Marchant Talks Prospect Development, AHL CultureApr 17, 2020
Every year, waves of new, young hockey players are brought on by NHL organizations through the annual NHL Entry Draft and free agency. With the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, NHL teams look to these new prospects to become part of the movement towards that objective.
As the Anaheim Ducks Director of Player Development, Todd Marchant holds a major role in the growth of young players within the organization, preparing and educating prospects from the draft to ultimately a full-time role in the NHL.
Prior to his current role, which began in 2011 following his retirement, Marchant played in 1,195 games in an 18-year NHL career with Anaheim, the Columbus Blue Jacket, Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers. Marchant helped lead Anaheim to a Stanley Cup in 2007 alongside current Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf and former defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who now works with Marchant in player development.
Marchant continues to push the Ducks towards another Stanley Cup, albeit in a different role. From juniors to the collegiate level and European hockey leagues, Marchant and the two newest members of his player development staff, Beauchemin and Mike Eastwood, have the goal of guiding players along the early stages of their hockey careers. With the wealth of prospects coming through the organization’s pipeline, Marchant’s role is integral in guiding the Ducks and Gulls to championship-caliber teams.
Pechanga Arena San Diego is just over an hour drive away from Marchant’s house in Orange County. The former Stanley Cup Champion has become quite familiar with the AHL club, frequently watching games from the press box. Gulls play-by-play broadcaster Andy Zilch recently spoke with Marchant about the specifics of his department and the prospects within the organization ready for their first stint of professional hockey in North America.
On his department’s role of player development
It really starts on the draft day. That’s when we start to communicate, and we use that word a lot because that’s what we do – we communicate with these players. When they get drafted on draft day, we start working with them right away. If they’re at the draft, we’re meeting their families, we’re talking to them, we’re making arrangements for development camp, which usually happens right after and then we bring them into Anaheim for four or five days to show them around. We get to train them, show them how we do things in our organization and then they go off on their own.
Periodically, throughout the year, we go out and see them. We see them play live, on video, we’re talking to them constantly throughout the season, both good and bad. These kids are 18 years old and have a lot of growing to do both on and off the ice. It’s our job to help prepare them for pro hockey, and whether they’re playing in Europe, Juniors or the NCAA, we get out to see them quite often throughout the season. After games, we go down and talk to them, their coaches, advisors and parents. It’s kind of like having more kids really. I have kids about that age so I know how to communicate with them.
Recently this year, we brought on Mike Eastwood, who had a long NHL career for several different teams in a player development role – he oversees the forwards mainly. Francois Beauchemin, who ended his career in Anaheim and had a great career for Anaheim on multiple stints, oversees the defensemen. I kind of oversee both sides, the forwards and defensemen, as well as the goalies. We just communicate amongst the three of us and make sure that these kids are all going in the right direction.
It’s a lot, but at the end of the day, the thrill for me, the most value I get out of this, is when you draft a kid on draft day. Then, you see the ups and downs where they’re playing, they sign a contract, maybe play in San Diego and go through that whole process. Then, they get called up and play their first (NHL) game and you get to see the look on their face. You feel like you had a little bit to do with that. That’s the biggest value and takeaway that you can get from this job in player development.
On Francois Beauchemin joining his department
Beauchemin and I were actually both in Columbus together when he got traded in the Sergei Fedorov trade back in 2005, and I came over shortly after on waivers. We actually lived in the same building our first year. He had no kids yet, but his son Samuel was born shortly thereafter. His daughter Emily and my son Bradley were born on the very same day in the middle of the playoffs in 2009. We’ve known each other for a very long time. Obviously, he left us a couple of times and went to other teams, but he’s always seemed to find his way back here.
He’s a hard worker, he knows the game and has instant credibility with anyone he talks to because that’s what these kids want to know. He’s been there, done these things and been through these situations, and what better way than to learn from a Stanley Cup champion like Francois Beauchemin.
On players developing in San Diego
Having a farm team that is just down the road makes our jobs a lot easier. I live in Anaheim and for me to pop down on a Wednesday night opposed to when we used to be in Syracuse or Norfolk and we had to fly across the country, and you had to make good use of your time so you’d spend a week there with the team and players. There are positives and negatives that way – when you have to travel there, you get to spend more time – but you get to see them live more often (in San Diego) and that’s the most important takeaway you can have. I’ll go down and players will see me before a game and we’ll chat a little bit. Every once in a while, you get a phone call, maybe the next day, “hey what did you think of how I played” and stuff like that. We’re in constant communication even when they turn pro with where they are at in their development. Again, like I said, some of it is positive and some of it is negative. Nobody develops at the same rate or the same way and you have to take it one step at a time.
On pairing young players with veterans at the AHL level
You have to have a real good mix with your veteran players in the American League and let’s not lose sight of the fact that your coaching staff in the American League has a lot to do with their development. We’re out there seeing them play when they’re not with us and then when they come to us, the coaches are the ones that see them on a daily basis and get to help them along the way. They rely on us with our experiences with the players. Bob Murray, the (Anaheim Ducks Executive Vice President and) General Manager, has always believed that you can develop through winning. We’ve tried to create that culture down in San Diego.
Last year, going all the way to the Conference Finals against Chicago was a great step in the right direction for not only the franchise, but for our young players who got the chance to play in that atmosphere. You look around the league and you look at teams that are really good in the NHL right now, they’re mixed with young players, their drafted players, and chances are they’ve had success in the American Hockey League. Look right up the road and you got the L.A. Kings, their teams in Manchester always did really well and those players came up and were integral parts of their Stanley Cup championships. Chicago is the same way and Pittsburgh is the same way. You look at those situations and you want to create that. We feel as though we’re in a real good place right now and we have a lot of good young players that are ready to take the next step in their development and potentially put this franchise, both Anaheim and San Diego, back at the top where we once were.
On prospects missing postseason experience due to the paused season
It’s unfortunate, but we’re all in this together. It’s not like we’re the only team or franchise that is not having their players play. Everybody, regardless of what you do or where you are, you’re staying put. It’s an unprecedented time in our history and it is unfortunate because we had a couple players in Moncton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and they were ready to go on a big roll in the playoffs, they were one of the best teams in the Quebec League. We had another player in the Western Hockey League (WHL) that was on a playoff team and San Diego was one of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team in the American Hockey League when it all stopped. Everything was trending in the right direction. This virus and this pandemic came at the wrong time.
The most important thing now is that our players are continuing to keep themselves in shape and continuing to work out at home doing whatever they can so that if the season does get started we’re prepared. If it doesn’t, you’ve taken a huge step forward for next season in getting ready for the 2020-21 season.
On defenseman Axel Andersson (acquired with David Backes and a 2020 first-round pick for Ondrej Kase from Boston, Feb. 21)
(Our fans) probably don’t know who he is because he was a Boston draft pick. He was a second-round pick, playing in Moncton. Right-hand shot, very good skater, he defends well, he had a couple of injuries there late in the season where he didn’t get to play a lot of games in the month of February, but he’s got a bright future as a puck mover and we’re really excited about having him in the organization. It’s always difficult to find right-handed defensemen, they don’t grow on trees around the league. When we saw the opportunity to acquire him, he was definitely high on our list. We’re really looking forward to seeing him eventually here in an Anaheim Ducks or San Diego Gulls jersey.
On center Bryce Kindopp (signed as a free agent from Everett of the WHL, Mar. 4)
I had a chance to see him play a couple times, he played in Everett in the Western Hockey League and they were one of the best teams in the WHL. He’s one of those guys that does everything well. Speaking with his coach, he’s the type of guy that if you’re up by a goal you want him on the ice, and if you’re down by a goal you want him on the ice. He likes to go to the dirty areas. He scores a lot of his goals right around the crease. He’s got potential. He’s a guy we saw and we were able to sign him as a free agent so we’re looking forward to how he transitions to the next level in the next season.
On center Benoit-Olivier Groulx (selected by Anaheim in the second round (54th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft
Groulx is a real student of the game. Obviously, he’s got a pedigree, his dad is the coach of the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay’s farm team. He kind of grew up around that atmosphere and the pro game. He’s a very smart player, he plays hard. It’s unfortunate, but he was one of the last cuts in Canada for the World Juniors team, but he plays the game the right way. He’s always on the right side of the puck, he’s got very good puck skills and put up some good numbers in Juniors this year. Again, he was in Moncton, he got traded from Halifax to Moncton and they had a chance to go on a run there in the Quebec League. Another player that turns pro next year and we’re looking forward to him to continue to develop as a hockey player.
On goaltender Lukas Dostal (selected by Anaheim in the third round (85th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft)
Lukas had a great season, he really did. He was named goalie of the year in the Finish Elite League (SM-liiga) and he has been playing with men for a couple of years now. He was playing over in the Czech Republic and wasn’t getting a real opportunity to play. This situation came along and he was loaned over to Ilves. He’s a great kid, he’s a student of the game, he’s constantly sending us video clips of his games and what he’s doing.
Obviously, being over there, it’s not the easiest being able to go see him play. It’s unfortunate, but he got sick in the World Juniors when they were in the Czech Republic, but he was their No. 1 guy on that team and he was outstanding last year in the World Juniors (2019) so we’re really excited about him coming over to North America. Goaltenders do take a little bit of time because of the smaller rinks and things happening a lot quicker for them. Going back to when we had Freddy (Frederik) Andersen, who is now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he struggled when he first came over here. It took some time and he was able to turn himself into a really good hockey player. We’re really excited about Lukas. Like I said, he’s a student of the game, he’s a hard worker and we’ll see what he does next season.
On defenseman Will Francis and his recent leukemia diagnosis (selected by Anaheim in the sixth round (163rd overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft
As soon as I got word, I was in contact with Will. I have spoken with him every week. We try to touch base on Sundays before he starts treatments on Mondays. This kid and his family, for what they’re going through, have been nothing short of amazing. Sometimes I can’t even talk to him because he has a sore throat from the treatments and everything, so we’ll just text. We’ll text back and forth and communicate. His mom is an extremely strong woman, updating us on CaringBridge and what’s going on with him. He’s a fighter and I have total respect for this young man and what he’s going through. We wish him nothing but the best. I told him, “Whatever we can do for him, we will.” He’s just starting to finish phase one of his treatment and will be moving to phase two. Hopefully he can beat this and get back to what he loves doing, and that’s playing hockey.
On Trevor Zegras (selected by Anaheim in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft
Trevor, being drafted last year, ninth overall, went to B.U. (Boston University), had a good season as a true freshman. Obviously, we saw what he did at the World Juniors for Team USA with nine assists and some of the flashy plays that he can make. He’s got very good vision and elite hockey sense. It’ll be a big jump for him.
I know that he’s good friends with Jack Hughes, who was drafted No. 1 overall by New Jersey. When New Jersey was in town in Boston, he went to go see him play and they talked after. Jack was telling him how difficult it’s been for him to transition based off the size, speed and physicality of the NHL players. That’s something that Trevor is going to have to contend with. He’s going to have to find a way to get bigger, stronger and faster.
It’s the same three words that we say to every single young prospect: bigger, stronger, faster. He has something that’s very difficult, or impossible, to teach and that’s his hockey sense, the way that he sees the game and the way that he processes it. He has a unique set of hockey skills to go with it. We’re really excited about Trevor signing with us and we’ll see where he ends up next year. Whether it’s San Diego or Anaheim, his play will dictate where he ends up.
On Jack Badini (selected by Anaheim in the third round (91st overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft
Jack Badini was drafted in the third round, was at Harvard for three years. He’s a physical specimen, he really is. He takes care of his body and he’s really in tune with working out so he’s a guy that maybe we don’t say so much about “bigger, stronger, faster,” but he will have to get that. He’s a guy that’s an excellent skater, a very responsible two-way player so we’re looking forward to what he can do at the next level as well.
On the high character of the organization’s prospects and players
I’m going to be sort of biased here, but I would say that most hockey players are that way. They’re good character people because they come from good families, they come from good homes, small-town Canada or the U.S. They’re not players that are constantly put up on a pedestal or praised for whatever it is that they’ve accomplished or have done. Hockey players in general are just very humble people. I think that for sure is an area that every team looks for – the character of the person because it isn’t a team sport. It isn’t about me or what I’m going to do, how I’m going to put the team on my back or single-handedly go out and win the game. It just doesn’t happen, not at this level for sure. As good as some of the other players in the league are, they can’t do it by themselves. They have to have teammates. Teams win championships, not players. We are definitely an organization that does that. Obviously, these players get signed, one of the reasons is because of their character and what they can bring to the table. We’re extremely excited about the players that we have moving forward and what they’re going to accomplish in the future. Everybody’s development happens at a different rate so time will tell as to when or if they’ll make the jump to the next level.