As we try to do every year after posting the MayorsManor rankings of the top 10 prospects in the Kings organization, we attempt to loop back with several people in Dean Lombardi’s inner circle for some additional feedback on a few of the key players mentioned.
Last week, Kings assistant GM Rob Blake talked at length about Derek Forbort, the second-highest ranked defenseman among the team’s prospects, in an article I did for LAKings.com. Be sure to check that out for an in-depth look at Los Angeles’ 2010 first overall draft pick.
More recently, we spoke further with Blake about the overall development process and center Nick Shore. Separately, we also spoke with Glen Murray about Shore and the No. 1 rated prospect, forward Valentin Zkykov, whom he went to visit in Quebec last weekend. Below are a plethora of comments shared by both guys…
By all accounts, Forbort is most likely a year or two away. Yet, is there a scenario where he could maybe get called up this season?
Blake: “It depends on the type of defenseman [we’re trying to replace]. Losing an offensive guy, you might move towards a Colin Miller or a Nick Ebert, or maybe a healthy Andrew Bodnarchuk. And then you have Jeff Schultz and Forbort, more on the defensive side, along with [Vincent] LoVerde. So, there are different scenarios there depending on the players. Then, the whole thing with the salary cap also comes into play also – what you can and can’t bring up depending on our situation up here. There are a lot of different circumstances that would play into it. But, is he in the mix with all these guys that we talk about? Yes, for sure.”
You’ve been on the ice in Manchester a few times. Do the guys look at you as Rob Blake the former player or are you more a member of management to these guys because they were pretty young when you were still playing?
Blake: “Most of the players now probably hear bits and pieces, but they probably don’t remember much of watching [me] in person. I think there is enough of a separation [from my playing days] and they know I’m part of management now. The feel of the development team is different than a coaching staff, where the players build a relationship with these guys. They’re just trying to help these guys get to the NHL level and become the best player they can. They have a more personable relationship probably than a lot of other aspects of the game.”
It’s notable that five of the Top 10 ranked prospects came through the college ranks. In fairness, those players were drafted before you took the job. However, as a former college player, do you find yourself having a soft spot for the college prospects?
Blake: “I always appreciate the college aspect, but I also understand the learning curve there. It probably doesn’t translate as well as a junior [player] to the pro game, with the amount of schedule, the trades, and just the style of play. But, depending on your personality and your body type, it can [benefit you] to be able to practice four or five days a week and play a couple games, and go from there.”
On center Nick Shore, the highest rated prospect in Manchester at the moment…
Blake: “Similar to Forbort, where you get that first year pro [out of the way] and get it under your belt and go on. His progression through that was a little quicker. In terms of understanding the game, you can see it. He’s a very smart player and he gets it. I think he came in this year bigger and stronger. One of the things he learned last year was [the importance of] faceoffs. If you want to play for Darryl Sutter, you have to check down low as a centerman, you have to be open in the middle, and you have to win faceoffs. We’ve stressed those three points to him. A lot of these guys, when they come for their second [training] camp here, and they spend time with the big guys, when we talk to them before we send them down, we ask, ‘Did you watch [Anze] Kopitar? Did you see him play 200-feet? Did you see him win the faceoffs when he needed to? Did you see him open for his defensemen at all times during the play on regroups and in-zone?’ That’s where Nick Shore will get it. His offensive ability and his reads are at the pro level. The whole game has to be there. I think that is where his improvement will come this year.”
Murray: “We’re really high on him. It’s his second year of pro. He really is a student of the game and he’s done everything that we’ve asked. It takes time to learn the game and I think he really wants to learn the game and understand how he needs to get to that next level. He’s been great. [Nelson Emerson] works with him constantly, about being a centerman, and helping him with face-offs. If you’re a center in the National Hockey League, you have to really understand the importance of being good at it. Actually, you really should be great at it, because that’s an asset to have. You ask any coach around the league, they want to trust their centers to put them out at any time. So I think he’s really worked on his faceoffs. Overall, he’s been doing great down [in Manchester]. It’s about continuous repetition and continuing to reinforce how important it is. You have to put the work in. Like any job around anywhere, if you’re a hard worker and you put the work in, good things are going to happen.”
On top-rated prospect Valentin Zykov…
Blake: “He spent a lot of time here two years ago when I first got hired. He was actually out here training. He stayed a little bit with Nelson Emerson from the development team. I got to know him fairly well then. This summer, he put a lot of time into his development. He seems to really be associated with our development team, and letting them get to him. He definitely becomes a priority based on his situation in junior. That’s probably his last season there and then he’s going to be turning pro. As we rate these prospects, and you put them in different categories, he becomes a priority. [Our guys] are putting in the time around him to get him [ready] for the pro level.”
Murray: “He’s great. Most of the guys in our development team [just] love him. He’s Russian-born, but he really plays a hard-nosed game. His second or third effort on the puck is fantastic. He has a great shot, and he can score. He’s still young, he’s 19 now, but I like him a lot… He just has some work to do with different aspects of the game and we’ve really worked with him on that over the last year or so. It takes some time for the young players to understand how important that is to be able to come up here and play for the LA Kings. [For example], he plays his off-side, so he really has to concentrate on not giving up pucks and not letting pucks get by in the defensive zone and making sure he makes the right play. Being strong on pucks in all three zones, hitting the net when he shoots the puck. There are so many different elements that go into it that they don’t understand yet, until we really get a hold of them and drill it in their heads. There are just certain things you need to be able to do to play in this organization. So, it takes some time for certain players to get that… He’s [continued to] put in the work [since returning to junior] though and they’re very happy with him there. He works his butt off at all times, which always makes a coach happy.”
From what we’ve gathered the Kings are also contemplating sending somebody over to Sweden to work with Adrian Kempe, who is playing with MODO this season. Exact schedules haven’t been worked out just yet, in part due to the team wanting to see which prospects will be competing at the upcoming World Junior Championships – to be held in Canada beginning the day after Christmas.
One other quick note, Forbort and Shore are rooming together in Manchester this season. Although they play two different positions, it may bode well for them to form a strong bond now before possibly playing together in Los Angeles down the line.
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