For the first time in years, Dan Bylsma's time at training camp isn't spent focusing on drills and systems.
With the NHL mired in a lockout, the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach is spending the weekend with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, getting a firsthand look at the organization's future and depth.
While Bylsma cannot work with his NHL players to get them up to speed for the season, the lockout has given him an opportunity to see what's coming up in the system.
"This is the first time I'm going to see a lot of these players, and I'm on the ice specifically looking at what they're doing individually and what they're bringing to the table," Bylsma said after Saturday's practice at Coal Street.
"It's attention I would not be able to give them in Pittsburgh running a camp."
And it could prove crucial after the lockout ends.
Last season, Bylsma said, players with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton connections played in almost 200 games for Pittsburgh. The link between the AHL and NHL club is vital, and Bylsma is paying close attention to the players who no doubt will come to Pittsburgh and be asked to contribute at some point.
"For me to see these guys on the ice and get to know them a little better is really important for me as a coach," he said.
It's also important to the players, who don't have the added bonus of showcasing their talents at an NHL camp this year.
In fact, the lockout may provide the AHL Penguins with more opportunity in the long run since Byslma and other Pittsburgh management will be giving them their undivided attention.
"The reality of it is this is one of the best environments they can be in," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes said. "It's probably the longest and most intense look most of these guys will get."
The opportunity to skate with the players in Wilkes-Barre is also a benefit for Bylsma personally. Unlike the players, there isn't the option to go overseas and coach. Still, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton training camp is a way to get on the ice and stay involved with hockey.
"I felt like a kid getting on the ice and being able to work with these players," he said. "I felt excited and rejuvenated."
Bylsma will stay with the team until Sunday before heading back to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh assistant coach Todd Reirden will come to town next week to work with the team, as will other coaches in the organization.
For all of them, the AHL offers a brief escape from the lockout that has left coaches somewhat caught in the middle.
"There's no side for me," Bylsma said. "You spend a month-and-a-half preparing for training camp, and I'm still waiting for that opportunity."
• With some of his players spending the lockout playing hockey in other parts of the world, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said it doesn't make him nervous. "I don't think of life that way," he said, referencing his NHL playing days with Anaheim. "Teemu Selanne drove cars fast in the summertime and wrecked in Finland, but we didn't spend the summertime worried about Teemu Selanne driving cars."
• While the lockout continues, Bylsma and his team will have to continue their wait to redeem themselves after last season's disappointing first round playoff exit to the Philadelphia Flyers. "The way the series went and how it started, it's not something that would sit well with either coach," Bylsma said. "Having lost to Philly with the expectations we had, certainly made for some soul-searching over the summer. Redeeming that situation – that's not going to come until the playoffs come around."
• WBS Penguins coach John Hynes said enforcer Steve MacIntyre could join training camp soon. "We're just working out some things contractually. It's still in the plans."