Q&A with Admirals Head Coach Lane Lambert
With the Preds 2009 Development Camp under way, NashvillePredators.com caught up with Lane Lambert to talk about the Ads 08-09 season, the progress of the Preds AHL prospects last season, and his initial reactions from this year’s Development Camp.
NashvillePredators.com: The Admirals won a division title and led the AHL with 107 points last season. What was your take on the '08-09 Ads campaign?
Lane Lambert: I thought we had a good season. I thought we had a lot of development and a lot of growth from some of our prospects. When you start out a season as you do in the American League, you get a slew of new faces and it takes a little bit of time for them to gel together. But I thought that the leadership we had, the quality and the character of the young people we brought in, along with the work ethic was really instrumental in us becoming a pretty good hockey team pretty quickly. And we sustained that through the whole year. Late in the season we had a bunch of out top guys up in Nashville as injury call-ups, but other guys stepped up for us and we kept from falling off.
NP.com: How important are the development camps for you guys in Milwaukee when you are trying to set your roster for this year and into the future?
LL: I think the camp itself is critical to the future to not only the kids that are here but to the organization. These kids are the future of the organization and it really sets the tone for them having been drafted and coming to their first pro camp. It really sets the tone and sets them on the path to their professional career. Even though a lot of them are two or three years away from playing, it gives them a real understanding and a real knowledge of what it takes to be a Nashville Predator, what it takes to be a pro. From that aspect, as coaches, it is really important that we understand that and know that and it gives us a good opportunity to get a really good look at some of the players and what is coming through the pipe in the future.
NP.com: Do you use a camp like this to look ahead into the future a little bit; maybe pay more attention to prospects like Ryan Flynn, Blake Geoffrion, Ryan Thang who are in their last year of college and may be able to join you late in the season?
LL: Between college and Major Junior there are probably four or five guys in that category – Thang is in that category, Geoffrion, Flynn. That is a long way off, but that type of situation is in the back of our minds; it is nice to see them and start developing a relationship. The best thing, though, is to see the growth and development they have had over the last two or three years; see how far they've from the first year they came to prospect camp to where they are now. I think that is the fun part about these camps and coaching at the American Hockey League level is helping to watch these kids grow and develop.
NP.com: Taking a look back at the Milwaukee team you coached last season, can you talk about some of the top prospects on that squad? Going position by position, starting with goaltender, is Mark Dekanich a guy that may get overlooked?
LL: He didn’t get looked over by us and our staff. He played very well and had a good season. He backed up Drew MacIntyre but at the end of the day I didn’t really consider him a backup. We wanted him to push for that number-one job, which I thought he did a really good job of. I guess from an outsider’s view, maybe he did get looked over a little bit but it was a very good first year for him and his role is going to increase on the team for this season (2009-10). (Ed. Note: The Admirals 196 goals allowed was the second fewest in the AHL last season; Dekanich's 2.09 goals against average was second-best in the AHL)
NP.com: Are you excited about prospects Chet Pickard and Jeremy Smith starting their pro careers?
LL: Yes, not only goaltenders who are as good as they were in juniors and high draft picks but certainly guys that are highly touted and have a lot of talent and a lot of abilities. It is always exciting to have them come in and start their pro careers and see how the progression and the development go. Certainly with (Preds Goaltending Coach) Mitch Korn teaching them and leading them down that path, they’ve got all the tools they need from that standpoint ... and the rest is going to be up to them. I feel comfortable with our goaltending situation for this coming season with Dekanich, Pickard, Smith.
NP.com: The Preds organizational depth on defense has been well documented. From the guys in Milwaukee, who stood out the most last season?
LL: I thought that Alex Sulzer stood out as being an elite player in our league and certainly everyone in the organization has felt that way and he’s re-signed to a one-way contact. Cody Franson was an All-Star; his first year he made the All-Rookie team and last year he was an All-Star in the league. Franson has a terrific release on the power play from the point and I thought he continued to grow and develop. I thought the defensive side of his game improved a lot over the course of not only last year but his first two years in the AHL. He is a guy who is really knocking on the door here and should get a really good opportunity (to play in the NHL).
We had a couple of guys who came over from Europe for their first years in North America and I thought made really tremendous strides. Teemu Laakso is a guy that we really need to watch out for – I believe he is an NHL player. I think it's a question of when, not if he gets to the NHL. I thought Robert Dietrich did a good job, too, of growing and developing. Later in the season with Sulzer and Laakso injured, Dietrich got the opportunity to play higher in the lineup and really stepped up. There is always a learning curve for first year guys in our league, not only for guys coming out of juniors but guys coming over from Europe – and maybe sometimes even more so for the Europeans because they have not only a hockey change but a lifestyle change as well. Those are just four of the guys who really, as prospects, stood out in my mind.
NP.com: Jonathon Blum joined the team during your playoff run. What did you notice about Blum in the short time you saw him?
LL: The thing I noticed about him, the thing I liked about him was that I love players who are intelligent and play smart – see the ice, see the game – and he definitely has all those attributes. He’s going to be a really good player. He came to us from juniors where he had a long season and I think he showed himself very well in the playoffs. He did a very good job for us and he is a top prospect no question about it.
NP.com: The Admirals sent quite a few forwards to the Predators last season -- Jones, Hornqvist, Pihlstrom split the season between NHL and AHL; plus O'Reilly, Santorelli, Ortmeyer? Can you talk about how the forwards acquitted themselves last season?
LL: Jones, Hornqvist and Pihlstrom were kind of half-and-half guys. Jonsey and Hornqvist are really solid players. Jones is a power forward type of guy. I thought he did a really good job in Nashville of getting to the net, getting in front of the net. He was a fairly elite player at our level; there is no question about it. Hornqvist showed more of a scoring touch in the AHL than he did in the NHL but then again, there is a learning curve for him and I expect to see big things for him in the future.
I think there is always a jump and a step when you come from the American League to the National Hockey League. It is a big step and there is always a bit of a curve there and I thought a couple of the guys did a really good job adjusting to that curb. Cal O’Reilly in particular came up and made his presence felt from an offensive standpoint right off the bat and helped in the stretch drive of the Predators playoff run.
I thought Mike Santorelli came up and I thought he played really well when he came up the first time and proved that he certainly had the skill level and the quickness and the skating to play at the NHL level.
NP.com: Can you talk about how important Nick Spaling was to your season last year and about his development?
LL: He was a huge part of our hockey team; he played in every situation. He is mature beyond his years from a hockey playing standpoint. He is a very coachable guy and he is very astute. He studies the game and he has a terrific knowledge and understanding of the game. He is a guy you can play and when you put him out there you trust that the job is going to get done. He is another guy who is knocking on the door here (in Nashville) and we will see what happens in training camp in September.