You may not be familiar with the name Ryan Rezmierski, but if you’re a fan of prospects, you’ve undoubtedly seen some of his handy work. Rezmierski is the director of player personnel at the National Team Development Program. He is responsible for the identification, evaluation and recruitment of prospective players for the NTDP and has helped bring in some significant American talent to Ann Arbor, Mich.
Rezmierski is entering his 11th season overall, and seventh in his current position at the NTDP. During his span, the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team, which is almost always made up primarily of players Rezmierski has helped bring to Ann Arbor, has won medals every year, including four golds at the IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. Eighteen players Rezmierski helped bring to Ann Arbor have been selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. There are plenty more accolades, but those right there are two pretty big ones.
So maybe now you’re asking yourself how you’ve never heard of this guy? He maintains a low profile, but anyone who’s talked to Rezmierski for about five minutes knows he’s a talented guy who is extremely passionate about what he does. On top of all that, he truly started his career from the ground up.
(Coming up after the jump, Rezmierski shares the process of putting together a team at the NTDP, some of his most memorable recruits and the challenges his staff faces in this hotly contested prospect battle.)
A native of Ann Arbor, Rezmierski’s hockey career ended after an injury suffered while he was goaltender at Huron High School. He spent time as a coach at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High before earning a job with the NTDP, serving in a variety of capacities. Rezmierski then landed with the University of Michigan as a video coordinator and assistant coach. Next up, he spent time with the Danville Wings, formerly of the USHL, as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Then it was back to Ann Arbor, where he rejoined the NTDP as the assistant director of player personnel, before being elevated to his current role shortly thereafter.
So you may not know him, but you’re about to get a glimpse into his process and how Rezmierski, who has to wear many hats in his role, and his staff of scouts help put a team together at the NTDP. I spoke with Rezmierski last week as he was returning to Rochester, N.Y., for USA Hockey’s Select 17 Player Development Camp. Included below is parts of our conversation regarding the evaluation process and recruiting of players for the NTDP.
USofH: Can you explain the NTDP’s evaluation process?
Ryan Rezmierski: Well, our leadoff hitter is Peter Ward [NTDP’s assistant director of player personnel]. He sets the table watching the 14-year-olds during the year and his transition period is at the [Select 15 Player Development Camp] when we bring in all of our staff and our regional managers with our coaching staff. Peter gives us the good, the bad and the ugly on all of these kids.
We group them into categories and we watch collectively the whole week at the camp. From that, we divide the players based on their regions and give them back to our regional managers. Their jobs are to go back into their territories, and all of the regional managers have at least one field scout that works with him in the area, and they watch those kids throughout the winter and report back to us in Ann Arbor.
If there are any kids that didn’t make the [Select 15 Camp], for whatever reason, late-bloomers or whatever, a kid that we didn’t know about, they fill out reports and watch those kids and get to know a little bit about their character. Once I get two positive reports on a kid, or a couple of kids in an area, I book a trip and go see those guys.
Next, what we do is we come together as a staff again in November and January and we have ranking and projection meetings. Out of that at the end of January, we narrow down the field to maybe 65 kids and we watch those kids for the next few months and wittle it down to about 45 players [to invite to] the NTDP tryout camp.
It’s a lot of movement. It starts almost a year ahead and then its a lot of movement watching practices and games in different areas. I try to get my regional managers to crossover so they’re not just watching kids in their area because it’s hard to judge when you’re only in one little vacuum.
It’s a sliding scale. Kids go up and down. We look at kids two years down the road and [project] how they’re going to impact the U.S. and how they’re going to impact the U.S. right away in the USHL.
The four criteria I talk about: Are they going to make an impact in the NHL Draft? Are they going to make an impact on the World Junior Team? Making an impact meaning are they going to be in that realm? Are they going to make an impact two years from now at the World Under-18 Championship? And can they have an impact immediately walking into the USHL?
If we have usually three of those criteria met, there’s a lot more discussion that goes into it, but those are kind of the benchmarks. Then those are the kids we want to evaluate at the [NTDP tryout] camp. That’s kind of how the whole process starts.
USofH: Do you think of roles for guys to play immediately or are they more a ball of wax that you’ll mold when they get there?
RR: That’s the toughest thing. It’s an educated guess, really, because we’re making calls on kids at 15. You try to blend guys because different players will develop off of eachother. When we get to the 40-man camp and we talk about putting a team together, you have to have playmakers, you got to have guys that work hard in all zones and are responsible defensively that are positionally solid, and you got to have projects. We try to get puck movers, we try to get offensive guys, we try to get real abbrasive, stay at home, first-pass defenders. It’s about that mix.
I don’t ever want to have our staff talk about, hey this is a top six forward, because its unfair to the kid and unfair to the other forwards because our process changes so much year to year. We want to just get the 12 best forwards that fit together that complement each other.
We also want extreme character. We want guys that have passion for their development, like [current NTDP defenseman] Pat Sieloff, who works out every day. That’s why he’s on the (U18) team, because his heart and his will got him there. And he’s going to make other players better. He’s already impacting [new U18 team forward] Riley Barber, and he’s only been on board for three weeks.
We’d obviously love to have elite players like [alumni] Kane and Kessel and Kesler and Erik Johnson. Hopefully guys like that emerge, but if we’re doing our job, we’re going to have guys that compliment each other that bring that cream to the top. They’re roles kind of identify themselves over the two years at the NTDP.
USofH: Who are some of the players you are most proud that you’ve helped find?
RR: I’m the most proud probably for Patrick Kane. That I saw something in him and believed in him. When [former NTDP head coach] John Hynes called me, I wasn’t working for the program yet, I said exactly what I felt and that worked out for him. Kane was a special player to begin with, but I think by me just standing up and seeing him and believing in him, it got him an opportunity to be in Ann Arbor.
[Editor’s note: Patrick Kane was not invited to the NTDP tryout camp, but after a stellar performance at the Select 16 Festival and solid showing at the Under-17 Five Nations Cup with the U.S. Select Under-17 Team, Kane earned a spot on the team at essentially the last minute. That’s how close he was to never playing for the NTDP at all. If he didn’t, would it have affected his career trajectory? Food for thought.]
But there’s kids like J.T. Miller. He’s had some adversity he’s had to overcome. Just knowing that you saw a power foward, that played with some snot and abrasiveness and then to see him get drafted 15th overall, that’s why you do it. You do it because you see something in a kid that you believe in. Now whether he makes it or not is a totally different story, but you feel like you’ve been a part of getting him to that ledge and he’s got to take it to the next level.
There’s a ton of kids that you feel proud about and even if they don’t get drafted, even if a kid goes on and makes a good name for himself in college. Those kids, still to this day, come up and give you a big hug and you remember talking to that kid at age 14 and you saw that he stuck with it and did well for himself.
USofH: What would you say are the biggest challenges for you from a recruiting aspect when competing against all of these other development options?
RR: It’s education. Education of the parents and the kid. Just letting them know what the options are and letting them know that they have options.
It’s such a rat race in this sport to get to the top. They’ve got to understand that the process is what it is. You can’t rush the process, it’s got to unravel itself. They have control based on that they have options for where to put their kids for development.
It’s a small percentage of kids that are pros at 18. How are you going to get there? There’s a lot of real estate between now and the draft, so how are you going to cover that ground and make sure that your son is in the best place possible to have success? That’s the biggest hurdle in our job; educating these families on the options they have and when to exercise those options. There’s no clear-cut path. You can see there’s many different stories from kids that made it from different paths.
The resources we have in Ann Arbor, you can’t beat it. So once you educate the families and the kids on their experiences: getting the opportunity to represent your country, and getting to play college games, and play in the USHL, and the training and all that, it’s an easy sell. The tough part is actually getting in there and letting them know what is at their doorstep if they want to take it.
It was a pleasure talking to Rezmierski, who was very giving of his time. I’ve been asked many times how the process works, and I was glad Ryan took the time to explain it in his own terms. I thought it would be better to give those of you that want to know the perspective from the guy who’s most directly connected.
Hopefully you learned a lot about the process, about Rezmierski and have a better idea of the current landscape prospects are part of.
In somewhat related news: The final roster for the 2011-12 U.S. National Under-17 Team, featuring some of the top 1995-born players in the country is expected to be announced soon. The roster is complete, but I’m told the NTDP plans to make the formal announcement after it’s season schedule has been finalized. The first seven players selected for the roster were announced in March. You can read about them here.
Special thanks to Ryan Rezmierski for taking the time to chat with me.