NHL Notebook: Specialized skill coaches a staple of offseason workouts

When Paul Vincent first made his way into the NHL nearly 20 years ago for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the legendary skating coach sat in on a few scouting meetings. He remembered the parameters teams followed when crafting their personnel during a time when the game of hockey was better known for its gritty, rough-and-tough style

“Defenseman had to be 6-foot-3 or bigger,” Vincent said. “A forward 6-1 or bigger. And those were the rules.”

Those rules, now, seem far distant. There’s still an undeniable physical edge to the game, but there’s a greater emphasis on speed and skill – a transformation that’s been underway for a few years. More so than ever, it’s changed how players approach the offseason and the work they put in during long summer months.

Consider the Bruins roster and three of their defenseman – Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk. McAvoy is 6 feet. Krug and Grzelcyk are 5-9. Two decades ago, they’d be considered undersized forwards, let alone patrollers of the blue line. When the Bruins signed David Backes two years ago, the former Blues power forward focused on becoming a slimmer, sleeker wing.

“Even 10 years ago, if you said Matt Grzelcyk was going to play in the NHL, people would’ve laughed at you,” Vincent said. “If you look at the Bruins D, three of them are under 6-1. Size no longer becomes a factor if you have an elite skill set. In the past guys, would just go in the gym and lift and lift and lift. Now they spend the time learning how to develop their skills.”

Players work diligently with gurus such as Vincent, the 71-year-old Beverly native who currently is the skating and skills coach for the Florida Panthers – the fifth NHL team he’s worked for, including the Bruins from 2002-07.

Around the same time Vincent began in the NHL, Ben Prentiss hatched a facility called BodyTuning, which ultimately became Prentiss Hockey Performance – an 8,000 square-foot facility in Stamford, Connecticut.