In just two short weeks the Kings’ top prospects will be back on the ice for Rookie Camp, kicking off the 2013-14 NHL season. While most of the players attending will eventually end up in the AHL (Manchester), ECHL (Ontario) or their respective junior clubs, there are at least a few guys expected to fight for a possible NHL roster spot with the big club.
Look for prospects like Andy Andreoff, Brandon Kozun and Tanner Pearson to stick around until the last few days of LA’s main Training Camp, which opens on September 11 and concludes with the annual pre-season extravaganza in Las Vegas – aka Frozen Fury.
We’ll get more into the actual Rookie Camp roster in a separate post. For now, let’s look at things from more of a macro level with Kings player development ace Mike O’Connell. He was the main guy in charge at last month’s Development Camp, where staff spent about a week with dozens of the organization’s top prospects.
“There wasn’t anything specific,” O’Connell said when asked for a few key takeaways he picked up at this year’s Dev Camp. “We just tried to put them into situations where they could makes plays and develop their spatial-relationship, as we call it. Can they see the open play, can they make the open play? If they do, you point it out and if they don’t, you point it out too – explaining you hold the puck here or whatever. We just basically worked on some of those things that we feel strongly on; namely, holding the puck and then getting open [and] making that play.”
Contrary to what many observers thought at the time, O’Connell says they weren’t necessarily teaching the prospects how to fight during Dev Camp – even though there appeared to be some ‘boxing’ coaching going on.
“We were not teaching guys how to fight. They’re expected to play a certain way when they play in Los Angeles. A lot of those players haven’t ever had to deal with that physical part of it – if a fight breaks out, in front of all the people – and we just wanted to make sure they’re comfortable doing so. They’re expected to play hard, and when you play hard, things happen. We want to make sure they don’t get themselves injured. It was basically more preventive than being the aggressor.”
Unlike Dev Camp, where college prospects were included, September’s Rookie Camp only features junior and AHL eligible players. Unfortunately, that means two key names will be absent this time around – forward Michael Mersch and defenseman Kevin Gravel.
“He has to continue to work on his game,” O’Connell remarked, speaking about Gravel. “He’s going to be a 5-6 defenseman, that’s what he’s going to be [in the NHL]. He’s going to be a rugged kid. He’s going to have to get bigger and stronger, but he’s doing the necessary things.”
At the moment, Gravel is back in Minnesota, where he’s just began his senior year at St. Cloud State. Last season they made it the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time in school history and they have expectations for the upcoming year.
O’Connell was also impressed with Gravel’s SCSU teammate, and LA’s fifth round pick in June, forward Jonny Brodzinski.
“Good player. Good hockey body and good focus. When it’s his turn, he goes, and he goes at it hard.”
While guys like Nick Shore and Derek Forbort left college early to sign with the Kings a few months ago, Mersch chose to stay at Wisconsin for his senior year – a decision he talked about here, saying the Kings were very supportive throughout the process.
“He’s a good player, smart player. Look forward to seeing him again next year in Wisconsin,” added O’Connell.
As for Forbort, the Kings top pick (15th overall) at the 2010 NHL Draft, he went on to play 10 games in Manchester late last season after agreeing to contract terms with GM Dean Lombardi. The overall experience gave him a chance to get his feet wet in the AHL, where he’s expected to play again this coming season.
That said, O’Connell would like to see Forbort return to Los Angeles next month with a bigger goal in mind.
“He has to come to camp thinking he’ll make the team. That’s what you always have to come in to, to make the team or make an impression, so that if something does happen, they’re considering him to call up. It would be a really good first taste at it if he gets in a couple exhibition games, playing against some NHL players.”
Sticking with guys who will be attending Rookie Camp, how about free agent signee Kurtis MacDermid from the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack?
“Big strides,” were the first two words O’Connell used to describe the development of the 6-foot-3 defenseman. “He’s such a raw, young player and he’s grown extremely. Just his body growth grew and it’s going to take some time to get his feet to catch up. But a fine young prospect and a terrific young man.”
And then there’s Andreoff, the rugged left wing, cut from a similar cloth as Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds. The guy is destined to be a fan favorite in LA. But, is he going to be in the NHL anytime soon?
“Absolutely,” O’Connell noted with authority. “Hard nosed player, he had a very good year last year – did everything we asked of him in Manchester. You can’t rule him out [for a roster spot]. These kids that come in, it’s up to them and how hard they want to prepare and how hard they want to go at it.”
How hard will some of them push?
Well, the cream usually rises to the top fairly quickly in these camps.
It’s almost here, just two weeks to go.
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