Blue Jackets look to build young players at development camp

Last Friday, seven players were selected by the Blue Jackets in the 2014 NHL Draft, and now the real work begins. The newest Jackets will be in attendance at next week's annual prospect development camp led by Jackets' development coach, Chris Clark.

Former Blue Jacket Chris Clark now works in developing the team's future.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, seven players were selected by the Blue Jackets in the 2014 NHL Draft, and now the real work begins. The newest Jackets will be in attendance at next week's annual prospect development camp led by Jackets' development coach, Chris Clark.

"We focus on a lot of education and things to make them better people and better players," Clark said.

This year's camp brings 28 prospects to Columbus and will include sessions with a financial planner, nutritional and cooking education, CPR training and volunteer time at the Ronald McDonald House in addition to on-ice testing and drills.

Clark said the off-ice focus educates players on how to be in the NHL and also protects their growing hockey skills. He manages on-ice activities carefully.

"We don't want to do lot of things where guys get hurt trying to impress people," Clark said. "Some guys have skated a lot and some haven't. We want this time to be more laid back and focused more on flow and skill work."

A chunk of on-ice time will come in the 3-on-3 tournament that marks the camp finale. Clark developed the idea with Assistant General Manager Bill Zito to provide the young players a chance to have some low-risk fun.

"When it's 3-on-3, it's not a lot of contact -- so there's no hitting," Clark said. "We want guys to have fun and there are lot of guys who can handle the puck well and show that off to fans."

There are new players coming to their first camp who will be learning the ropes, but there are also other prospects returning for the second or third year. For those who've been to a previous year's camp, Clark has expectations.

"The guys who've been here before, they know what to expect," Clark said. "They should be doing better than last year on our skill tests, each of them should have better scores."

In addition to skill evaluation, Clark will also be looking for that Blue Jackets character the organization is building. A former captain for the Washington Capitals, Clark keeps an eye out for leaders in the making -- something the camp's activities can help reveal.

Three years ago, Dalton Prout drew attention when he stepped up in a group exercise run by a former Marine. Clark said that leadership continued into Prout's tenure in the AHL and NHL.

"You see those guys stand out," Clark said. "But we're also looking for different personalities, you can't have 20 leaders -- a good balance is what makes a good team."

For Clark, who has been the development coach since 2012, camp allows him to continue building relationships with the younger players - something he focuses on and enjoys. He'll continue that work after camp concludes.

"When I first met this year's draft picks it was right after they had come from being drafted and doing photos," Clark said. "They come to our team suite with their families and are really excited."

From that first meeting after being selected by the Jackets, Clark stays in touch with players throughout their careers. He will travel to see them play in their respective leagues, check in with them after games, and be sure they know he's available for any question or piece of advice.

"I'm there to help them - any little thing, any question, any time of the day or night they can call or text me," Clark said.

The relationships build over time and gradually players reach out to Clark more and more.

"I tell them what I'm thinking and what the organization thinks about their play," Clark said. "I love talking to these guys and seeing them year to year. To see them eventually sign with the Jackets after a lot of hard work on their part is gratifying."

The Blue Jackets development camp will be held July 7--10 at the Ohio Health Ice Haus. For more information on the on-ice schedule and list of invited players visit http://bit.ly/cbjdevcamp2014

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