Head Coach Dean Evason arrived in Nashville today in advance of rookie camp, and was very nice to give us some of his time to talk about a wide array of topics.
Looking back on last season, there was certainly an adjustment for him as a coach, after having been an assistant in the NHL for so long. But that finish at the end of the season…that was pretty priceless.
“It was a learning process, and I think what we take out of last season is…we were very proud of how we finished. Obviously we struggled a little bit at the start with everything that was going on…in different dimensions. But the way we finished the season, to win the amount of games that we won, I’m very proud of the guys for competing down the stretch like they did.”
Coach Evason and Coach Drulia will be diving in head first this weekend for rookie camp, going behind the bench for the games in Florida. Evason talks about what he’s hoping to get out of this weekend.
“There’s obviously some guys that we’re going to have in rookie camp that won’t be with us (in Milwaukee)…the junior players. But the projection is to have them next year, or whenever they’re going to come out of junior or college… I guess the main thing is to watch the players that are going to be coming to us. The Salomaki’s…the Sissons’….guys like that are going to be coming to us, so we’ll get a good idea of how they play the game. But as important, is how they conduct themselves on the bench and within practice. It’s always fun to watch the progression from rookie camp into main camp, and see how guys excel or drop off.”
Speaking of Salomaki and Sissons…..
“We have real high expectations for both of them to play high up on our forward depth charts. Both are highly touted prospects, played very well in their respective leagues last year, and we’re looking for them to play a prominent role. Our job in Milwaukee is obviously to win hockey games, but we’re there to develop these players to eventually go on and play in the NHL and hopefully for the Nashville Predators. We’re looking for big things from both of those guys.”
Of course anything can happen in Nashville’s training camp. A player can impress amazingly or disappoint horrendously. Or an injury or two can shuffle the roster a bit. Remember the epidemic of hamstring injuries? But for the most part this year, Coach Evason says he has a good idea who will be in Milwaukee.
“Last year was a different year clearly with the lockout…we weren’t sure exactly who we were getting or if the NHL was going to go and it then would bump guys down. This year, we have a real good understanding of our team, and who is going to be coming to us. And as I said earlier, it’s nice to know the personnel. We’ve got our line combinations kind of structured already to at least get into training camp with those lines, and then play with it from there. Whereas last year, coming into development camp when we first came here, we had no idea. There were some players I had no idea what they brought to the table, besides watching a little bit of video. So now I know the personalities of players, and obviously how they play on the ice.”
One guy that everyone will be watching in training camp (when they aren’t watching Seth Jones) will be Filip Forsberg – the guy the Predators obtained for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Is there a snowball’s chance that he’ll play in Milwaukee? Yeah, about a snowball’s chance, it sounds like.
“There’s always an opportunity depending on how things shake down in Nashville. There’s always a trickle down effect. Clearly, he’s a guy that Nashville wants to play in Nashville. They made a trade for a highly touted player that we all believe can play in the NHL. So the chances probably aren’t great that he’ll be in Milwaukee, but there’s certainly an opportunity.”
One of the treats for Milwaukee fans last year was watching some of the players take some giant steps forward in their games. And Coach Evason expects those players to continue to take giants steps forward this season. Guys like Austin Watson and Kevin Henderson, who got their first taste of the NHL at the end of last season. And then there’s a certain goaltender…
“(Magnus) Hellberg is a guy that made GREAT strides last year for us, and all of these guys are going to play a more prominent role for us. It’s going to be nice to see how they’ve developed through the summer, not only physically – a lot of people think, ‘ah, physically I wonder how he’s going to be…’ It’s more (developing) mentally…guys coming in more confident. A guy like Watson who has played NHL games, he should come into this camp now feeling very good about his game. He’s now made a step forward, and he should be a real leader on our hockey club.”
Aaron Sims talked a lot last year on the radio about how great the locker room was. Obviously, he’s not talking about the furnishings…he’s talking about how great the players and coaches got along and worked together as a community. I asked Coach what makes a locker room a great locker room, and is there something that he does to create or nurture it.
“I think as a coach, if you’re honest, you’re up front, there’s nothing behind the back, there’s no mind games…you just give it to the players straight up, what’s going on, how things are….I think individually they respond to that. And then what happens is I think your group takes leadership and takes ownership of the dressing room. The coaches give them that structure and that honesty, and then from there they take the room and make it the environment that it is.”
Looking ahead, the Admirals are one of six teams that won’t be playing any games that first weekend of the season. When they play their first game of the year against Abbotsford on October 11th, the Heat will be playing their third game. Is this scheduling quirk an advantage or disadvantage for the Admirals? Tough to say.
“We’ll wait and see how it works out. We’re thinking of it on the positive side that we’re going to have an extra week to get our systems down, to get good conditioning in, so that we’re able to get into the first game in that second week and be full speed. But it’s going to be tough not to play games. We’re going to have to be creative as a coaching staff to try and keep the guys interested and motivated so that we are ready to play that first game.”
The last question I asked him was kind of a fluff question….it got the good laugh I was hoping for, and it also got the answer I expected. Would Dean ever want to be the Uncle Ben’s Human Hockey Puck?
“I think our organization does a tremendous job of entertaining the fans, keeping it interesting and fun….but being a human hockey puck is not something that I’ve ever aspired to do.”
Enjoy rookie camp, everybody. Hockey is back.