The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
Randy Lee Speaks: Development Camp
The Senators' 2013 Development Camp has come to a close, so it was only a matter of time before Randy Lee, the team's Director of Player Development and Hockey Operations, was featured in a radio interview on the Team 1200. To listen to the full interview, click here or you can stream it via the embedded audio at the bottom of the page. 
As always, my thoughts are in bold
On the formation of the development camp came about…

“Honestly, it was twelve to fifteen years ago. I’m sure it’s at least twelve and that’s the way we did it. We said, ‘We’ve got to get ahead of other teams,’ and Marshall Johnston was the GM back then and he said, ‘Be creative.’ He heard about some other camps that you’d send two or three guys to but he said, ‘How do we do a better job to accommodate more guys?’ And that is what we came up with. It was low budget and it was small, but it worked and we gave a lot of attention to those young guys and that was back in the Hossa and Havlat era and they progressed really good.”

Marshall Johnston, a trailblazer, is arguably the greatest Senators GM of all-time. As an aside, if teams like the Senators were trying to get whatever edge they could as a small market team back in the mid-90's, I'd like to imagine that the team is equally as interested in hockey's statistical renaissance now.  

On how it allows the organization and its prospects to get a bit of an to their seasons…

“Well, especially for college guys because you can’t bring them to your training camp or your rookie tournament, this is the time when you get your hands on them. So we’ve got a lot of guys in place, a lot of European guys, where you’ve got to use that time wisely and it’s restricted under the CBA to seven days and that’s what we’re limited to. So, you’ve got to use it well to ensure that you teach the things that you need to teach so players can develop and learn what it takes to be a pro. It’s nice to draft guys, and Pierre Dorion and his staff do an amazing job of giving us top quality players, but they’ve got to evolve. They have got to become NHL players and as Bryan Murray has said, he just doesn’t want players who can play for us, he wants guys who can help us win. So we’ve got to get to know the player, we’ve got to push them, we’ve got to prod them, we’ve got to find out what their deficiencies are. And then we’ve got to, in that week period, let them leave with a plan that is going to help them progress forward so hopefully one day, they’ll evolve and help us as Ottawa Senators.”

It's a great point that cannot be reiterated enough, player development plays a much larger role than people give credit for when assessing whether Prospect A was a bust or steal of a draft pick.

On Fredrik Claesson and his camp…

“Freddie is a very unique guy. He works his rear end off and he has fun doing it. He’s playful. He’s fun. He makes you laugh. But he does it and he never comprises on work – and he does it on the ice, he does it in the seminars, he does it in the sparring sessions, he does it in the skating sessions, he does it in the sprint mechanic sessions… everywhere you see him, he’s pushing and he’s enjoying himself and it’s contagious and it’s a great thing to be. It was good for us this year that we were down to a final group of five and we polled everybody who worked with the players this year and it was pretty well consistent with this group of five. And it was really close in terms of the voting. In years past, we’ve had great workers who stood out like the Mark Borowieckis but we had a real elite group this year. It was good and good to Freddie on winning (the hardest worker) award.”

Everything you hear about this guy is positive, I mean c'mon he's like a real life Swedish Jughead.

On Curtis Lazar and other new guys and his impression of them in camp…

“Definitely, you mentioned Curtis and he really stood out in the group. But our two Swedish players were incredible in terms of really absorbing the information. They amalgamated into the group really well. They really pushed themselves. We have some big bodies now and Pierre (Dorion) did a good job getting some big projects and I like that. These are great big guys that have a lot of upside. They do have some deficiencies right now, but you can tell that they’re like a raw piece of putty that you can really work with. Overall, the whole group was really receptive to everything we were doing. And it’s interesting, one of the best pulses I get on the group is talking to our drivers. We have a group of drivers that work with these guys and shuttle them all over the place and they get the pulse of what these kids are like. And they said, ‘Bar none, this is the best group of players that we have ever had.’ And especially the draft picks this year, they’re really good quality kids. Like Bryan (Murray) and Paul (MacLean) wanted – they just don’t want good players, they want good people.”

What they don't teach at development camp – tip your drivers. 

On hardest working players and how often they fall victim to attrition and don’t make it to the NHL…

“Yeah, and similar to the Eric Grybas who say, a mid-round pick type guy or Mark Borowiecki, a mid-round pick type guy, who just did it and achieved their goal because they worked so hard and they committed themselves to do the right things. I mean, a lot of guys train hard but they do a lot of the things that they like to do. We have to reinforce to these guys that they got to do the things that they need to do to get better. And Freddie (Claesson) is that type of guy. He will do anything that is asked of him. He’s very competitive at practice, you can ask Luke Richardson or Steve Stirling. He works his rear end off. He’s a good team guy. And he’s going to push himself as far as he can go in terms of development, but it’s very rare, I don’t think we’ve ever had it where a guy has not become a NHL player or else a pretty good player. And sometimes it may not be with our organization, but at least those character traits are things that are going to take them forward.”

It's fantastic when the organization continues to develop average NHL players who can step in  and contribute. For a money-conscious organization like the Senators, it prevents them from having to go out and trade assets to bring in stopgap players to fill voids. Besides the benefit that familarity with their teammates and organization, these internal replacements generally wind up being less expensive too.

On the importance of having Cory Conacher and Mika Zibanejad around at development camp as established players…

“Yeah, there’s no question. They’re established players and they are role models. They do set the tempo. But, that’s our organizational philosophy, that you pay your dues along the way; there’s no sense of entitlement. We’re a good organization of making sure that, if you’re not ready to come out junior, that you go back. If you’re not ready to come out of Europe, you go back and you develop at the right pace. We’re never going to put a player in a position where they don’t succeed – that’s Bryan Murray’s philosophy. It pays dividends for the organization long-term. It was good for them and I think they realized it was good for them. I think Pageau and Zibanejad knew what it was all about and they knew what they were going to get into and they embraced it. Cory Conacher was not sure what was going to happen. I think he was a bit put off by us telling him that we’d like him to go, but it’s his decision. And at the end, we had our exit meeting with him and he was overwhelmed. He enjoyed it. He thought it was a good experience for him. He benefited from it and if (other prospects) see the top end guys working hard and applying themselves to make themselves better, the competition is going to elevate their level throughout the camp as well.”

Good on Cory for participating and to the organization for asking him to participate. Nothing motivates a player more than giving him a glimpse and firsthand look at how many prospects within the system will be gunning for his spot. 

On whether there’s a player within the current camp that has made massive strides since their first camp…

“Two guys are our high-estate players, Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick; both guys that were later picks… Michael Sdao too, another college guy that was a seventh round pick. Dzingel was a seventh round pick and I believe Max was a sixth round pick or fifth. (They’re) later round picks but they’ve really worked hard. They’ve applied themselves to these camps. They take the information back. They stay in touch with you and work with Chris Schwarz. They work with our nutritionist and they’ve become a partner with us in their development but they do go back and play well for their teams and commit to them as well. And those guys made huge progress. You guys got to see a bit of Mike Sdao when he finished the season in Binghamton last year and a real character guy; a real guy that worked on his game. Dzingel and McCormick, people are going to like them because they’re both character kids. They work their rear ends off and Dzingel is a real high-end skill guy and Max McCormick is a real high-end character guy.”

Impressive "character" per 60 rate from Lee in this answer, elite stuff.

On Buddy Robinson’s camp…

“(The fans) are going to like Buddy Robinson. That was a great signing by our organization. We get this guy without having to give up anything. He’s a character kid. He’s a good person. He wanted to come to our organization. He did well last year when he went to Binghamton. He got a taste of it – of what the actual jump is to make the jump is to go to the American Hockey League because guys don’t appreciate how big that step is. He embraced that challenge and he performed really well. He came into camp and worked his rear end off. He’s a great skater. He’s got great speed. There’s a few things that we’re going to work on with him because of mobility issues since he’s such a big guy. But he’s got a lot of upside and he’s willing to learn and he wants to learn and he wants to get better.”

On Michael Sdao’s presence in development camp and his upside…

“Definitely, and he knows what his skillset is. He knows what type of player he has to be to be successful. He’s a hard-nosed guy. He’s got to be hard to play against. He’ll protect his teammates. He’s not a thug by any sense, but if the situation is there where he has to stand up for his teammates, he’ll do that. And he’s going to be a really good shutdown guy – he’ll block shots, he’ll be hard in front of the net and he’ll lay the lumber down on guys. He’s an old-school defenceman with real good character.”

Sounds awesome. He's everything I look for in a late round pick.

On the development of the goaltenders…

“That’s a Rick Wamsley question to be honest, just because (Chris) Driedger did not get on the ice because of an injury, so I didn’t see him that much. (Francois) Brassard is working out with us, so I see his progress on a day-to-day basis because he’s working out with our main group in Ottawa. And the young Swede (Hogberg) was really impressive, but that’s a question that I’m sure Mr. Wamsley could answer better than I can.”

You kinda wonder how the team feels about the CHL goalie ban. Lehner playing in the Soo seemed to help his adjustment to NA.