SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) A whistle blew and Dave Tippett skated toward center ice, shouting out directions as he pointed to different areas of the rink.
Players in grouped in red and white jerseys skated to their designated spots and began working with coaches on stickhandling, passing and skating. The session ended with the losing teams in the small-space games doing a series of leg-burning sprints.
This year’s Arizona Coyotes development camp had a far different feel to it than in past seasons – and for good reason.
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With a roster that’s expected to be skewed younger in 2015-16, the Coyotes had far fewer invitees and more coaches, including Tippett for the first time in his six-year run as head coach.
”We wanted this camp to have more individual attention to the people that we think matter right now,” Tippett said after the opening practice of the three-day camp Tuesday. ”We’re trying to fast-track some people to the NHL, so we’ve got to give them as much attention as possible.”
The Coyotes have been careful in the past about not bringing up young players too quickly.
Despite fans calling for them to play right away, Arizona’s coaches have brought along prospects such as Max Domi and Brendan Perlini slowly, allowing them time to develop their games in the minors instead of the rigorous NHL.
The philosophy has changed, though only slightly.
The Coyotes are still cautious with younger players; Dylan Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, is expected to spend a season or two of development in the minors unless he really shows the coaches something in training camp this September.
But after a midseason roster overhaul in 2014-15, the need for some of those other young players to step up has arrived.
”Probably the most possibilities for (roster) spots that I’ve ever seen in my time in the NHL,” Tippett said. ”We have open spots that we’ve purposely left there for young players to come and take, and we need some of those players to step up and do that.”
After years of trying to build by adding veteran players, the Coyotes made an organizational shift last season, dealing away Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek at the trade deadline.
The team wanted to rebuild, and players like Domi, Perlini and Anthony Duclair, who arrived from the New York Rangers in the Yandle deal, were going to be counted on to play key roles.
With that in mind, Tippett decided to head back to the desert from his offseason home in Minnesota to oversee development camp for the first time. He brought along nine other coaches and invited Hall of Famer Mike Modano to serve as a guest coach during Wednesday’s session.
The Coyotes also cut down the number of invitees from between 40 and 50 to 29, giving the young players much more individual attention.
”I think it’s good that there’s a smaller group because then you can focus on the little details,” Domi said. ”It’s obviously intense, but you’ve got guys going 100 percent, which is what you want.”
The Coyotes could have three or four of the young players make the team out of training camp, though Tippett said a few more could push veterans for roster spots.
The ones who make it will have plenty of veterans to lean on once they get there.
Knowing they weren’t planning to play all the kids at once, the Coyotes spent the offseason adding experienced players, bringing back Vermette, Michalek and Boyd Gordon while adding defenseman Nicklas Grossman. The veterans are expected to help bring along all those youngsters and help shoulder some of the leadership load with captain Shane Doan.
”When you have young players on your roster, you have to have good players around them,” Tippett said. ”Not only are they solid, veteran players, but they’re real good teammates, real good mentors. We know we need to have that.”