Now that the Kings have wrapped up their annual Development Camp, it’s time to see what some of the coaches and players thought of the experience. We’ll start off with Nelson Emerson (player development coach) and Kim Dillabaugh (goaltending coach). Then, in the next article, we’ll hear from several participants – including 2012 draftee Tomas Hyka. Finally, later this week, we’ll publish a separate article with our thoughts on the three standouts in camp.
Overall, Emerson said the most important thing for the campers to leave with is an understanding that “it’s about habits.” He shared that this is something the staff preaches from day one and is constantly working to instill in each player.
For those unfamiliar with the format, Development Camp is primarily comprised of kids who haven’t turned pro yet. Of course, there are exceptions. Yet, the bulk of the players are predominantly junior level and college age players. Thus, Emerson and his staff haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work with the youngsters. Sure, the junior players will be back for Rookie Camp in early September, but this is their once-a-year opportunity with guys like Derek Forbort, Kevin Gravel and the other players enrolled in American universities.
“Given all the NCAA rules they have to follow, it’s very exciting to have all of our college kids here,” Emerson said. “Everything is at their own expense. They’re all footing their own bill and they’ve been tremendous. It’s great that we get to start the communication process with them.” He went on to admit that it’s also more challenging to develop a college player though because of having such little time with them.
For example, although Forbort was drafted in 2010, this is only the third time the 6-foot-5 defenseman has been to LA for camp. Conversely, a player like Tyler Toffoli – selected in the second round that same year – has now been to six camps, played in a few games vs the Coyotes during Rookie Camp and even made it into an NHL exhibition game with the big club last season. Yet even with the minimal interaction, the Kings’ coaching staff feels they’ve made some subtle changes in Forbort’s game over the last few summers.
“When we have him here, he’s excellent,” Emerson explained. “He does what we ask him to do. He is what we see – he’s a great skater, who has some offensive instinct. But, Mike O’Connell (former Bruins GM, now working in the pro development side for the Kings) has done a tremendous job of just settling him down into a stable player.”
Later this summer Forbort will begin his junior year at North Dakota. So, he remains at least a few years away from becoming a pro player. On the other hand, Toffoli is somebody who could be in the Kings line-up sooner rather than later.
“He’s just growing, he’s maturing,” beamed Emerson, with a big smile. “He’s done everything that we’ve asked of him since he was drafted. To start out with, the off-ice workouts were a little bit difficult for him. But, now he’s bought into the whole program. He does whatever we ask him, whenever we need him anywhere, he’s there. He puts full effort into the gym and he’s starting to be a pro right now. That’s what’s great about it. He’s fully committed to being a better player. When you add the intangibles that he has of scoring and offense, then he’s putting this other effort in already at his age, that’s what you get. It’s good and it’s exciting.”
On the goaltending front, the Kings also had two players in camp who find themselves on different paths of the development road-map. JF Berube, drafted out of the QMJHL in 2009, just spent his first pro season with the Ontario Reign (ECHL). This coming year, he’s off to Manchester, where he’ll back-up Martin Jones. Meanwhile, the newest member to the Kings stable of goalies, Christopher Gibson, is also from the Quebec junior league - where he’ll play again next season for Chicoutimi.
“We’ve seen lots of improvements,” Dillabaugh said of Gibson’s development. “A lot of it with him is allowing him to balance his game out a little bit more. He comes from more of a structured background. He does have good athletic capability, but I think sometimes that athletic capability has been buried a little bit under some of his structure. So, there are a lot of little things that we’ve worked on with him, and it’s just now getting some repetitions so those become more habitual in his game.”
Coming off hip surgery last summer, Berube didn’t get to put in his normal off-season workouts heading into the 2011-12 campaign. And it showed on the ice, as his numbers weren’t spectacular in the early going. However, by the end of the season, he was clearly back on track.
“(Berube) would be the first to admit it wasn’t a very good start for him,” proclaimed Dillabaugh. “Whenever you transition to a new level, there’s a lot of challenges that come along with that. So, it was him learning how to be a pro, living away from home and coming out to California from Quebec – there are a lot of off-ice issues that have an impact on how you play on the ice as well. We were also making sure from a health perspective that he was feeling good and that he was doing the necessary things to be able to perform on the ice at the level he was capable of. So, there’s some things there that we worked through together and to his credit, he really took hold of things in the second half of the year and finished strong.”
Looking ahead, Dillabaugh was very specific when it came to what he wants to see from Berube.
“With J.F., it’s more about his fitness level. He needs to become bigger and stronger. From an on-ice perspective, he’s more like a Jonathan Bernier-type guy. He’s very structurally sound. For him to be able to continue to move forward, he’s got to become fitter. He’s got to become a better athlete off the ice and get stronger. That’s just a maturity thing as well.”
The need to be bigger, stronger, better. Those are certainly common themes when dealing with prospects.
Being the big man on campus in college or junior hockey is great. But – as one prospect recently told us – when you become a pro and you’re playing against guys trying to make a living for their families, that’s a whole new ballgame.
Recently, we posted pre-camp interviews with Berube, Toffoli and a few others. If you missed any of those articles, check out the links below.
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