At the end of 2023 development camp, Assistant General Manager and head of player development Hayley Wickenheiser discussed her impressions of the newest additions to the prospect stable, the strength of the team’s prospect pool overall, and Roni Hirvonen’s status after sustaining an injury in the scrimmage.

What would you say the state of the pipeline is with prospects in the organization? There were a few years without a first-rounder, and then there is Rodion Amirov’s very unfortunate situation. 

Wickenheiser: We don’t have a lot of prospect depth. We are in a different situation with the big team and trying to build a team to win a Stanley Cup. Sometimes you give away some of your picks to acquire talent.

We are trying to build up the players that we have. We have some really good players in our system that have made some strides. Our goaltender depth seems to be coming. Within the pool that we have, we have a couple of players that are starting to push for that next level.

That is our job — to make sure we can help these guys translate to the next level with time in the Marlies‘ system and the development model that we have here.

Do you feel like Matthew Knies and Nick Robertson — despite his injuries — are two examples of making good on guys picked a little lower?

Wickenheiser: Both of those guys are good examples.

For Matthew to come in and step into the Stanley Cup playoffs is not an easy thing to do. He did a very good job of that last year. He came to development camp the year before and it was “eyes wide open” for him in terms of what it was going to take. These are really important times and moments for these guys to see, “Okay, this is what I need to get to the next level.”

Same thing for Nick Robertson. It is just unfortunate with the injuries that he has had. He is so driven to want to come in and impress it is almost like it is holding him back a little bit. They are both right on the cusp.

A couple of later picks from out west this year. What were your impressions of Noah Chadwick and Hudson Malinoski?

Wickenheiser: We really liked both Chadwick and Malinoski.

Noah is a big, long, lanky defenseman. He seems to want to make plays out there. He moves pretty good. He is young in terms of his training age off the ice. That is exciting because there is a lot of room to develop. He is a very intelligent person. He does very well in school. He has a lot of good questions. He is keen about his own development.

Hudson lost the season with the freak accident there back in Saskatoon. He has a swagger to him. He is a lanky, smooth, and shifty sort of forward. He has a good knack around the net. I thought he held his own this week for coming in and drinking from a firehouse.

Were there any free-agent invites that impressed you?

Wickenheiser: Albin Sundin was a player we all liked. He is playing in the SHL. He is a big, strong defender. He skates very well. He is very physically fit. His challenge is matching speed and being able to defend at the next level, but he is a guy who has come in and been impressive.

Easton Cowan, Ty Voit, and Nick Moldenhauer were a line throughout the week. What was your overall impression of the chemistry of that line and the instruction you gave them?

Wickenheiser: Nick and Ty have been to development camp before. They are veterans of the environment. Easton is coming in with a lot of attention as your highest draft pick. You expect those guys to dominate and lead the way.

I thought they played well as a line and created a lot of chances. It is one game. You are not evaluating much or anything. It is a long game with these guys. You are looking at the progression throughout the week, where they are right now, and as the season goes on as their careers develop.

Easton came in and had a really good week. I like the way he plays the game with a lot of passion and energy. He was agitating out there. He and John Fusco were going at it a little bit early on. It was good to see. You want to compete. Good for him for doing that.

Nick Mldenhauer continues to elevate his game as well.

With your two goaltenders, what were your impressions of Artur Akhtyamov and Vyacheslav Peksa?

Wickenheiser: Really impressed throughout the week with their foundational skill set. The feedback from our goalie coach Jon Elkin is that everyone is really impressed. Akhtyamov has certainly separated himself, and Peksa is right there as well.

It is exciting. We have some good goalie depth here. Throughout the week, those two really stood out as the top two.

Is there a plan for both of them? Are they going back to Russia or staying here?

Wickenheiser: Yeah, they will be back to Russia and we will follow them from afar. The key for them will just be playing time in their development.

With Akhtyamov, I think AK Bars has a very good development scenario. Some of the teams overseas do better than others. We are comfortable with him being over there.

We will try to maintain as much contact as we can with our Russian players. It is tricky.

How is Roni Hirvonen doing after taking that hit?

Wickenheiser: He is okay. He has a concussion. He will need some time to recover. He is a very tough human. He is a tough person.

That was a very big hit. It was a clean hit. It was a good hit by Dillingham there. For every single player, over your career, you always take a hit like that. It happens to everyone. You never want to see it in a game scenario like this.

I think we all just held our breath a little bit. The fact that he was able to get up and off the ice is a good sign. I think he will be fine with some time.

With 2023 development camp wrapped up, what are your final impressions?

Wickenheiser: I think it was a really good week all around. The attitude and the energy of the players were excellent throughout the week. We were able to do a good build with our skill foundation combined with game thinking and then a final game.

It was one game this year compared to three last year. I think the energy was a little higher. The players were excited to play by the end of the week.

What was the thinking behind going down to just the one scrimmage?

Wickenheiser: Last year, we were coming out of Covid. A lot of players hadn’t played the game for a long time — some for over a year. The thought behind that was just to see who had done the work when no one was watching and how players came in. There are a lot of minor injuries, fatigue, and things like that.

With another season behind us, we felt we got enough eyes on our players and enough touches through the season that we could go back to the skills that build and separate players at the NHL level and then have some game-thinking scenarios with one game at the end. They played hard, and there were a few little injuries throughout the game. You kind of have to manage that as the week goes on.