clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Most Valuable Time of the Year: Why training camp & pre-season are so important

Training camp and pre-season may be the only time that veterans are able to gain some one-on-one time with rookies.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

"That's how guys stay in the pros. You have to play night after night, your best hockey. Guys who don't do that end up in the minors. I don't want to speak for anybody else, but I know for me, I want to be consistent and I want to come in every night with the right mindset and play my kind of hockey." - Michael McCarron

Each year, NHL clubs invite rookies and veterans alike to join their annual training camp. This year, the Montreal Canadiens invited 58 players to camp. Of the 58, six were goalies, 19 were defensemen, and the remaining 33 were forwards.

19 of the players were athletes who attended the Habs’ rookie camp that had taken place just days prior. In addition, the Canadiens extended a professional tryout invite to forward Tomas Fleischmann. While fans understand the physical necessity of training camp and preseason, what are often under-discussed are the mental benefits of these events.

We know that training camp and preseason allow for younger (often AHL-bound) players to make one final argument as to why they belong in the NHL. While Michael McCarron has had himself a hell of a camp, spending a year in the AHL will certainly benefit him more than jumping up directly from the OHL. What McCarron has proven is that he is relatively capable of playing at an increased level of physicality against NHL-proven veterans, something that all rookies want to accomplish during their limited time with the club during camp and preseason.

Rookies aren’t the only players who are trying to prove their worth. Certain athletes, who may not have been scooped up during the free agent frenzy, may be extended a professional tryout by a club. This year, Tomas Fleishmann was awarded just that. A PTO may be a player’s final chance to prove that he can still 'cut it’ at the NHL level. Fleischmann has surprised many fans who are now hoping to see the 31-year-old in a potential third-line LW position come October 4.

Veteran players also benefit from training camp and pre-season games. This allows players on the team to work directly with the rookies who may be potential call-ups during the upcoming season. Because one can only assume that NHL athletes do not often have the time, or interest, to watch their AHL affiliates throughout the regular season, training camp and preseason may be the only time that veterans are able to gain some one-on-one time with rookies. Not only does this help veterans see the talent coming up in the ranks who will be going after their own positions, it can help rookies find a mentor on the team to learn from.

Team building is often talked about during rookie camps. Young athletes head out on hikes and to local community events together. These examples of activities can be extremely beneficial for all members of a team in order to promote a healthy atmosphere in the dressing room. When young athletes are able to engage in team building exercises with veteran players, mentorship opportunities come into play. Take, for example, a young Brendan Gallagher who spent much of his rookie season alongside former blueliner, Josh Gorges. Their off-ice relationship, in my opinion, helped to shape Gallagher’s transition to the NHL and allowed for his personal and professional growth as an elite athlete.

Training camp and preseason may be the only time that veterans are able to gain some one-on-one time with rookies.

As I have already touched on, this time of the year allows for coaches to judge the impact that a certain player could have on the team this season. In addition to his physical skill, a smart coach also examines how rookies and PTO invitees fit in with the core of the team. Are they well-liked and respected by the players?

Is there anyone in the leadership core that does not get along with this player? What kind of chemistry do they have on the ice with Player A, B, C, etc.? Team dynamics are a huge part of team sports. Coaches who also pay attention to these kinds of issues will have a happier locker room, giving the potential for better on-ice chemistry as well.

Perhaps most importantly, training camp and the pre-season allow the coaches and the leaders on the team to set the tone for the season. Expectations are always high when heading into a new year. By indicating to all players what will be expected of them early on in the season, coaches are promoting an environment in which every player understands his role. When the leaders on the team lay out their expectations for their fellow team members, a sense of responsibility is felt in players who may not be considered a 'leader' on the team.

This can help to promote better team dynamics and stronger bonds between athletes by lowering inter-athlete competition. All of this translates to better on-ice chemistry and cohesion.

While fans are counting down the games until the puck drops on the regular season, remember that athletes and coaches are benefitting from one of the most important times of the year.