Tim Speltz, General Manager of the Henderson Silver Knights, is looking forward to putting an offseason of accomplishments to work. Bolstered by the return of veterans like Gage Quinney, Speltz feels as though the Silver Knights are in a position to take on all the challenges that an AHL season has to offer.
Managing the roster and offseason transactions for the AHL requires considering many needs at once – the organization must balance the needs of a full-time AHL product with the development needs of their NHL affiliate, the positional needs of the team in the context of roster gaps, and the chemistry of the team itself on-ice. It’s a lot of things to juggle, but both Speltz and the hockey operations team have confidence in the team that they have built going into the 2022-23 season.
“As an organization we wanted to have a good combination of veteran players that could both contribute to our team and help our team win, and then also contribute to the development of our young guys. It’s obviously still early, but from what we’ve seen through camp, we think we’ve accomplished that,” Speltz said.
In addition to some new acquisitions, the team’s veteran presence will also be boosted by the return of some familiar faces returning from battles with injury – defenseman Jake Bischoff and forward Gage Quinney, both signed on AHL contracts. Bischoff missed the entirety of last season due to injury, while Quinney battled with longer-term effects of COVID-19.
“We’re really happy to have Jake with us. We’re really glad that he’s healthy and that he was able to persevere through last season. And Gage wasn’t himself last year. He battled through COVID, and it’s good to see him at 100 percent and healthy, too.”
But it’s not just about what the players bring to the on-ice product. Speltz is also thrilled to see the players recovering not just because of what they bring to all aspects of hockey, but also because he’s gotten to know them as people throughout their time in the organization.
“Those two things are important for me for more than just hockey – I saw how tough it was for those players last year. With Jake not playing at all and Gage trying to battle through it. Now they’re healthy, and we can see the real players through it. And see them happier, off the ice, too.”
The return of these veterans won’t just make the Silver Knights a better team; they’ll also play an instrumental role in helping young prospects adjust and grow as hockey players. For all players, no matter their age or previous experiences, it’s a big step from junior hockey or collegiate hockey to a professional league. That’s part of why Speltz continually emphasized the Silver Knights development philosophy. Taking prospects and helping them learn how to play the professional game is important not just for the success of the AHL franchise, but also for the long-term success of these young players.
“The biggest thing that makes the American Hockey League so exciting is the balance of veteran players and then also the development model of your young players,” Speltz reiterated. “And we’re not saying that all players couldn’t have a chance to be Vegas Golden Knights, but sometimes those young guys that come in are highly touted and they need some seasoning. The American Hockey League is where they’ll learn how to play, and then they’ll go on to be future stars in the NHL.”
For Speltz and the rest of the organization, that’s exactly what they want. Players moving up in their professional careers is one mark – among many – of organizational success. But what those adjustments are varies from person to person. Each player and their needs are considered individually in the context of what the hockey operations department and coaching staff can do to help them take that step forward in their development and career.
“I think everybody’s a little bit different when it comes to adjusting to the pro game and the North American game. Obviously coming from Europe, the ice here is a little bit smaller, so that is an adjustment for most players coming over. Sometimes they adjust very quickly and they use it to their advantage,” Speltz said.
But he also explained that the biggest adjustment applies equally to both European and North American players: the realities of adjusting to the schedule and workload of a professional team.
“I think any time the adjustment to pro hockey is a step, just being able to have that consistency every day – whether it’s practice or a game, because there’s so many games. And the travel as well; it’s a grind, and it’s good to see how well players adapt to that. So those I think are the challenges to the pro game that we help players with in their development.”
And there are many promising prospects for Silver Knights fans – and Speltz – to look forward to watching. Speltz anticipates that many of the organization’s young prospects will see time on the ice for Henderson this season, and that their game will be exciting for fans to observe.
Although time in the AHL may be necessary for their development as professional players, Speltz emphasized that all were well-identified by the organization’s scouts. Speed, skill, and work ethic are highly valuable skills for any hockey player, and the hockey operations team has confidence that these young players can provide that to the team. But he is equally looking forward to what some of the offseason veteran additions can bring to the table this year.
“Our pro scouts did a fantastic job of identifying players and finding the right players that could be fits. And I’m not saying that [our acquisitions] weren’t fits somewhere else, but they were great fits with us,” Speltz said.
“So we were really satisfied with that. And we owe a lot of credit to the pro scouts who did a lot of work this summer finding those players for us. Those are guys that have a veteran presence – accomplished players, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly they impact the league.”
Speltz is also grateful to be able to have the entire coaching staff working together towards those goals as well. “I think I’m really looking forward to our coaching staff being together. Last year there were some challenges with COVID protocols and, of course, Manny’s health. We’re glad to have him back and have everybody working together again. It’s going to be good to have that group together for the full season, really looking forward to that.”
But just as the players are integral to the organization, so too are the fans. And Speltz stressed that what’s important to him and the hockey operations department as a whole is being able to provide the fans with a great product and great games. He believes that the depth built by the team this off-season is critical in that regard.
“We want to have a four line team. We want to be six D deep. We want to have balanced goaltending. So we’re trying to be more balanced. Last year it was a 68 game schedule for us, this year it’s 72. That means a lot of games, whether it’s back to back or in short periods of time, so we want to be able to play our complete roster. That’s an important organizational goal, and one I think our fans can watch.”