I sat down with Ontario Reign General Manager Richard Seeley yesterday to recap his first season as the team’s GM.
Seeley has been within the organization since 2015, with his first three years as Head Coach of the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs. As a player, Seeley was a sixth-round draft pick by Los Angeles in 1997, and spent six seasons in the organization at the AHL and ECHL levels.
The Powell River, BC native was appointed as the General Manager with Ontario in summer 2018, overseeing development and administration for the AHL club. Notes and quotes from our chat:
– Seeley emphasized that while development of players to one day play for the Los Angeles Kings is priority number one in Ontario, development does not need to come at the expense of winning. He noted that, ideally, development and winning would go “hand-in-hand” as it has traditionally gone in the past in the Kings organization with Ontario and formerly Manchester. The 2018-19 season was just the second time since 2001 that the Kings’ top AHL affiliate missed out on the Calder Cup Playoffs, with the organization also developing several NHL players in that time frame. “The number one goal is we want to develop hockey players for the Los Angeles Kings, first and foremost, but I’m of the belief that winning hockey games, being involved in an AHL playoff race and ultimately the Calder Cup playoffs is key for development,” Seeley said. “I don’t think it’s one or the other, the goal is to do both and at the end of the day one can’t be at the cost of the other. It is not easy to do, but if we do it right, we will be able to accomplish both. I think the organization has done a good job of that in the past and will continue to strive to do that moving forward.
– In terms of AHL contracts and PTO/ATO players, Seeley felt that forward Kyle Bauman was a player that came in and did a good job during his first season. While not the flashiest member of the Reign, Bauman’s work ethic was top notch and the first-year forward played a key role in the team’s bottom six, as well as on the penalty kill. Seeley also felt that defensemen Craig Wyszomirski and Cliff Watson came in and did well to seize opportunity on PTO arrangements in the second half of the season. There remains a possibility that some of last season’s players on AHL contracts or try outs could return, but no further details as of yet. None of last season’s AHL deals are multi-year pacts that extend into the 2019-20 season.
– Regarding Matt Moulson – Seeley praised his impact last season in the Reign’s dressing room and on the ice, however any comment regarding a possible AHL deal with Ontario for the veteran forward would have to be reserved until July 1, as Moulson is still a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization.
– The process is ongoing for new additions to the Reign staff for an Assistant Coach and a Video Coach. Those positions will be filled in the coming weeks.
Ontario Reign Insider: With how this season shook out, how will the team go about adding veterans next season, and would an experienced defensemen be a consideration?
Richard Seeley: I think every year at the American League level varies and a lot of it is dependent upon what’s going on with the LA Kings – Our main job is to make sure we’re developing hockey players for the Los Angeles Kings. I think in looking at it, you want to have the right mix of veterans here to support our younger guys and help to bring them along in the development process, help them be successful. Last year, we had a little bit of experience, with the potential of MacDermid being around, Roy and Walker as second-year guys, and we look again fairly young on the backend. That will be something we would explore, having the right mix of veteran presences around to support our young group and that could potentially be a defenseman for next season.
ORI: Was one of the brightest spots of last season seeing those aforementioned defensemen – Roy, Walker, MacDermid – go up and experience success in the NHL?
RS: Absolutely. Having a little bit of time to reflect on last year, any time you can have guys like Roy, Walker and MacDermid step up, you have Amadio who has continued to develop, Wagner and Luff were able to go up after a short period of time in Ontario, Cal Petersen showed well in his time in LA, Rempal also got a little bit of time. Any time those guys go up and we can provide a push at the NHL level and have those guys go up and compete for jobs and earn time there, that’s a positive step in the right direction. That was nice to see and I think it’s a reflection of our staff’s hard work and all the people around our organization that help these guys along.
ORI: When Roy, Walker and MacDermid went up, it left the backend extremely young. Did you feel that putting younger players into larger roles than maybe was anticipated of them in October was a positive step for their development?
RS: When you say “anticipated in October” I don’t know if we want to put people into a box. We want our guys playing as much as possible and ultimately, it’s on the players to earn that ice time. It’s up to them to come in and prove to our coaching staff that they deserve to be playing in “X role, or X amount of minutes per night”, whether it’s 10, 15, 20 minutes, power play, penalty kill, that ice time is going to be earned. Obviously, we want all of our guys coming in and earning that ice time right away, we want that competition where we’ve got eight defensemen and 15 forwards all vying for that ice time and there’s a competitive environment around them. It’s a development league. We want Kale Clague playing lots of minutes, playing in a variety of different roles and Kale earned that. Partially, what comes along with it is opportunity and part of it is a guy being ready to take advantage of opportunity. As a couple of guys got opportunities with Los Angeles, it provided a little bit more opportunity in Ontario and a few defensemen were able to take advantage of that. It’s a big jump from wherever our players are coming from, whether it be Europe, NCAA or the Canadian Hockey League or U-Sports, it’s a big jump coming to the American League and it takes some guys longer than others to figure out what they need to do to be successful as a professional.
ORI: Were there any younger players that you were especially happy with the development of this season?
RS: Yes, [with singling out individuals]. We could see our guys develop over the course of time more at a macro level. I’m a believer that all of our young players developed this year at certain levels. When everybody gets together and goes to camp in Los Angeles, and guys get assigned to Ontario, we have these ideas of where we think they might be and hopefully where they slot in. Some guys, those positions shift after training camp and at the start of the season and I [think] that some of our guys came in and were maybe at different places, good or bad, then where we thought they were actually starting from. Once they got to Ontario, I’m of the belief that they did get better, for sure, there was lots of development all around. Whether we can say they developed their skating stride or adapted to the pace of play in the [AHL], or whether it be that they have a better understanding of what it takes to mentally and physically prepare to be a professional hockey player and compete for an NHL job, I believe all of our guys, every last one, have a better idea of that going into next year. Hopefully a lot of these guys are able to translate that and use this valuable time in the summer to continue their development, I think our guys now understand that the ante is high. It’s difficult to play in the NHL and it’s difficult to be successful in the American League and I think all of our guys have a better idea of what that’s going to take and have developed this year. I’m optimistic and I’m excited to see some of those guys make the jumps that a Roy or a Walker, Luff, Petersen and Wagner made after their first-year pro into their second year pro.
ORI: What do you see the role of the ECHL being in development, as it seems that more and more teams are placing draft picks and prospects in the ECHL early in their career?
RS: I think it’s a development model, that’s how we view it. Organizational depth, you see the value that American League teams can have to the NHL and developing prospects, I think the same can be said at the ECHL level. As an organization, we view it as a development tool for us, especially for younger players. At certain times in the year, players may not be ready for the amount of ice time we want to see them play at the American League level in order to develop and going to the ECHL can be beneficial for them. It may be a two-week stint, it could be a two-month stint, but we try to utilize that to make sure our guys are playing. We had a few guys we sent [to Manchester] to earn ice time and they did a good job, and I think it was beneficial for their development. They got a chance to play in playoffs and play in expanded roles on what they played in Ontario. Overall, I thought it was beneficial.