Red Wings hire Naurato for player development role
Former Michigan player has previously worked with Larkin and other NHL stars
DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings do not plan to leave any stone unturned when it comes to developing their young prospects.
Shawn Horcoff, director of player development, and Dan Cleary, player development assistant, are in constant contact with all the young players in the organization, whether they’re in junior hockey, college hockey or over in Europe.
Now the Wings have added Brandon Naurato, managing partner and director of player development for Total Package Hockey, as a consultant.
“I had a meeting with Kris Draper (assistant to the general manager) and really my big thing this year was I clipped every single goal scored in the NHL this year and just started identifying trends and how to manufacture offense,” Naurato said in a phone interview Monday. “So I was showing Drapes and then he connected me with Shawn Horcoff and that kind of led into Horcs and I building a relationship. Then he invited me to present on some of the findings to the forwards and defensemen at development camp and then kind of push some pucks for (Grand Rapids Griffins coach) Ben Simon’s practice.
“That just kind of spiraled into opening up an opportunity as a player development consultant to support him and Dan Cleary from the player development side and work on some other stuff with the coaching staff. So it’s been good.”
Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has said many times this offseason that he and his staff are focused on finding ways to create more offense.
The Wings missed the playoffs for the second straight season, finishing with the fourth-lowest total goals with 212.
Only Montreal (207), Arizona (206) and Buffalo (198) had fewer.
The Tampa Bay Lightning led the league with 290 goals.
“I always give the disclaimer and bad joke that I’m not an analytics guy and I’m not a video guy,” Naurato said. “But I came up with my own data almost to simplify the game and show where these goals were coming from, like zones on the ice, off of specific types of plays – was it off the rush, was it in zone – then just identifying the different ways to score and that showed this team scores this way, this team scores this way. There were trends that came up that showed the top five teams in the league were scoring in a similar fashion.
“Then when you clipped the bottom five teams in the league, it showed where the lack of offense is coming from. Clipping goals is one thing, it kind of gives you a snapshot but really clipping every shot attempt or scoring chance really tells the full story of what your identity is as a team and where you can improve, in my opinion, and where you’re good.”
One player who is already good but wants to be even better is Dylan Larkin, who worked with Naurato earlier this summer.
“Working on goal scoring, getting stronger,” Larkin said during the lunch break at the Larkin Hockey School on July 12. “I think my biggest thing is conditioning. I always try and run a lot and make sure I’m in great shape coming into camp. But I’ve been working with Brandon Naurato with a couple other pro guys about goal scoring and on my one-timer as well.”
Naurato said he’s also been working with Larkin on some different power-play options, depending on Larkin’s power-play role this coming season.
“With Dylan, he’s obviously an elite player and has great, I always call it tools in the toolbox,” Naurato said. “So with guys like that, it’s almost just giving them the visual of here’s some things that you do well. NHL players really don’t have glaring weaknesses or things that they’re doing poorly. But there’s some minor adjustments that they can make and you show those trends through the video to where it may make their lives easier or just make them more efficient.
“A random example that has nothing to do with Dylan would be if I show all the guy’s shot attempts in a 10-game segment, he’s going to see exactly where he’s getting his shots from, which shots are getting blocked, which shots are hitting the net and how he’s scoring his goals. If you find a trend that he’s getting shots blocked in a specific area, well then you just dive deeper and say why and is there some type of skill that I can help him acquire to start being more efficient and getting those shots through.”
Naurato, who played for the University of Michigan from 2005-09, said this sort of development work wasn’t readily available back when he was Larkin’s age.
“Absolutely nothing. I still feel that like analytics and skills and player development are still buzz words right now, like I don’t think there’s too many people out there that can really tell you what that means,” Naurato said. “There’s some industry leaders throughout the world or the country that do a really good job. My big thing was I’m not a tech guy but I wanted to be the first, one of the first guys to use technology and merge that with player development. That meaning analytics, the video, and I keep saying the same thing, but just identifying those trends because I feel like me as an adult at 33 or young kids, they’re visual learners as hockey players. So if we could show them what it looks like to kind of show the light at the end of the tunnel and then build that up with skills and a progressional plan, then you’re making players better.”
Through Total Package Hockey, Naurato and his staff have worked with many other NHL players, including Luke Glendening, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, former Wing Patrick Eaves, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Columbus’ Zach Werenski.
They also work with players at all levels.
Defenseman Alec Regula, just drafted by the Wings last month in the third round, 67th overall, was with the OHL’s London Knights when he worked with Total Package Hockey.
“I started as an employee five years ago and I became an owner about a year and a half ago,” Naurato said. “Really what it was was just using my relationships from Catholic Central to Michigan to just kind of growing up in the area and just kind of reaching out to people and just slowly providing value and trying to do a good job and it just kind of grew from there. It’s pretty cool what we’ve built with the TPH thing where it’s kind of like that family atmosphere where guys have been through it for two, three, four years now. So they get the lingo. I always say it’s not that we’re reinventing the wheel, but we have a certain type of environment that we create or use a certain type of verbiage or lingo, now these kids understand it. Hopefully the cool thing is not only will they become better hockey players but better students of the game and hopefully maybe better coaches, whether that’s at the youth level or the NHL level when they’re done playing later on in life.”
In addition to working with Larkin, Naurato said he already has a few projects underway with a few other Wings and expects to be in Traverse City for training camp in September.
“Then I think I’m going to spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids and communicating with Ben Simon,” Naurato said. “Then obviously, supporting Cleary and Horcoff with some guys down in Grand Rapids to hopefully make sure that I can help them or be a part of the process to get them into the Detroit system and then when they do get here, they’ll have success as quickly as possible. I’m the new guy that, I believe in what I do and I’m confident in what I do because I’ve put the work in, but very humble to be working with the Red Wings and excited to learn and excited to earn my stripes and just be a support valve for the coaching staff, I would assume minor (league) right now, be a support valve for player development, be a support valve for guys like (video coach) Adam Nightingale, learn from him and ask questions.”
As a Michigan native, Naurato is enjoying the opportunity to work with his hometown team on what be believes to be cutting-edge development.
“I don’t think every NHL team is doing what we’re doing,” Naurato said. “I don’t think many colleges or junior teams are going this route and I think it’s going to, with technology now, it’s going to come quicker with this whole player development thing. But I think the Red Wings are in front of it. That doesn’t mean me, I think I’m a piece of the puzzle. I think Dan Cleary and Jeff Blashill and Shawn Horcoff and Draper, they think a different way and I think they’re trying to do this across the board.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it and hopefully do a good job and have an impact.”