Cole Candella: Nonlinear Development
Hockey is no different than any other sport when it comes to player development. Some players make it to the professional ranks, others don’t. Athletes are given opportunities to succeed, and sometimes they miss their chances. In hockey, if a player is drafted by an NHL team, he’s going to be granted a few more opportunities than those who weren’t. It’s by no means a guarantee he’ll make the show, so when they’re given second and third chances, they have to push that much harder to make it stick.
“Hockey’s a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It”s not up to anybody else. You have to take pride in yourself.” – Paul Coffey
Cole Candella had a weak season following his draft year. There was an expectation that he would be able to follow up his shortened sophomore year with an increase in offensive output, which didn’t happen. At the beginning of the Bulldogs’ 2015-16 season, Candella was thrust into a position where he was a top 2 defender due to injuries and a lack of veteran recruitment (Lemcke, Yuill). Post-draft, increased depth pushed him back. Has anything changed?
Usage between seasons
During the 2015-16 season, Head Coach George Burnett’s system saw a lot of individual play when it came to puck movement. Either it was a set play or it wasn’t discouraged, you would see consistently see someone collect the puck at their own blueline and race through the neutral zone to get a shot on net as quickly as possible. Candella was successful carrying the puck, and getting in those shots. This wasn’t the case last season.
John Gruden came into Hamilton and immediately diagnosed that there was a lot of players on the roster that had a lot of “bad habits”. Gruden didn’t call out former coaches or specific players. That being said, something that stuck out early was Candella’s reduced minutes following his return from the Vancouver Canucks’ rookie camp. Gruden instilled a system that called for far more puck movement from the defenders to the forwards, limiting his offence output.
When discussing Candella’s season back in February, Gruden explained that his season was a transition for the defender. “He only played 25 games last year, and we’re playing a certain way which is more professional-conducive. We’re focusing on the details and habits of a defenseman, and what’s going to get him there.” If you’re a Canucks fan, you’ll be pleased to hear that Gruden is really pushing fundamentals. Should make for an easier transition to the AHL’s Utica Comets.
Candella is still a legitimate NHL prospect. He is going to be a featured player on the Bulldogs roster this year. By the end of the season and during the playoffs, he looked like he had regained confidence in his game. There is every chance he could reclaim a top pairing role this season and lead this deep Bulldogs blueline. Gruden explained the situation perfectly in this quote:
“Development is a roller-coster, to get from here to there is not a straight line. This is a sport that knocks you to your knees. But, he’s a player who’s a big part of this team, he’s a great teammate and he’s committed to reaching the next level“. – Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach John Gruden on Cole Candella’s development.
Bulldogs and Canucks fans are simply hoping that we’ll see an upward spike on the development curve at the beginning the 2017-18 season.
Featured Image: Aaron Bell / OHL Images