With Day 1 of the Kings 2023 Dev Camp now in the books, let’s look back at 10 Tidbits from an opening session that included three on-ice activities, as well as video work and other training sessions for more than two dozen LA prospects:
1. Early in the day, all eyes were on LA’s top selection from the 2023 Draft, Jakub Dvorak. And you couldn’t miss him. Standing 6-foot-5 without skates and wearing No. 54 (a nod to where he was drafted, 54th overall), the big man was paired with phenom Brandt Clarke early on, so there was no way for him to hide from all the attention even if he wanted to. Development coach Sean O’Donnell had this to say about the Kings latest blueline acquisition:
“We didn’t say a lot to him. I think we’re still kind of in the assessment phase. He’s raw, he’s big, he moves well, he’s 18. We noticed some things today, though. I’ve just been making sure [he understands] how every little thing is important. We find that most of these kids haven’t yet learned that you kind of do everything with a purpose; and what doesn’t seem like a big deal — whether it be getting on the wrong side of a guy in the neutral zone and how it can end up being a big deal in your own zone a little bit later in the shift. So, we’re still at that phase where we’re just kind of watching the guys. But he’s very good, speaks real good English and he’s very open to learning.
2. For a guy his size, Dvorak knows full well that people often comment about the need to improve his skating to make it the next level. “It’s everybody’s opinion,” he said. I think my skating isn’t the best, but I also think that it’s gotten much better when [I focused on it] because I do some workouts in the gym, and I try to focus on that. So, yeah, I think it’s gotten better and [I’m aware] everybody’s opinion.”
3. Second-year camper Angus Booth appears to follow directions well. The 6-foot-1 defender from the QMJHL listens intently during drills and executes what’s asked of him. There was a relaxed and controlled approach to his game during the scrimmage, as well. His demeanor is steady. While not big in stature, he looks to play smart. His shot needs some work, but it’s obvious he’s not afraid to put in the work. We already had these comments written in our notebook and then O’Donnell spoke about the 2022 draft selection later in the day during his media scrum:
“With Angus, I think there are a lot of good things there. I think he has a good IQ and that’s a really hard thing to teach, Hockey IQ. I think he has that. He’s able to have a calmness. When he gets the puck, I think he’s able to slow down, he’s able to see different kinds of options. I don’t like comparing players to players who are playing now because I don’t think it’s fair, but he reminds me a little bit of Mikey Anderson. Just kind of the way he plays; I think Mikey was probably ahead at this level, but we’ve talked to Angus about getting a man’s body and just making sure to put some bulk on, put some size on. Defensemen can always use some quickness and stuff, but that (IQ) he has is hard to teach.”
4. Booth at least looks a little bit bigger than when he showed up to camp last summer. “He does,” agreed O’Donnell. “Well, he better because that’s something every time we see him, that’s something that we talk about. He knows too. The first thing he said was, ‘I’ve been working out. I’ve been doing this, putting on that weight!’ ”
5. Booth acknowledged it’s already a different experience for him coming to LA for a second Development Camp. “There’s a lot less unknowns and you’re just more comfortable around everyone,” he said. “You’re able to enjoy it more. Last year, I was a little nervous the whole time. So this year, I’m really, really soaking it all in.”
He also admitted to sizing up the roster before he got to town, adding: “I think you want to know who your competitors are because in the end, we’re all competing for the same spots. We want to play for the LA Kings one day. That’s why you want to play your best and I guess you want to worry about yourself the end of the day. That’s how you’re gonna perform and be comfortable in the situation.”
6. Some under the radar players from Day 1 were a pair of college guys, forward Kenny Connors (UMass) and defenseman Ben Meehan (UMass-Lowell). Let’s see how that holds up as camp progresses.
7. Goalie Erik Portillo is not only big, he’s athletic. Acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres several months ago, the 6-foot-6 netminder doesn’t just stand in his crease and stop shots with his big frame. He gets up and down with ease, while still maintaining positioning and awareness of the play around him. After helping carry Michigan to the Frozen Four last year, he’s scheduled to be the Ontario Reign starter next season.
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8. Another college player of note — well, future college player, as he’s slated to start at Michigan State soon — is Jack Sparkes, who was a late round pick last summer. Like several players listed above, he’s not only tall, he’s the tallest guy in camp, towering over people at 6-foot-8. However, he’s surprisingly coordinated for a 19-year-old prospect who is still getting used to that big frame. He also has good feet for a player so tall. Even more impressive is his conditioning; the guy never looks fatigued on the ice. His height also comes with a wingspan reminiscent of UFC fighter Jon Jones. It’s rather impressive when he winds up for a shot.
9. O’Donnell was quick to point out that Dev Camp isn’t about coaching, it’s about learning and reinforcing fundamentals that will help each guy reach their full potential as an NHL prospect.
“We don’t want to coach,” he noted. “We don’t coach systems; we hope to coach a certain group – [Matt Greene and I] do the D, then [Jarret Stoll and Mike Donnelly] do the forwards. It doesn’t matter what style or what system, or what way — 1-2-2 or 2-1-2, whatever it is — we feel like we put the pieces in that will help them play that kind of system. Then, the coaches can basically tweak that. … Their goal is to play in the NHL, and I think anybody who has talked to anyone that plays or have played in the NHL, you can play junior or college or even the minor league level, and you can almost kind of show up. I don’t want to just say ‘show up,’ but the NHL is 24-hours. It’s almost like a lifestyle. What you do at 11 o’clock at night affects your practice the next day. What kind of sleep you get or what kind of morning skate you got in, all kind of intertwines. I think it’s a really big deal that these guys don’t just turn their brain off when they get off the ice, whether they’re cooling down or stretching or going up to the gym to work out, it’s all part of that process to get you into the lineup of the LA Kings. And the quicker they can realize that, and buy into that, I think the better off they are.”
10. Circling back to Dvorak, Clarke had this to share about being paired with LA’s top pick from the recent NHL Draft:
“Good player, smart player. He actually has good English too. He’s really steady, good stick. It wasn’t too physical today, so I’m not sure about that aspect yet, but I’ve heard he’s pretty strong too.”
It’s fairly common for guys at their first development camp to start off a little slow and then really start to make their mark as the week moves along.
Let’s see if Dvorak follows a similar path in the days ahead.
Get to know more about the Czech defender in our article below.
Photos via ALo Images
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