Heading into his third season as Executive Vice President and General Manager of the San Jose Sharks, Doug Wilson looks to continue the success that has propelled his team to forefront of the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
In the news as of late for his willingness and ability to pull off the Joe Thornton trade during the 2005-06 season, Wilson’s duties go a lot farther than making one blockbuster trade.
Along with his staff, Wilson continues to build a strong franchise from the inside out. A part of that plan, one he’s very conscious of, is the selection, development, and graduation of young prospect players within the Sharks system.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Wilson in El Segundo, California at the 2006 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament as play wrapped up for San Jose’s rookie team. He gave his impressions about some of the prospects who played in the tournament, talked about the premise and concept of the tournament, and talked about their new AHL affiliate in Worcester.
HF: Is there anyone who has caught your eye at the tournament this year?
DW: There are a few kids, and I don’t want to single anyone out, but you can look at a player like Marc-Edouard Vlasic has come out and played well. He won a Memorial Cup last year. He moves the puck and skates very well. Ty Wishart picked it up after he figured it out after a game. Then there’s Joe Pavelski, who won a national championship with Wisconsin. We like where his game is at. The goalies did well too.
HF: Seeing how this is a younger group at the tournament compared to the last few years, was there anyone who has come back from last year and seems to have picked it up and improved?
DW: There are only a few. Mike Iggulden, who had a good year in Cleveland last year and then Lukas Kaspar, is moving the puck better with a year under his belt. You can see a year of playing pro certainly makes a difference.
HF: Can you talk about the importance of having this tournament, sticking within the division as the opportunities it creates for the prospects?
DW: I think it is great to have Phoenix, LA, Anaheim and us here. Everyone else tries to support the other in what we’re trying to do. We want to make sure it is good hockey and players come in here and show what they can do, whatever their skill set may be. I think it is smart to give these kids an opportunity like this and I think it great to let your fans have a chance to see the younger players.
It also helps us build the rivalries went want to build. It starts right from Day 1. You want to have a rivalry that is competitive, where you’re on the border of dislike because that’s what great competition is all about. I came from the old Norris Division, so you really want these guys to play hard against each other.
HF: Does building that mentality from Day 1 help when you’re looking throughout all of your organization and down the road?
DW: Yeah, especially with the California teams. You look down at the crest and you say, ‘hey when you come to an organization, you play for this organization.’ There are two down the road from us who are two very well-run organizations, in maybe the most competitive division in hockey. We want to beat them and they want beat us, so it starts right out of the gate.
HF: You had a lot of your young prospects take spaces on your NHL roster last season. Now you have some new players coming into the mix. What is going to be the priority with them as far as bringing them in and getting them assimilated to the program?
DW: These guys get judged on merit. When you look back at our 2003 draft, you have (Milan) Michalek, (Steve) Bernier and (Matt) Carle, they were partially enabled when we opened a couple spots with Thornton trade, by moving (Brad) Stuart and (Marco) Sturm.
Competition is a great motivator. If a guy can come in here and play, he’ll play, but no one will be given a job by default. Every year you hope to see someone come in at camp, surprise you and say, ‘I’m taking a spot.’ Who it’s going to be this year? We’ll see.
HF: Who from this camp will get a chance at the veteran camp or are you going to bring everyone up?
DW: We have eight exhibition games and we’ll use them well. We’re evaluating every day whether it is practice, rookie tournaments or scrimmages. The main responsibility is to get our team ready to win games come October 5th. The last two seasons, we’ve had pretty slow starts. Even though we went 8-0 in exhibition play last year, we had a tough go out of the gate.
Guys will get a quick opportunity to send the impression that they want to be here, but there are few spots that are open. I’m never going to tell our coach who to play, so if thinks there’s a young guy up to the task, he’ll play.
HF: One of those prospects is Devin Setoguchi, who was held out of the tournament due to an injury. Can you give us an update on his progress?
DW: Devin’s got a minor setback, he’s day-to-day and he should be ready for camp. It would have been nice to have him in here with his peer group because he had a good tournament last year. We’re always cautious with that so I think you’ll see him in some exhibition games. We’re excited about him.
HF: In closing, how important was it to take a forward position with your AHL affiliate in Worcester?
DW: That’s crucial for us. We spend a lot of time developing our players. We don’t believe in churning them and burning them. We understand it’s going to take several years and we’ve got an outstanding staff.
One of the prime reasons we moved to Worcester was the logistics. The travel is so much better. We can get quality practice time because we have a lot of staff that lives there. Our head amateur scout (Tim Burke) and head pro scout (Sean Cody) are there. Wayne Thomas (VP and Assistant GM), Cap Raeder (scout), Graeme Townshend (scout) and our power skating coach live out there too. It takes all of these people to be involved to truly give all these guys the tools they need to succeed. Worcester really works well for us and we think a lot of the fan support too.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.