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Volume 21 No. 26
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CAA Hockey adds longtime coaches in staff positions to develop players

CAA Sports’ hockey division has hired two veteran talent executives to newly created full-time positions developing young players into NHL starters, a novel approach to bringing coaching talent into the hockey representation ranks.
The two have begun work with the large class of top prospects that the firm has signed ahead of June’s draft, including the projected No. 1 pick, Auston Matthews (see related story).

Jim Hughes, most recently director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Josh Dixon, a sports psychologist and former coach of Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games, have joined CAA Hockey as co-directors of player development. Both will be based in Toronto and work with CAA Hockey co-heads Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry to oversee the development of clients in the NHL and AHL, as well as prospects in North America and Europe.

“Every year you try to get better at what you do,” Brisson said. “We targeted an area that we thought was very important — developing players.”

CAA Hockey represents about 75 NHL players, including stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby; about 25 players in the AHL or minor league systems; and about 40 prospects.

Agencies have used former players and coaches for years to work with their clients, but generally as outside help. “An agency has hired its own coaches?” an executive at a top professional training facility said. “That is interesting, that they would bring onto their own staff, as opposed to hiring them as a consultant.”

Brisson said he has heard from prospects and minor league clients for years that their coaches are complaining about a weakness or habit that is preventing them from getting better. Part of the idea of hiring Hughes and Dixon is to have them look at any problems those players may be having and deliver solutions from someone who is part of their representation team.

“These young players knocking on the door to get into the NHL, sometimes it takes a little bit of help here or there,” Brisson said. “And it might make a huge difference in their careers.”

The NHL drafts 18-year-olds, but the best players in the world may be represented or have family advisers several years before being drafted. Most play junior hockey in Canada or in the pro leagues in Europe.

Dixon and Hughes will work with all CAA Hockey clients, but will spend more time with those needing some kind of help. “If a player is doing extremely well, why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Brisson said. Both will also be involved in recruiting.

Dixon, who will focus more on prospects, has 17 years of coaching experience, including two stints with Team Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and at private hockey schools.

Hughes, with 20 years of coaching experience, will focus more on NHL and AHL players. He has worked with professional clubs including the Boston Bruins; the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs; and Dinamo Minsk of the Russian KHL. In Hughes’ six years with the Maple Leafs, his duties included overseeing the club’s summer prospect camp.

Hughes said he sees his role at CAA Hockey as similar to his role at the Leafs, which is to teach, nurture and empower the players. “We are in the business of making young men better, both on and off the ice, and need to provide the best possible resources to prepare them for anything that may come their way,” Hughes said.