Catching up with Director of Player Development Jim Hughes

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Jim Hughes
Photo: MapleLeafsHotStove.com

Alec Brownscombe caught up with Director of Player Development Jim Hughes to touch base on the performances and progress of the younger members of the Leaf organization after the completion of 2013 training camp.

Alec Brownscombe: If you can make a general comment, were you happy with the training camp – dating back to the rookie tourney – in terms of what you saw on display from the younger members of the organization?

Jim Hughes: Yeah, I think we’re all really happy with the forward transition from the prospect camp, to the rookie camp, to the NHL camp. We’re all happy with the progression from several of the players. We’ve seen a lot of forward progress, and each and every one of these camps gives the players additional experience and exposure as they continue to work on their trade.

AB: Does an exit interview take place with each prospect once they’re returned to their respective teams? What are some of the main points you try to drive home with these guys?

JH: We’re in constant contact with these players. The interviews are brief. Going into some of these things, they know what our expectations are, they have been given instructions in terms of the type of player they are and what roles they need to play. We’re an organization that gives the players guidelines so that no player can ever come back to us and say, ‘well, no one ever told me.’ We like to make sure that we are providing the necessary information so that the players can really take advantage of every opportunity, and maybe we can expedite the process for each player. There is no fuzziness; we try to bring clarity for each player and what their role is within the group.

AB: What are the expectations for Morgan Rielly in the 9 games he gets if he is to stick with the team for the rest of the season? Is this a game by game trial at this point?

JH: Yeah, I think so. I think he’s done that from the rookie camp through to the main camp, through the exhibition games. He’s been very consistent. His game doesn’t really change night to night. It’s sound, it’s steady, it’s consistent. He plays a sharp game that is detailed, both when he has the puck and when he doesn’t have the puck. He defends the rush very well, he doesn’t get beat out of the corners in the defensive zone; his game is compact. He’s a smart kid, so he kind of gets it. Really, for Morgan, it’s just a matter of time. He’s going to play in the NHL, but what is the right timing? We’ll see where he goes now in the regular season, but he’s a terrific player who has a very, very bright future and it’s just a matter of when. Those questions will continue to be answered. He’s done a fine job so far.

AB: Carter Ashton seemed to come into camp determined to make it impossible to say no to him with his effort. He seemed to be finishing his plays, paying a price to get to the net or to body someone off the puck. Barb Underhill was on CBC on Saturday and demonstrated quickly how his skating has improved. To what extent, and in what ways, does an extra step contribute to an overall improvement in his game?

JH: He’s stronger, and he’s got an extra step, but I think you said it earlier: He came to camp with a determination and a desire to make the team. He’s a hard player to play against. He makes it difficult on his opponents, he finishes his checks. He’s got that element of speed, and he goes to those hard areas of the rink. He’s an option on the penalty kill. He’s got some different elements to his game that bring value. As you said, he came to camp with a determined attitude, and that is a very important point – the mindset. He’s trying to make that next jump from the AHL to the NHL, and he’s having some early success.

AB: Was the team optimistic about a big camp from Joe Colborne going in, and was the result therefore disappointing, or were there some concerns about his development trajectory going in?

JH: He may have been caught. Where our team is with centermen, we’re deep in that position now. Is Joe a top 6 guy or a bottom 6 guy? When you’ve got McClement, Bolland, Bozak and Kadri, it might not be a good fit. You look at Bolland and McClement as the grit guys, and how well they do their job, and then you look at the skill guys. Joe is somewhere in the middle, and at this point he was maybe a better fit somewhere else.

AB: You’re confident that, beyond those 4, should one go down to injury, there is a depth within the organization that could afford the loss?

JH: I think so.

AB: Josh Leivo seems to have had a sharp trajectory upwards with a few strong junior seasons and good showings at the rookie camp and training camp. How far off is Leivo? He did not seem out of place playing with and against NHLers. Is it just a matter of proving that’s the case against AHL competition?

JH: Go down, keep working, and produce under Steve Spott. Under Steve Spott he’s going to get great opportunities and looks. You can see how comfortable he was at the NHL level. He’s got poise, he’s got playmaking ability, and he protects and shields the puck so well; he rolls off his opponents. He has the ability to make plays because he has quick thoughts; his mind is wired as such that it operates very quickly. He’s got great hand skills and stick skills, and when you put it all together he’s got an NHL skillset. He’s strong now, because he worked at it for over 24 months. He’s got NHL abilities. Let him go down to the American league, have some success, continue to build confidence in himself, and then we’ll see where it goes. He’ll get there, he just needs to continue to mature as a person, a player, and develop his skills. He’s another bright spot, and he’s had some good camps here.

AB: Petter Granberg was sent down to Marlies camp fairly early on in the proceedings and did not get a call back as some of the other defencemen did toward the end of preseason. What, specifically, are the adjustments he needs to make with the Marlies now that he’s in North America?

JH: You had to see him the other night in the Marlies exhibition game in Oakville. He played very, very well. He’s got all the credentials. He’s won a Swedish Elite League championship, he’s won a World Junior Championship, and he’s won a World Championship. Really, what he needs to continue to do is just continue to get acclimated to North America and the North American style. You can consider him a world-class type player. He does so many things well. He defends off the rush, he can move the puck intelligently, he boxes people out in front of the net, and he has some physicality. He fits that whole NHL criteria, but he just needs time now. He needs time and he needs North American experience. That’s what he’s going to be exposed to very quickly here as he moves forward. We have no worries with him; we really like where he’s at as a player. He needs time and exposure. He’s on the right track.

AB: Percy may have been the most impressive, for me – and you had to look for him, which is a testament to his quietly solid play. Percy’s brain is already at an NHL level it seems. What are the few things he needs to work on before he’s ready for a long NHL career?

JH: You’re right, he has turned a corner this summer. His training, his continued maturation as a young player, his work in the rookie camp, and then the big camp.. you could just see the intelligence and the hockey sense, the hockey IQ, the puck moving ability, the transition. He plays a detailed game and he puts himself in no trouble. He plays within himself, and is very, very smart. He’s certainly moving in the right direction. Now he’s going to go to the Marlies, and he’s going to continue to work on his trade, and continue to improve on different areas. His progress and what he’s done in the last 6-7 weeks – he’s worked awfully hard at it – is a really positive point. He should have a huge year.

AB: Do you think him or a MacWilliam could jump up soon in the case of an injury?

JH: Percy is starting to show his capabilities, and MacWilliam is a little bit further down the road in terms of age. He’s much older than Stuart. Andrew plays a lot like Mark Fraser. He’s a big, burly kid who weighs about 235 pounds. He’s very strong, very solid on his feet, and he moves the puck with poise. He’s sound positionally, and very rarely gets caught out of position. He has a physical presence inside the game. He may bring different elements than what Stuart brings, but Andrew is progressing and moving in the right direction. He’s had a great summer and great camps, and he’s another player we are very happy with the progress on. Now, he’s going to go down, get some seasoning, and get some reps and gain additional confidence. He’s certainly on the right track and moving in the right direction.

AB: Jamie Devane may have surprised anybody who went in with the impression that he was simply or only a goon. He can work the boards a little and potted a few dirty goals around the net. Do you feel, in Broll and Devane, you have two players capable of a regular shift who can also represent heavyweight fighters? Perhaps penalty killers, as well?

JH: Possibly. It’s a hard job to do. They certainly have the capabilities of doing it. In saying that, it’s a hard job to do. They just need to go down to the Marlies and continue to improve on their skillsets. Both are very capable, and now they’ve got to do it. They both had good camps, and represented themselves well.

David has soft hands, and good hockey sense. He has a clear understanding of how the game needs to play. He’s got that physical capability. His presence seems to be more felt inside those games. It needs to be a combination of the skill, and then the physical combination. When he learns the science of those two and how they work, he’ll be an effective player at the NHL level.

Same goes for Jamie. Jamie can get up and down the rink, he can make plays, and he’s capable of more. Again, both of these guys are young players, and need to go down and learn their trade. Learn the role of that player who can play and who is also a tough guy.

They’re both certainly very tough kids. They’ve got a learning curve different from all of the other players we’ve discussed because of the tough-guy mentality. Let them go down to the American league and continue to spread their wings, continue to gain confidence, continue to work on their skillsets, and mature as people. That’s really what those two need right now; they need minutes, they need playing time. Obviously they will be closely monitored. We’ll see what we have.

AB: Anybody among the newest crop of prospects – the 2013 draft class – or anybody we may not have had a chance to see much of who surprised you during the rookie tournament and early training camp sessions?

JH: There’s a couple of guys. There’s Matt Finn, who had a great World Junior tryout for Canada at Lake Placid. He’s a real shutdown guy, a penalty kill guy, and a player who really understands the game. He’s a sleeper. We have a player there in Matt Finn.

The second guy you need to keep an eye on is Connor Brown, who is top 2 or 3 in OHL scoring and should have a huge year. He worked extremely hard with Barbara Underhill and Anthony Belza (strength and conditioning coach). He should have a huge year in the OHL.

Thirdly, there’s Carter Verhaeghe, who is playing in Niagara. He’s a lot like Josh Leivo at the same age. Carter’s not strong yet, but he will be. He’s wired just like Josh; he’s got quick thoughts, he’s got high-end skill sets, he’s got great hockey sense, great playmaking ability, and he understands the game. He should have a huge year in Niagara, and he will have a huge year in Niagara. He’s going to play in all situations, as well as Connor Brown.

These players are basically working on their trade at a lower level, which is the level they’re supposed to be at. They’re three players who are certainly on the right track. They’re all off to great starts and we’ll continue to monitor their progress.

  • ShotgunCharlie

    Looks like both teams had rust last night. What matters…..we walked away with the 2 points.

  • phaneufoundlander

    you got that right…we’ve taken the last 6 of 7 in ScHABville….so much sweeter when we win there.

  • mcloki

    Great Article Alec. Keep em coming.
    Morning Gents. Last nights game was a pretty good tilt. Until Parros went down. Never want to see that happen to anyone. I hope it doesn’t affect him too much. Good to see a few tweets from him .

  • Mind Bomb

    ShotgunCharlie The Big thing is we won in Regulation, against a divisonal opponent. We cant afford to be giving away free points. 
    Pretty sweet !

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki  Morning MC

  • mcloki

    Mind Bomb mcloki Morning MB.

  • MollySweats

    Morning fellas…Really starting to be impressed with Bodie…the guy is clearly playing like he has something to prove…might even make McLaren expendable…we already have Orr as a heavyweight, Fraser as a solid middleweight, and Bodie and Clarkson can handle themselves as well…I’d rather have a guy like Bodie wearing down the opposition and playing actual hockey than 2 heavyweight goons every night

  • Mind Bomb

    MollySweats  Good morning, Bodie did look Fast, pretty good for a Big man

  • ShotgunCharlie

    Mind Bomb ShotgunCharlie Funny thing about last night…I was cheering for Edmonton because I didnt want Winnipeg to get points…..then I realized they were realigned. Going to take a bit to get used to lol

  • mcloki

    The Parros incident could have completely been avoided last night. It all precipitated because PK put Orr in a headlock around the net at the end of the play. If the refs quickly handed out a facewash penalty to PK for the foolish roughhousing.  most fights would be stopped with better officiating. IF Orr knew that PK was getting  penalty he would have withdrawn so as not to lose the PP. 
    Better officiating would have stopped the fight.

  • phaneufoundlander

    He sure did Bomber, and he some glorious opportunities….he protetcs the puck well too coming down the right wing…almost made it the net a couple times

  • mcloki

    Mind Bomb MollySweats But what do you do with MacLaren, can’t trade him to another team.

  • phaneufoundlander

    PK…short for prick needs to be filled in..the coward is always hiding behind the refs or a team mate.

  • MollySweats

    mcloki Mind Bomb MollySweats Could trade him out west, I definitely wouldn’t want him in the east lol…not nessecarily saying get rid of him either, just have him as 13th forward so that he can give Orr a break from the sheriff role, and vice versa…dress a different one of the goons every night so that you always have a fresh heavyweight to answer the bell

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki Mind Bomb MollySweats  From the Looks of things MC, we will need the Depth, lots of Fights this year. And Mclaren might be our Best fighter. Everyone will get their chance with injuries

  • Mind Bomb

    phaneufoundlander Aye Lander, I am surprised he needed a contract, and no team had him

  • Mind Bomb

    ShotgunCharlie Mind Bomb hahha Charlie !

  • MollySweats

    Mind Bomb mcloki MollySweats True…just saying that when McLaren is healthy I’m not sure I want Bodie out of the line-up in favor of him…if Bodie gets hurt, sure play Frazer but right now I think Bodie brings more to the team…but hey it’s only one game (although he was also very good the last few games of preseason)

  • phaneufoundlander

    atta boy Keon, couldn’t have said it better myself….only thing missing from last night game was Stupidban getting filled in.  Those jersey look like fucking clown suits done they?  Hab a laughs….makes me sick

  • mORRganRielly

    Awesome work, Alec.

  • mcloki

    phaneufoundlander And he does assholish stuff that gets under the skin of the opposition, Then when they see the refs aren’t doing anything they try and take him out, but because PK turtles his teamates have to come his defence.  Just call the penalty refs and this stops.

  • phaneufoundlander

    dont call em Habs man, thats just too much respect….say ScHabs or toilet seats. :)

  • canucksnaphook

    MapleLeafsHS Quit outworking the mainstream media getting quality interviews and insight because you love the game. Making them look bad.

  • Mind Bomb

    MollySweats Mind Bomb mcloki Hmm I will watch him closely, Can Bodie handle the Heavyweights

  • Dan39

    phaneufoundlander And his visor when he does fight and , of course, he’s only willing to fight guys who themselves don’t fight. He’s just a disgrace, really dislike him.

  • jbenigni

    APetrielli awesome….future looks bright even with my leaf blue glasses off.

  • Mesmer

    phaneufoundlander Nice avatar

  • wendelsway1

    Great interview Alec……and just to set the record straight…..all the “cool kids”  may hang at a different site,   but all the informed Leafs fans hang out here….MLHS #1

  • Burtonboy

    Great interview Alex. I did hear Granberg was one of the stars in that game. Only a matter of time for this guy me thinks.

  • phaneufoundlander

    I’m surpised Raymond wasn’t snatched…that is one dam fine hockey player we have there a mil..great work Nonis !!

  • Dan39

    MollySweats What I saw against Philly was that he did not step up and challenge Rosehill when that was required so I don’t see a replacement for McLaren, who we know can be counted on. Basically you put in Bodie for McLaren and you’re just down one HW and that obviously is not a strategy that is a safe one against many of the teams in the East that have gotten tougher. Montreal should have been a warning shot.

  • Dan39

    Great article – this is hands down the best Leafs website. More information probably than all of the mainstream media combined.

  • Dan39

    Burtonboy Get to see him first hand on Saturday at Ricoh.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    sweet interview boys, good work!

  • Jordan29

    Is there any info on who will sit for Rielly tonight?

  • DJBrianBurke

    Great interview. Really enjoy MLHS talking to these member of the Leafs organization. The MSM can talk to Nonis and Caryle ll they want, but the real juicy tidbits are with these guys. The ones that don’t have to answer (and see) people like Cox, Simmons etc. on a daily basis.

  • wendelsway1

    Dan39 wendelsway1 Was in response to a tweet  someone posted about come hang out with the cool kids at PPP.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    phaneufoundlander tried to line up Raymond last night too, but Raymond skates with his head up and is a far smarter player then people give him credit for..

  • Burtonboy

    Dan39 Burtonboy I expect a full and concise scouting report then :)

  • wendelsway1

    Dangle_My_Berries phaneufoundlander Oh yeah, MayRay’s a vet that knows what he’s doing…..smart player that is fitting in very well.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    wendelsway1 Dangle_My_Berries phaneufoundlander have really liked his game, more then adequately fills in for MacArthur if he keeps playing like this

  • WendelGilmour

    Great job, Alec. I can only echo what everyone else is saying, it’s awesome you have the forethought to go deeper in the organization.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    wendelsway1 Dangle_My_Berries phaneufoundlander looking forward to tonights game, wonder if steve gets the start for philly….hes probably still having flashbacks of our most recent pre-season encounter lol

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy Problem now BB is that he needs a space to open up for him. All the D played well last night. Except maybe Gardiner on an ill advised pinch which led to the third goal. 
    Our lineup is going to be very hard to crack.

  • dlb eh

    phaneufoundlander 
    don’t call them Habs…says the guys with Habs suck in his own pic haha
    he said LOSE and haha.  you’re awful picky, yo

  • Burtonboy

    mcloki Burtonboy Injuries will surely happen

  • Dan39

    Burtonboy Dan39 Heh, I’ll try and keep an eye on him but gets progressively more difficult as the number of pints I’m looking through piles up during the game. 
    Any other requests?

  • wendelsway1

    Dangle_My_Berries wendelsway1 phaneufoundlander Yep….I really like the makeup of this team….skilled, tough and fast.  We’ll be able to give any team a run for their money with whatever style the opposition wants to throw at us..  Gonna be an exciting season of hockey.  :)

  • Burtonboy

    Dan39 Burtonboy Nope… thanks in advance

  • dlb eh

    MollySweats 
    Bodie won’t make McLaren expendible.  i liked McLaren’s game when he played, he’s very much underappreciated here.  players that forecheck hard and take good angles with the ability to break up plays and move pucks to safer places on the ice contribute to wins.  Broll and Devane showed those trends too.  Bodie’s played well so far.  good on him.
    they’re both only going to be played a few minutes a night, so whoever clears waivers is the depth guy.