After the first full-team on-ice session at 2024 Development Camp, Assistant GM Hayley Wickenheiser discussed the progress of Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan, her first impressions of 2024 first-round pick Ben Danford, and much more.

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What is your focus with all of the young players? What do you hope they get out of this development camp?

Wickenheiser: It is a mix of competitiveness, teaching, and trying to prep them with pro habits they can take away for their offseasons and their summers, wherever they end up, to help them take their games to the next level. You are trying to balance the intensity at this time of the year — when guys have been off the ice for a while — with putting content on the ice that is going to be worthwhile for them and elevate them at this point in their careers.

Today, you saw a little bit of a mix of skills and teaching, and we finished with some battle gaming at the end.

What have you thought of Fraser Minten’s progress over the last few years?

Wickenheiser: He is just such a pro. He is a very mature kid. He is a leader everywhere he goes. He is a sponge. He adapts really well and is great to work with from a development standpoint. He is always curious about his own game, and he studies the game of others.

Really, for him, it is just about trying to assist him in taking that next step to being an everyday NHL player. He is very close.

What did you see from Minten this season after he returned to junior?

Wickenheiser: I think Fraser has grown throughout the whole year. The Memorial Cup and not getting there was a tough loss for them, but he has taken not only his game but his leadership to the next level.

We have been working with him a lot on adding more dynamism to his game on the offensive side of the game and getting him in areas where he is going to get more opportunities to score and shoot pucks.

He is a 200-foot player. He is a prototypical NHL player. Complete player all around. We have seen him grow throughout the year.

When you look at Easton Cowan’s season in 2023-24, did he exceed the group’s expectations for him when he was drafted a year ago?

Wickenheiser: I think it would be fair to say that early on, but as we got to know Easton and got a chance to be around him every day, nothing he does surprises me.

He is a really special kid. Very driven. He has a great motor on the ice and off the ice. He is extremely fit and hard-working. And he has a high self-belief, which I think you need to make it to the highest level. He has had a great season this year. He is very good to work with as well.

How close is Cowan to making the next step to the NHL?

Wickenheiser: I think he is going to make a push. It is always hard to make that jump from junior to the NHL. That is a pretty big step. He has proven everybody wrong at every level. I don’t put it past him.

The defensive aspect of the game will be key for him to be able to check and keep up with the pace of play — not just the offensive side of the game. He is very close. It will be exciting to watch.

What attracted the management group to Ben Danford, and what’s your impression of him since the camp started?

Wickenheiser: In talking with Wes Clark and the scouting staff over the last little bit and being able to watch him, he is very smooth on the ice and a very smart player. Defensively, he makes stops. His offensive numbers weren’t that great this year, but I think they were better than the stats show. He is a character kid. He comes from a really nice family with a good background. He is a good athlete. If you watch him off the ice, you can see the reason why he can translate it on the ice.

Brandon Lisowsky mentioned that you have been in touch with him often throughout the year. The Leafs didn’t sign him, but there is still hope that they could. What do you like about his game?

Wickenheiser: Very few players can rip the puck and score the way he can. He showed that this year in the WHL. We worked with him through the year on being multi-dimensional on both the offensive and defensive sides of his game.

It was really hard for him not to get signed, but we have talked to him about being positive, coming here, having a great camp, and looking at what we can do moving forward. We have a lot of belief in him on the development side of things.

You get close to the players when you work with them through the years. There is a lot of joy that goes with it and also some tough moments. We are trying to help him through it.

What has it been like getting to see some of the Russian kids for the first time?

Wickenheiser: They never cease to amaze us with their entertainment. We had a few of them out golfing the other day. They managed to put the golf cart on the green and had a lot of fun in unfamiliar territory for them.

Despite the language barrier, they are great kids. They have to overcome a lot. It is a tough situation over there, but we enjoy working with them.

Vyacheslav Peksa, Artur Akhtiamov — getting them over here and acclimatizing is entertaining.

What was their response when they were told the golf cart shouldn’t end up on the green?

Wickenheiser: I wasn’t there. We left it up to Nik Antropov, which was a very bad idea. He told me to never pair him with the Russians again. We thought it was a good idea. Apparently not. They all had smiles on their faces when they came off the green.

Do you know Nikita Grebyonkin very well?

Wickenheiser:  Yeah, Grebyonkin as well. He is a little bit beat up right now, so he is rehabbing off the ice and just getting ready to skate again.

Very funny kid. Good sense of humour. He is tough as nails with what he went through this year to win with his team there. He is a strong boy turning into a man. It will be very interesting to watch coming up.

He seems like a natural goal-scorer.

Wickenheiser: Yes, he has good hands. His skating still needs to improve, and it has come a long way. He is not afraid to play physically. He fought a few times in the KHL. He’ll mix it up. He is a fun kid to be around as well.

What sort of impression has Craig Berube made on you since he was named coach of the team?

Wickenheiser: I really like Craig. We have had some good chats over the last few weeks with free agency in Vegas, and I got to talk to him about his approach to the game, who he is as a person, and how he deals with players and staff. You watch him interact, and it is a pretty straightforward approach. He will be easy to work with.

I don’t want to say he is old-school, but he is a bit of a throwback. He wants to sit and talk hockey. He will talk to anybody about it. I have enjoyed working with him so far.

What are your thoughts on Jessica Campbell becoming the Kraken’s assistant coach?

Wickenheiser: It is great for Jessica. A long time ago, we played together a little bit. She has put in her time in the American league. Obviously, she has the respect of the staff in Seattle. When you have that familiarity and consistency, she has earned it. It is great for the game.