The style of play that the Maple Leafs will play this year, and what we saw at the World Cup with Team North America — will their be any similarities in terms of speed and skill? You’re going to have so many young guys yourself.
Jim Hiller: We hope so. The systems are the same. Mike has the same system for several years. He instilled it here and brought it over to Team Canada. We hope that we’re better, but the system doesn’t change. It works, clearly. It has for years, and we’ll play the same system here.
What have you seen from all the young kids? William Nylander – you can see a difference from one camp now to this, his third camp.
Hiller: There’s lots of them, not just him, right? The big thing that I see is that, a year later, they’re bigger, stronger, more mature, and I think more confident and ready to make the team. You sense that they’re ready to make the hockey team. That’s what you want to see as a coach.
How about Mitch Marner?
Hiller: Same thing. I don’t know how much he’s put on, but he’s just bigger and stronger. More mature, that’s what I’d say.
What’s the difference getting ready for a season like this, now that most of the players have had a chance to play a year under Mike’s system?
Hiller: I think, in the practices, there was less explanation required on the drills. The veteran players know what is expected it. Some were systems drills, some were work drills. They know what the expectations are, so I thought – for me and DJ and the coaches – it was easier than last year, when Mike had to set the tempo. I thought guys just picked up where we left off.
Looking at how the Leafs drafted this year and guys coming back, is the theme, or at least the trend, 6’3 above and work on that skating?
Hiller: Well, we saw that. You’ve got to be able to skate. That’s the biggest thing in the league. You see speed everywhere. The bigger guys, if they can skate, are going to get a chance to play. Everybody wants big players who can skate, but they’re not always available. Bottom line, no matter what size you are, you’ve got to skate, you’ve got to compete. That’s what gets you in the league.
Last year, you guys worked with a lot of the veterans. I think by design you kept some of the young players back so that Mike can get a full season with them this year rather than trying to bring both up. Is it good for the young kids that they’ll get more of Mike’s attention and your attention this year than they would’ve last year?
Hiller: You know what, the best players are going to make the team. It’s really the case. If you make the team, you’re going to get attention. That’s what it comes down to. The players that deserve to make the team will make the team, and what they do, they’ll get coached. I know that.
How much is Mike involved day to day with you now, with him involved [with Team Canada]?
Hiller: We talk everyday. Mike’s got a pretty big job he’s trying to take care of right now, but he always wants to know what’s going on with the Maple Leafs. He talks to Lou, he talks to me, he talks to DJ. He just wants updates. On the other side of it, he’s been really encouraging to us all, too. He wants us to come in here and have a good camp. He knows he’s not here, but he’s put a lot of trust in us.
How important is a player like Tyler Bozak? Connor Brown is on his wing for another camp. Kerby Rychel gets a chance to come into the organization. How can Tyler make players like that better?
Hiller: Tyler’s been great. I just talked to him a little bit about setting the tempo for practice. I thought he did. I thought he worked extremely hard. Dishing the puck on the powerplay. You saw him make some plays. It’s important. He’s a veteran player. He’s got lots of experience. He’s scored points. Those guys look up to him. I just thought he looked good. I thought he looked really good. I was really impressed with Bozie this morning.
It was an interesting trade. What do you guys like about Kerby Rychel?
Hiller: He’s a big guy, right? That always helps. A first round draft pick. He scored many goals in the OHL. He’s a cycler. He goes hard to the net. He’s that hard, heavy presence we talk about getting to the net, being heavy. All of those things combine into a pretty good prospect. Get a guy like that playing at some point, if he can earn a spot on the team… those guys are hard to play against.
Do you guys have fun just sort of sitting back and watching Auston Matthews?
Hiller: We watched him on the TV a little bit, but to be honest we’re not too focused on Auston Matthews right now because there’s 79 guys here that we’ve got to focus on. He’s not the number-one focus, that’s for sure. We know how good he is. He’ll get here sooner or later, and when he gets here, I’m sure there will be lots to talk about when he’s here.
Nikita Soshnikov – will he skate with contact before you’re done here?
Hiller: I’m not sure about that. I don’t have the answer to that.