With dozens of Kings prospects descending upon LA this week, we recently began our annual Development Camp Preview series. Things kicked off this time around with a pair of prospects selected at last month’s draft in New Jersey. Both guys – forward Justin Auger and defenseman Zac Leslie – had been teammates with the Guelph Storm in the OHL.
Now, we turn our attention to three teammates, all student-athletes at St. Cloud State University.
During the first four NHL Drafts with Dean Lombardi at the helm, the Kings selected at least nine players each time out. But, by the 2010 event at Staples Center, he was apparently looking for quality more than quantity. After a series of trades with other teams, Lombardi ended up taking just five players that weekend (his fewest ever) – including Kevin Gravel in the fifth round.
The 6-foot-4 left-handed shooting defenseman will be taking part in his fourth Development Camp. Because college players are in school during the fall, this is their only chance to spend time at the team’s training facility and show the organization how they’re coming along as potential pro players.
Gravel is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, scoring just one goal per season in his three years of NCAA hockey. However, he’s also increased his assists and shots on goal each season.
In our mid-season rankings of the Kings Top Ten Prospects, we had Gravel at number eight overall. Click here to see the full rankings.
Without further ado though, here’s seven questions with Gravel…
It was a big year for the St. Cloud program, including the teams first trip to the NCAA Frozen Four. Now that the season is over, what are your thoughts looking back?
“I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head there, it was a really good year – the best in program history would be fair to say. We finally got over that bubble of making it to the Frozen Four. Although it wasn’t the result we wanted, obviously not the start we wanted in that game, it was overall a successful year. We won the MacNaughton Cup [awarded to the WCHA regular season champion], which is no small accomplishment. That’s a pretty big deal, especially for our program at St. Cloud. I think anybody from the outside looking in knows that St. Cloud is a pretty good hockey program now.”
Fellow Kings prospect Nic Dowd is your roommate at St. Cloud. So, it’s time to dish, what’s the most annoying thing about living with him?
“We’re pretty close. I’m going on my third year living with Dowd now, so we see a lot of each other at the rink and away from the rink every day. I guess this really wouldn’t be annoying generally, towards anything he does, but it’s just – I live downstairs, so my room is directly underneath the kitchen. So, when he wakes up before me, I wake up, because he’s making breakfast or whatever and pacing back and forth in the kitchen and then I’m wide-eyed in my bed just trying to figure out what the heck is going on and why I just woke up.”
When we ask him, what’s he going to say is the most annoying things about you?
“Probably that I don’t clean my dishes the right way. He kind of gets on me for that, a little bit. I tend to leave my dishes out. I tell him that… I like to say that they’re soaking. I fill them with water and throw them in the sink for a little bit and just leave them there. He gets on me to clean them right away, but I just tell him I have to let them soak before I can clean them.”
The Kings now have a hat trick of Huskies after drafting another one of your teammates recently. Tell us about Jonny Brodzinski, who was fifth in the nation in scoring as a freshman.
“The kid can shoot. I think that’s the one thing that stands out about him is his shot. He has an absolute cannon. I see him practice everyday, some of his release… I don’t know how he puts the puck where he does. Not only can he score, he’s a hard worker too. He’s a guy who wants to win, he’s a good teammate. He scored 22 goals, so it’s easy to get kind of complacent and full of yourself from scoring 22 goals your freshman year, but we’re not seeing that from him at all. He’s up in St. Cloud every day, trying to get better and get ready for next season. He’s the guy that’s going to want to win and is going to want to have a better sophomore year than he did his freshman year…(Initially), he was pretty quiet until he got to know most of the guys. He wasn’t chasing the spotlight of anything. As he became more comfortable with everybody and got to know them, he was just another one of the guys.”
After three years of college hockey, what’s left to work on in your development?
“Like previous summers, I’ve really been focusing this year on just trying to put on weight, good weight. Getting stronger, being able to have the ability of being harder to play against in the corners, that kind of thing. That’s really one of the things I need to focus on. On ice, it’s probably just being a little bit more comfortable with the puck, not be so anxious to get rid of it. Have the poise, be able to make plays. I think since it’s gotten way better since my freshman year. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of bringing me along and developing me in my three years so far…and I think overall it’s been a steady climb. You come in your sophomore year feeling more confident than your freshman year, and on top of that, junior year more confident than your sophomore year. So, part of the improvement comes with confidence and experience, and with that you can get a consistent level of developing.”
Two of LA’s other top college prospects, Derek Forbort and Nick Shore, turned pro a few months ago. There was some talk about you potentially doing the same thing. What can you share about the conversations you had with the Kings?
“We talked about it, we definitely did. I just kind of sat down and took a little bit of time after we lost to Quinnipiac (at the Frozen Four), we talked maybe about a week later. I took a little bit of time and talked to my parents, and I talked to Dowd because he’s a good guy to talk to, he’s kind of in the same situation as myself with LA. So, I took some time to really figure out what I thought would be best for me and that was coming back to St. Cloud for my senior year. I get another year to get stronger and prepare myself for a professional game, hopefully. A bonus to that is that I’m on pace to graduate too. Getting a degree, that’s something that they can’t take away from you. And I truly believe that St. Cloud can develop me to my fullest potential for one more year. You need to believe that to come back for another year. The Kings were really good throughout the whole thing too. They just let me take my time and figure out what I wanted to do and whatever decision that I wanted to make they were going to support – and they have. So, it’s been good so far.”
If Dowd had decided to leave school, how – if at all – would that have affected your decision?
“I don’t know. I can’t say it wouldn’t have affected my decision because it very well might have. At the same time, you have to do what’s best for yourself in the long run. He’s a good guy to talk to, we’ve been roommates for three years in St. Cloud and were both drafted by LA, so we have a few more similarities than if I was to talk to somebody else. So, it was good to just lay it all on the line and see how he felt about the situation and what I should do. I think we both looked deep inside and felt that we wanted one more year here at St. Cloud.”
Next in the series, we’ll check in with Dowd and Brodzinski.
In the meantime, here’s a list of the full Development Camp roster and schedule.