One of the cool things about writing for a blog is that you are granted the opportunity to sit down and talk to people you normally wouldn’t. A few days ago, Bill LeRoy, the video coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, sat down and chatted me with me. Bill’s job, among many other, is to analyze special teams of both the Griffins as well as the schemes and systems of the oppositions teams.
When I asked him what the most important and underrated power play skill was he told me it was the teams overall ability to move the puck. Each team has two separate power play units. They always are paired together and they both try to score goals in different ways, depending on the unit’s skill set. Among other things, he mentions as well that you need a good, strong center who can carry the puck into the zone followed by a strong shot from the point. Of course, if you can’t shoot, you can’t score and the ability of a defenseman to get the puck through traffic from the top of the circles or from the blue line is pivotal to the success of the power play. Even the threat of a players shot is sometimes enough to change the way a team schemes against your special teams. Often times we expect players who have a lot of skill to perform on the power play, but scoring a power play goal is much different from scoring an even strength goal. You need players who have good ice vision and players who can shoot. Since you usually control the space on the power play and have possession of the play, speed is relatively useless as well as hands. This kind of stuff just isn’t as useful on the power play. Those skills are useful to create space, however when up the extra man, you don’t need to create space because there is one less player on the rink.
We then talked about the development process. A lot of players who transition from Juniors into the AHL struggle a lot, the AHL is the last step before the NHL and it is filled with talented players. What a lot of people don’t realize is that is that not only is there more talent, but for a lot of these players this is the first time they are playing within a system. Players who come from Juniors tend to have the hardest adjustments(see Martin Frk/Tomas Jurco) and this is because not only are they playing against players who are more talented than anyone they have ever played against, they are also being forced to play hockey in a different way than they ever have before. The Wings system is pure puck possession, they don’t dump and chase and they don’t rely on a single player. The Wings rely on their group of 5 guys to move the puck throughout the 3 zones and create scoring chances with consistent possession. This is a pretty rigid system, and if it at all juxtaposes the way a player played previously, then it will take some time getting used to it, and a few growing pains. All teams play the same system as their parent teams, these are sophisticated systems and they can be a lot to handle. He went on to tell me that the players who have improved the most since training camp are Martin Frk, Ryan Sproul(whose Octopus Thrower profile can be found here) and Alexey Marchenko. The improvement of Frk is a really big deal. He struggled mightily at the beginning of the year and was eventually demoted the Griffins ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye. Since then he has been steadily improving, which is always a good thing. There was a fair amount of buzz about him going into the season and when he struggled so mightily a lot of people immediately labeled him a bust. I think it is way too early to say that just yet, and his improvement is something that should be worth following going forward.
As we talked about the development process we slipped into drafting philosophy as well. A lot of times scouting gets simplified to which player will end up being the most talented. However, it is much more than that. Due to the many different systems and different play styles, certain teams place an emphasis on some skills as opposed to others. The Wings are so successful drafting because they identify what skills they need to make their system work and their scouts are able to project those skills well even when players are young. Pavel Datsyuk would not be the player he is if he was playing for the Boston Bruins, the styles are too different. The Bruins, generally look for big strong power forwards, as the Wings are much more into the speed and finesse players. There is obviously an overlap and both teams have both power forwards and finesse players but the finesse players are the stars on the Wings and the power forwards are the stars for the Bruins.
Among other things, Bill was extremely complimentary of Jeff Blashill. He says that Blash is meticulous and is the best coach he has worked with. In Blashill’s almost two years with the team, the Griffins have become an absolute powerhouse. Granted he has more talent than his predecessor Curt Fraser, but it is rather comparable. Blashill is developing players and he is proving to be a great mentor. He is teaching these guys how to play within the Wings system and they are winning. The players are improving and the team is winning, what else could you want from him?
I would like to personally thank Bill LeRoy for giving me so much of his time. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and learned quite a few things.