The Blackhawks are making a change to their development camp this year, which will be off-ice only and not include any on-ice portion as they've done in the past.
The Blackhawks were preparing for the transition well before winning the 2023 NHL Draft lottery, and the team doesn't have any plans to deviate from their original thinking even though there was expected to be a big draw to watch the No. 1 overall selection, which will almost certainly be Connor Bedard.
Blackhawks assistant general manager and director of player development Mark Eaton joined the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast to explain the thinking behind the decision:
"I know now with the first overall pick, I'm sure there was a lot of excitement and anticipation to see him and all of our other picks on the ice in July," Eaton said. "But ultimately, taking a step back and thinking about development camps of the past, we want to do what's best for our prospects, and in thinking about it, having no on-ice portion to it, we think it is the best use of that week.
"Per the CBA, we only get six or seven days with these guys in the summer and as much as we'd love to get on the ice with them, we feel that the best use of time for that week is to really focus on the other parts of their development, the physical part of their development at this stage in not just their playing careers but their lives. The physical development is where I think you can make the biggest impact.
"I'm going on Year 10 of doing this, and I just remember from Day 1, the whole first year, every time I'm doing a report on a guy it's like, 'really liked what I saw but just needs to get stronger, needs to be able to sustain speed, his level for three periods for a whole season.' So that's where that emphasis on the physical part of their development really came in."
Eaton said the Blackhawks are trying to look "beyond that one week" and want to make sure they're setting up their prospects for success going into the upcoming season. He believes forcing the players to skate for one week during a weird time in the summer could serve as more of a disruption for the players' offseason training than it could help.
"These guys are all human," Eaton said. "They know when they come to development camp, they come to the city that drafted them, there's going to be a lot of eyes on them. What they need the most is that physical development.
"They'll kind of stop their offseason training just to start skating, which a lot of them aren't doing consistently through June, so they'll put their off-ice training on hold to start skating so that they show well when they do get to Chicago. So by the time you look at when they stop their training to start skating, a lot of times, they may give themselves a week off after development camp, you're looking at a whole month of the offseason that their physical development took a backseat. We wanted to try to take that out of their hands and let them know, listen, you don't have to — to use study terms — cram for development camp. You don't have to start skating and then put your off-ice training on hold. Stay with your routine and we'll just keep that going come development camp.
"So we'll kind of give them an intro for our new guys and then a refresher for the guys that have been there in the past of just what our expectations are for them when they do enter the Blackhawks organization from an off-ice training standpoint, how we like to train, put them through what NHL offseason training regimens look like just to give them that experience. Because these guys we found are all hard workers, they're all character kids. It's just, they know what they know and they don't know what they don't know, right? So we're just trying to introduce them to what that next level looks like, and a lot of them for the first time.
"Hopefully I explained that well enough, that's kind of our overall thinking, is that holistic approach to development that we take. The on-ice part of it is where we make the most headway during the season because games are going on, it's in the moment, we can watch video with them, they can go to practice the next day, whereas when they're off the ice and we start talking hockey to them and then they go home and they're not playing competitively for another two months, it just feels like it could potentially go in one ear and out the other, so the best use of our time is to really hone in on those other areas of development for our young guys."
Blackhawks development camp runs from Friday, June 30 to Thursday, July 6. You can listen to the full interview with Eaton here: