Building on our article yesterday with Manchester coach Mike Stothers, we went a little higher up the chain of command and connected with Rob Blake regarding Derek Forbort being called up. During our discussion with the Kings Assistant GM, he also worked in two other players recently named to the team’s Top 10 Prospects list. Additionally, Blake painted a general picture that supports some of the commentary in our most recent rankings, as well as sets the stage for what could be coming at the NHL Trade Deadline in a few weeks.
“It’s going to be tough if six guys are healthy,” he said, when asked about the likelihood that Forbort makes his NHL debut during this call up. “They have those guys that have been going and they’ve relied on them for most of the year. At the same time, you always need that extra player – not only to push a spot, but in case of an injury or in case of an illness or something.”
Blake has spent quite a bit of time in Manchester of late, including this past weekend. Specific to the 6-foot-4 defenseman, a first round pick in 2010, there is no doubt that his transition to being NHL-ready is in full swing.
“He’s more aggressive,” Blake quickly noted. “There is a learning curve coming out of college when you’re playing pro hockey for the first year. If you watch him now, his aggressiveness, it’s not so much that he’s running guys over. It’s about going after loose pucks, using that body – the size of it – and it’s shooting too. He’s much more aggressive when he shoots. He’s making the first pass, that’s not a problem. He’s always been able to do that. He covers a lot of ground, being able to skate that well. And he defends well. Those things have been the staple of his game, and he’s increased [in those areas].”
You can also add leadership to the areas where Blake has been impressed with the 22-year-old blueliner.
“He’s kind of taken over,” Blake said. “After just a year and a half pro, Forbort has become one of the leaders on that team.”
Sticking with the defensive prospects, Colin Miller certainly opened up a lot of eyes at the AHL All Star Game weekend, where he recorded the fastest shot and won the fastest skater competition.
“One thing he doesn’t lack is a shooting ability,” Blake said with a big smile. “He’s willing to shoot, and shoot as much as he can. Funny thing is, when you get the reputation as a hard shot, you can see it on the ice. You can see it when he winds up. [Players on the opposing team] are a little hesitant to get in the lane. When we’re at games there, we also hear scouts saying, ‘He has a pretty good shot.’ Now, he has to use that to his advantage. I think the [key area where he’s improved] is in sorting the game better. In junior, I think he got away with being able to rush and just go wherever he wanted to. At the AHL level now, he’s been able to calm that game down and sort things out – sort the rush out, defend the rush a little better, and also use that skating to get out of trouble, instead of skating himself into trouble. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in him over the last year and a half.”
Now, we’re getting into crunch time. With the NHL Trade Deadline set for March 2, Blake and the team’s scouts are working with GM Dean Lombardi to find the balance between winning with the current Kings roster while simultaneously keeping one eye in the distance..
“The whole thing is about evaluating your talent down there to see what your needs are in the future,” he remarked. “[Sometimes], you need to address that, like we did with [Brayden] McNabb last year. We weren’t sure that we had a defenseman who was ready to step in and play, so we needed to address that issue. Dean typically wants these guys to spend two or three years in the [AHL]. He also gives them a taste of the [NHL] at some point. They’re not always going to come up right away and play the whole time. This is Forbort’s little taste. He’s going to get in here and he’s going to become more familiar with the training facility, get set up with all the players. There is a whole familiarity [process], without even playing a game. You have to be used to it and comfortable with it. This is all part of that whole process. Miller is going to be part of that whole process here eventually, as well.”
Blake, who serves as the Monarchs GM as part of his current duties, also gave a glimpse into what additional information he uses to make informed decisions, since he can’t be on both coasts at the same time.
“I rely a lot on the coaches down in Manchester,” noted the recent Hall of Fame inductee. “They’re the guys there on a daily basis. Our development team too, they’re in Manchester quite often. They don’t see much of the game aspect; they see more of the skills development. I think the coaches have a good read on what the kids are doing and how well they’re willing to learn. Basically, it’s all about [feeling comfortable with the fact that] a guy in a year or two… take, Michael Mersch – if he gets his skating up to a different level, he could play in the NHL because he’s good up front and knows how to play our style. It’s about trying to judge when these kids are going to be ready to play in the NHL. And if there is a gap, or a two or three year window where we’re not sure we can, then we have to adjust that somehow.”
Next season, with the Kings moving their AHL club to Ontario, the sharing of information in real-time will become increasingly easier and Blake expects the entire Kings organization to have a much greater presence at the AHL level than ever before.
Yesterday’s jersey unveiling was just one of the many puzzle pieces that are being set in place following last month’s official announcement of the AHL’s new Pacific Division. Next on the list, finalize the 2015-16 schedule.
“It still has to be voted on, finalized, but what we’d like to do [is], we’d like to get out of three-in-threes,” he told MayorsManor. “The feeling in development is, if you play three [games] in three [days], it’s a tough game. The third game is not a real development game… There are things that still have to be finalized, but [it is] definitely in discussion.”
He went to confirm that a number close to 68 games is the target.
“Right in that area,” said Blake. “[It will be] based on how many games we need to get in, enough to keep the kids at the same level that they’re going to see close to the NHL.”
For a look back at Blake’s playing career, be sure to check out the podcast he did with us on the eve of his Hall of Fame induction in November. He opened up like never before, including sharing personal thoughts on three topics Kings fans seem to be the most curious about.
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