportunity to enhance their offseason training by taking part in various NHL prospect development camps this summer. Mackenzie MacEachern (St. Louis Blues), Rhett Holland (Arizona Coyotes) and Josh Jacobs (New Jersey Devils) trained with their respective NHL rights holders, while Thomas Ebbing was asked to the New York Islanders camp and Jake Hildebrand received an invitation to the Pittsburgh Penguins camp.
The camps, which do not affect NCAA eligibility, are intended to provide a training camp-like experience. While the structure of each camp may have been different, the impact and knowledge gained for all five players proved similar.
Holland, a 2012 fourth-round pick (102 overall), was competing in his third prospect development camp with the Coyotes.
"The format this year was a little different as we had games each of the last two nights," Holland said of the Coyotes' camp, which took place in early July. "It was very well put together and an overall great experience.
"I was pretty nervous the first year in trying to get a feel for everything. I felt more confident this year after having a full season under my belt, so that was nice. It was definitely the most beneficial prospect camp I have attended."
Holland spent a lot of time under the tutelage of Coyotes' associate coach Jim Playfair, a former defenseman.
"Jim is very knowledgeable and he taught us a lot of little things that we can use on the ice that you don't typically think about and can improve your game," said Holland.
While the coaching staff provides plenty of instruction, there are of other valuable lessons to be learned from fellow camp attendees. Prospects that have been a part of the organization for several years and have played in other leagues lend additional perspective and advice.
"It's interesting to watch - and then discuss - the decisions of some of the older guys," Holland said. "Obviously most of the players there are very talented, but what separates them is their knowledge and how they think the game. You try to learn as much as you can and bring that to your game to become a better all-around player."
St. Louis Blues
MacEachern, the 67th-overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, made his second straight appearance at the Blues' prospect development camp.
"It was a lot of fun, we skated every day, so it was good to be on the ice," MacEachern said. "I definitely got a lot more out of the camp this year. With more skating, we had a bigger opportunity to take in more skills and knowledge that we can incorporate into our games."
The Blues' camp featured a heavy dose of off-ice training, but the organization's highly-structured skating sessions were what excited MacEachern most.
"We got a lot more from the coaches this year - they have great player development coaches," said MacEachern. "At the same time, you're able to take a lot from some of the older AHL guys on the ice. It's good to hear what they have to say on getting to the next level."
While the goal of the prospect development camps is to ready to players for the next level, it also serves as a place to bond with potential future teammates.
"We went to a Cardinals game and they took us downtown to see some of the sights," said MacEachern. "There were 22 guys there and at the end of camp we felt like we had known each other for four years."
New York Islanders
Unlike Holland, MacEachern and Hildebrand, Ebbing participated in his first prospect camp with the New York Islanders. The sophomore received an invite to the camp on the final day of last month's NHL Draft.
"The Islanders have shown interest in me, so I was excited to go," said Ebbing. "I wasn't sure what to expect since I don't know anyone who had taken part in their camp before and I knew that every camp is different."
"I went into it with an open mind," said Ebbing. "It was great to meet a lot of other guys that I'll be playing against this year."
The week-long camp included the traditional skating and off-ice workouts, as well as a trip to a Mets game and concert.
For Ebbing, the on-ice sessions proved most beneficial as a mix of coaches from the Islanders' organization, including the NHL and AHL, provided a lot of one-on-one instruction.
"Just going through the drills that are done at the next level was a huge learning experience," Ebbing said. "The coaches were very vocal in giving us direction and teaching us."
In addition to the instruction from coaches, the opportunity to play with new players was also a valuable aspect of the camp.
"I think you're able to learn a lot when you play with new guys," said Ebbing. "You learn more about yourself and what you can do better. I got a better understanding of what I need to continue to work on."
Hildebrand made his second appearance at an NHL prospect camp, as last summer the junior was invited to the New Jersey Devils' camp, but this season, the Pennsylvania native stuck closer to home. Hildebrand, who hails from Butler, Pennsylvania, took part in the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect development camp, July 15-19 at CONSOL Energy Center.
"It was really special to have the opportunity," said Hildebrand. "Being my hometown team, it was exciting to be around the organization."
The Penguins brought in several former, high-profile players as guest speakers throughout the camp, offering the prospects their thoughts on keys to getting to the next level.
"They talked about their everyday lives and the sacrifices they made both at the rink and away from the rink to get to where they wanted to be," Hildebrand said. "You wanted to soak up and take away as much as possible from those guys. Hearing each of their stories was very beneficial."
While the lessons from former players were beneficial, so too were the four on-ice sessions in which Hildebrand took part. Hildebrand spent most of his sessions with the organization's top goaltending coaches.
"I was pleased with the way I played," Hildebrand said. "It was good to learn some new things and you try to take away as much as you can for your game."
Hildebrand, who was recognized as one of the Big Ten's Stars of the Week on four occasions last season, posted a 2.44 GAA and .923 save percentage as a sophomore. In two seasons with the Green and White, he has appeared in 61 games.
New Jersey Devils
Jacobs was selected 41st overall in last month's draft and got an introduction into the organization at the Devils' prospect camp, July 13-18 in Newark, New Jersey. It didn't take long for Jacobs to feel the excitement of the chance to compete with the franchise's top prospects.
"It hit me right away when I got there," said Jacobs, a defenseman. "It was a similar feeling when I got drafted, like you're on cloud nine."
As expected, the intensity of the camp stood out most to Jacobs.
"The compete-level was high throughout the camp," Jacobs said. "We skated a lot and everything was faster and at a higher pace, but I felt comfortable. It was very professional and a great atmosphere."
The Devils put the prospects through several scrimmages, including 3-on-3, 4-on-4 and then a full game, 5-on-5 scrimmage on the final day of camp. Devils head coach Peter DeBoer, along with several other coaches in the organization provided instruction. The coach Jacobs was able to take the most from was Scott Stevens. The retired Hall of Famer played 22 NHL seasons, including 13 in New Jersey.
"Getting a chance to learn from Scott Stevens - a player I grew up watching - and get his insight and experience was awesome," said Jacobs. "He talked to us about what it takes - on the ice and off the ice - to get to the next level."