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New Caps’ GM Brian MacLellan on developing young players, working with Barry Trotz

New Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan (left) and coach Barry Trotz.  (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

As he explained why the Capitals opted to promote Brian MacLellan to general manager, owner Ted Leonsis admitted the team’s longtime employee caught him off guard when he brought up not only how the team should improve but how ownership could be better as well.

“I didn’t think I had anything to lose,” MacLellan explained when asked why he decided to take that critical route in the interview. “The important point I was trying to make is I think the team feels when there’s a disconnect or there’s not a unified philosophy from ownership to management to coach. I thought we, all three of us, have to have a team approach going forward. Everything that we communicate or live by will come from team. And we’ll speak it and act it.”

There’s plenty to digest from the introduction of MacLellan and new coach Barry Trotz moving forward, but here are several interesting items the first-time GM brought up Tuesday.

>> There will be some adjustments made to the Capitals’ hockey operations department and scouting staff, but based on MacLellan’s comments, don’t expect a complete overhaul. He’s worked closely with the organization’s scouts, knows them well, and that has some advantages entering the June 27-28 draft in Philadelphia because he knows how they evaluate prospects and make decisions.

“I think our amateur staff has done a really good job. I’m excited about our prospects we’ve got coming in. Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Wilson, Orlov, Carrick, these are going to be prominent players for us. [The amateur scouting staff has] done a real good job I don’t think there are going to be any changes there. We’re going to look to add in the pro department. Our process might change a little bit, but I think we’re going to be good moving forward.”

>> MacLellan brought up the need for the Capitals to focus on developing young players multiple times and how he expects prospects that are brought into the organization to be difference makers and provide depth. In discussing some of Washington’s younger players, he shared some examples of situations that he thought could have been handled differently.

He said he would have liked to see Evgeny Kuznetsov, a 2010 draft pick who only arrived in North America this March, join the team sooner. But MacLellan also noted he believes 2012 first round draft pick Tom Wilson and training camp surprise Connor Carrick would have benefitted from an altered approach in their rookie seasons.

“Wilson, I would have liked him to play a lot more last year; there were certain points in the season where he could have been given more ice time, given a little power play, certain games where that would have been effective for him,” MacLellan explained. “We’ve got to work on his skill level. That’s the key for him. He’s obviously proved he’s physical and can skate and can hit and fight, but I want him to be a top-six forward. Carrick has been good; I think he should have been shuttled more up and down. I think we would have rather had him as a one [or] two in Hershey and used him sparingly up top instead of throwing him in the fire. It’s tough for a young kid.”

>> While he and Trotz signed their contracts with the Capitals on Monday, MacLellan learned he would be taking over as general manager roughly a week ago.

>> This past season there were signs of a disconnect between George McPhee and Adam Oates. Or, at the very least, some of the decisions regarding player usage made it appear so. MacLellan said he values a close relationship with Trotz and wants the coach to have input on personnel moves.

“I think it has to be a relationship that works. Any moves we’re making, any development calls we’re making, Barry has to be in line with that or we don’t make the call,” MacLellan said. “If I want a guy up, if I want to see him for a little while, evaluate him, Barry’s got to be in line with that. He can’t say, ‘No I’m not going to play him.’ And I know what Barry wants too. We’re in sync so far.”

>> Leonsis brought up MacLellan’s willingness to work with agents in his comments, which is a change in approach for the Capitals. Under McPhee, assistant general manager Don Fishman handled the majority of discussions with agents, but that was a contributing factor in tension between the representatives and Washington’s management staff. MacLellan will be taking over more of those responsibilities moving forward.

“I think it’s an important aspect. There has to be a relationship with agents,” MacLellan said. “Players need agents to communicate with management and management needs agents to communicate with their players. You have to work together to get the best out of the players. And you have to have players that want to come here and agents direct that process.”