|Brandon Kozun, 2009 Kings draft pick|
If you’re a prospect in the Kings organization right now, it’s probably best to be a forward.
Defensively, the Kings top-6 are arguably the best unit in the Western Conference and with Alec Martinez just inking a two year deal – well, that group seems to be set for next season.
Now, at forward, it’s a different story. After the signing of Simon Gagne and the trade for Mike Richards, the first two lines are set. However, things are little more murky after that. Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford are guaranteed three of the final six spots. Who will be playing with them is still yet to be determined though.
If you ask Brandon Kozun, he’s highly confident he’ll be one of them.
Check it out for yourself…
MM: As you look back on your first year in Manchester, what would you say you were able to learn from the coaching staff?
BK: I think the biggest thing was adapting to the pro game. There are some things in junior that you can get away with that you can’t really do as a pro. So, I learned a lot away from the puck, in the defensive zone, taking care of the puck and trying not to force plays. I think I’ve grown as a pro quite a bit and I think the coaching staff helped me to realize that.
MM: Well, you certainly had a strong rookie season (including 15 points in 13 games in February, earning AHL Rookie of the Month honors). What do you make of your overall stats and did you find the consistency you wanted?
BK: I think I started to adapt to it more as the season went on. In the beginning of the year I didn’t get as much ice time because I wasn’t doing the stuff away from the puck and I wasn’t as good in my own zone. As the year went on, I started getting better and better at it and the coaches had more confidence to put me on the ice. Offense has kinda been the thing that I’ve always been able to do. The better I played away from the puck and the more opportunities I got, I seemed to play better and put up a few points. I think as the year went on I got better and better at everything.
MM: Let’s touch on the playoffs for a moment. You guys played a seven-game series with Binghamton. Did you notice any differences between post-season play in the AHL vs. your time in Calgary (WHL)?
BK: Post-season is pretty similar wherever you are. I think in the American Hockey League there’s a lot more defensive play and trapping. It’s not very open. That’s just the way it is. You win one goal games because there just aren’t a lot of goals – you win games 2-1, 3-2. In the playoffs it’s all about bearing down and not making any mistakes. The teams that take advantage of those one or two mistakes are the teams that go all the way.
MM: You put up 107 points your final year in the WHL and won the scoring title. Then, fellow Kings prospect Linden Vey won the title this year with 116 points (and nearly doubling his goal total from the year before, up to 46 from 24). From what saw of him when playing Medicine Hat for several seasons before that, were you surprised by his numbers?
BK: I don’t think so. There’s usually a guy every year who puts up pretty big numbers. He’s obviously a pretty smart player and played on a very good team. So, no, I’m definitely not surprised by the numbers he put up. He has some offensive skills and hopefully he can transition to the next level.
MM: How about Jordan Weal – he’s another guy you used to play against in the WHL and then he came up to Manchester for the final few weeks of the season. When he got there, was he a different player than the last time you saw him?
BK: I think he was a little bit similar. It’s tough though for guys to go straight from junior into that pro atmosphere, especially towards the end of the year. He kinda got thrown into a situation that was pretty tough for a guy his age. He handled it though and did pretty well for us.
MM: When it comes time for rookie camp in the fall, the guy you’ll most likely be battling with for a spot on the main roster is Tyler Toffoli. He’s an OHL guy, having played for the Ottawa 67’s, so is he somebody you don’t quite know as well?
BK: Well, he was with us in Manchester at the end of the year too. It’s the same thing as Weal, he’s a young guy. He was kinda thrown into the shuffle a bit and got some good minutes because we were missing some guys. It’s tough for a guy to do that. But, you know what, he came in and he did pretty well for us too. You can tell that, obviously, he has a knack for scoring some goals.
MM: The goaltending battle in Manchester is almost as fun to watch as the one in LA. Talk about Jones vs. Zatkoff…
BK: They were both good for us all year. During the first part of the season, Jonesy had a great first half. He kinda took over the starting job. Then, during the second half, Zatts was great and he took over the starting job. So, it was back and forth between them. But, they’re both really good goalies. Of course, I had the chance to play with Jonesy for a while (they were teammates in Calgary) and I know how good he really is. He’ll be an NHL goaltender someday, for sure.
MM: Bringing things back to the present – is it any easier coming to LA for camp now, having been here a few times and knowing the routine?
BK: Yeah, definitely. Having the year of pro under my belt is huge too. You learn so much at the pro game – becoming a pro and what it takes. I’m just looking forward to it. I think I have a chance to maybe make the team (Kings) and that’s what my goal is right now. Hopefully, I can go in there and show what I can do. And, hopefully, they’ll like what they see and maybe I’ll stay.
MM: That’s a great transition because I wanted to remind you of some quotes you gave me last year during rookie camp. You said “I think if you come to camp wanting to go to Manchester, you shouldn’t be here at all. I’m here to make the LA Kings and that’s what I’m going to do.” You later added “Personally, I think I’m good enough to make the jump.” So, it sounds like that’s still your mindset, to prove to everybody that you’re ready.
BK: For sure. Obviously, you have to have that mentality – because if you don’t, you’re not going to get anywhere. You have to have confidence in yourself and you have to have a goal to make the team. If you don’t, you’re not going to make it. That’s the way I’m looking at it. And, you know what, I think it really did help me to go to Manchester and get that year of pro under my belt. I was able to learn the pro game, versus last year when I was just a rookie and coming into it I didn’t really know what to expect. I think this year, coming in, I’ve grown as a player. I’ve put on some weight and I’ve gotten stronger. Hopefully, I go into camp and I show that I’m ready to step it up.
While it will be interesting to watch Kozun and Toffoli on the ice this week, the real fun begins in September. With those two the early favorites to make the Kings next season (among the prospects), the battle should be a fun one to keep an eye on.
In the end, it will probably be Kozun making his NHL debut. Just ask him.
At the very least though, be sure to follow him on twitter. He’s a decent chirper too.
Pre-camp interview with Tyler Toffoli – 2011 OHL scoring champion
Pre-camp interview with Monarchs LW Ray Kaunisto – talking Kozun, Clune, tough guys
Pre-camp interview with Jordan Weal – talking Manchester, Kings camp, etc.
Interview with Kings prospect Linden Vey – 2011 WHL Scoring Champion