As dozens of the Kings’ top prospects begin descending upon LA in advance of the team’s 2013 Rookie Camp, it sure feels like it’s been a long time coming. After all, two years have passed since the organization has been able to hold their annual Training Camp prequel.
Sure, there’s been a pair of Development Camps (2012 and earlier this summer), but that’s more about working on basic skills and giving new draftees an introduction to systems and policies. Rookie Camp usually runs the week before main Training Camp and allows a select few their final chance to prove to the coaching staff that they should be considered for an NHL roster spot.
This year might even be a make or break week for a guy like Brandon Kozun. If he isn’t added to the Kings roster at the end of camp, he’ll need to clear waivers before being assigned to Manchester.
For others, like center Robbie Czarnik, it’s probably going to stir up many similar emotions as well. He’s in the final year of his Entry Level Contract and he needs to solidify his spot in the organization to carve out a future with the Kings.
Here’s what he had to say when we caught up with him this week by phone for the first in our Camp Preview series:
As the only member of the 2008 Draft class expected to be part of the Rookie Camp roster, what thoughts do you have about being the senior guy in camp this year?
“I guess I’ve had more experience is all it really means. (Nick) Deslauriers and (Linden) Vey have gone to more camps than I have and so has Kozun. This is only my third one because I was in college. I know Vey has been to four and I think Deslauriers too. I definitely look at it that I want to come out there and be a leader and obviously be at the top of the group. I am the oldest and I have two years pro under my belt so I should come in there proving to other guys what they need to keep doing to play at my level and keep getting ready to play at the next level too.”
Tyler Toffoli will probably also be looked at as one of the leaders because of his NHL experience. Is that strange at all, considering he joined the organization a few years after you?
“No, I played with him last year a lot (too). He is a leader on the ice, he’s always played hard. Ever since he’s been with the team, he’s always been one of those players that everyone’s looked at, he’s a great player. I don’t think it’s strange by any means because, for example, he’s been in Manchester and proved that he’s a top of the league player. To me, I don’t find it strange. He’s just another player that you have to strive to be just as well as. I don’t know…for me it doesn’t seem too strange.”
What extra pressure are you feeling coming into the final year of your ELC contract?
“There’s always that little pressure, but I think that last year – my rookie year I had a pretty good year – but last year was a learning year. I went through a lot of ups and downs. This year, I’ve definitely come in way more prepared for the season. So, with all the preparation I’ve done I think I’m going to come in and have a great year and just not really worry about the pressure and do what I have to do. I’m not really going to focus on what could bring me down, just keep level-headed throughout my whole season.”
Can you be more specific on what ‘way more prepared’ means?
“When I came into (last) season I don’t think I was as ready to play – not that I didn’t work out enough, I think I’m just thinking more positive. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do and not what I may not accomplish. I know I’m going to have a great season this year. I know I’ve worked out really hard and done the necessary steps to be a better player this summer, more so than I have done in the past. Maybe I let myself go a little at certain times and not doing as much as I should have done. Like I said, last year was a learning year, and I know I dropped the ball a little. But, that’s why I have another year on my contract and I’m not going to let one year ruin my career or let one year stop me from striving to be a better person. I know it’s going to make me better and I know I’ve done more this year than I’ve ever done.”
Last season wasn’t a ‘normal year’ in the AHL, especially during the first half with so many young NHL players skating there during the lockout. What type of challenges did that bring and did it contribute to Manchester’s up and down season?
“There were a lot of changes. When you have that many players competing for spots and playing every game it’s tough. You don’t have the same line-ups every game and you don’t always build chemistry. It was a good experience, in the aspect that everybody had to actually come every day to practice, because each practice actually meant something. It wasn’t just like a practice where you walk through and you know you’re going to play that game. There were times where I wouldn’t even be in the line-up at practice and come pre-game skate I was in line-up. You had to come prepared every single day and prove why you deserved to play. I think that was the good competitive nature of it. At one point I think we had 16 forwards and 8 D, so there were a lot of guys to choose from – that was good. Obviously there’s ups and downs throughout the season and with not knowing when the lockout was going to end, it was just different. There was a lot more pressure on everybody just to play well.”
Two years ago we labeled you the ‘forgotten prospect’ – does it feel that way at times?
“No. The thing about it is, you look at Toffoli or Vey or even (Tanner) Pearson., I have offensive ability and I know I have it. I know I can bring more to the table offensively. I know that I’m going to bring another part of the game too. It’s hard to say because I think I’ve developed more into…I know I’m striving to be more of a two-way player. You want to say, like, a third-line role at the next level, because I’m not going to be a guy that’s putting up a ton of points every year. That’s how it translate to the next level. You know how it is, there’s all kinds of players that put up all kinds of points when they’re younger and in juniors and stuff. But it changes. You develop into a certain player, you develop into your roll and you don’t play in all those situations. when I was in juniors I was playing for a minute on every power play. You come in the next level, you have a lot of players…you’re in your roll. Yeah, I played some power play my rookie year in Manchester but stuff wasn’t going for me. It just happens and you have to find your roll. I don’t necessarily think that my role is going to be as a top-line scorer or top two line guy ever in the NHL or that I’m going to be putting up 60 points or anything. I think that you need to find your role to make it to the next level and as soon as you find your role you will figure it out.”
So, back to last season being a learning year, did that encompass you mentally adjusting to that type of a role?
“It was a huge adjustment I think. I went through so many ups and downs last year and it was harder for me to accept being healthy scratched and not playing every single game and having to take a step back and getting myself mentally prepared more for situations like that. That’s never happened to me before. In my rookie year, I think I was healthy scratched once and then I came into my second year there and I was healthy scratched the first game of the season. So, it was mentally preparing myself and not getting down so much – actually, I think I got down a little too much. But I figured it out, I just feel better and stuff like that…a couple downs isn’t going to bring me down. I’m going to keep staying positive. I think that’s what I mean by it was a learning year, to go through the unexpected and not let that bring you down…you have to take responsibility and start moving on.”
Talk about leaning on Vey during those tough times.
“I was roommates with him, so we talked a ton and he helped me in the way of just staying positive. It’s one year and it’s not going to break my career or anything. Also, just to keep pushing forward and keep striving to be better and staying positive. (He would remind me) to turn it around and not to dwell too much on what happened. He helped me out a lot. I would talk to him every day about it – every day – so he’s good for that.”
He’s also known for handing out nicknames during some of the lighter times. What’s he come up with for you and how did he come with them?
“His biggest nickname for me one is Sheriff Bobby. That one has pretty much stuck since my rookie year. I’ve also had nicknames like DJ Czar, but Sheriff Bobby is the one that’s stuck for a long time. I honestly don’t even really remember how or why, because it happened my rookie year. I don’t know what he said…I think he just said it to me one time in the locker room and everyone started picking up on it and it completely stuck. For Halloween last year I even wore a Sheriff costume at our Halloween bowling party.”
That was probably a little easier to pull off than Toffoli dressing up using his nickname from Vey…
“(Laughs) That one would be a little hard…that’s for sure.”
Players are set to take the ice at TSC beginning Thursday, September 5. All sessions are free and open to the public.
For a preview of this year’s Rookie Camp roster click here.
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