LA Kings Center Prospect Jordan Weal Continues To Work On Overcoming “Big” Obstacle
August 24, 2012 10 Comments
FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jordan Weal took some time to speak exclusively with Frozen Royalty during the Kings’ 2012 Development Camp early last month.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — From the time he started playing youth hockey, all the way up to his time in the Western Hockey League, center Jordan Weal has heard the same thing, over and over and over…
…that he was way too small to play junior hockey, let alone at the professional level.
“It’s something I’ve had to deal with all my life, being a smaller guy,” said Weal, who was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round (70th overall) of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft. “People have always said that I’m too small to play, even going into the WHL draft, people thought I was too small to make it.”
Two years later, Weal has added seven pounds to his 5-9 frame, now weighing 180 pounds. He is also enjoying greater success in maintaining his playing weight and adding muscle.
“Maintaining my weight [has] been a tough thing for me to do these last couple of years because I’m still young, and my metabolism is racing along,” the twenty-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia explained. “If I don’t eat a bunch, I’m losing weight. This year, I didn’t lose any weight. I maintained it, so I’m really happy with that.”
“Nelson Emerson [who oversees player development for the Kings] came to one of my games, and I saw a couple of the scouts at some of my games,” Weal elaborated. “They like how I play, they just know that the off-ice part is going to be [my biggest challenge], just gaining size, and maturing. But I’m starting to [maintain] weight easier, and put on weight easier.”
“It’s going to be a big summer, working five or six days a week [with a bit of a break that followed the Kings’ annual development camp in early July].”
Although adding size and strength will continue to be the biggest challenge in his quest to make it to the NHL someday, it is definitely not Weal’s only one.
Indeed, Weal is a skilled offensive forward, but the knock on him has been his play in the defensive zone, not to mention his play away from the puck. But he has been working on those aspects of his game.
“I think I made a lot of strides in both areas, especially in the defensive zone,” said Weal. “Our new coach, Pat Conacher, really stressed that a lot with his top players, that you have to be responsible at both ends of the ice.”
“As you get older, you begin to understand the game a little more in the defensive zone,” added Weal. “Sometimes less is more in the defensive zone. You can be more efficient in getting pucks out of your zone, and into the offensive zone. That’s what I learned how to do.”
“Once you learn the defensive game, it becomes a little more fun. You can definitely use it to your advantage.”
Prior to the 2011-12 season, Weal’s team, the Regina Pats, was one of the worst teams in the WHL. But last season, they turned things around in a big way, reaching the playoffs for the first time in recent memory.
“It was good, it was really fun,” Weal said about last season. “We got a new coaching staff this year, and we picked up some new players in the off-season. That really helped a lot. It was a fresh start for a lot of guys.”
“We had a really good start, and I think we carried that out through the whole season,” Weal added. “We had a lot of guys who really worked hard, a great coaching staff that brought the guys together well. It all meshed well together. We didn’t do what we wanted to do in the playoffs, but it was a fun ride.”
Weal credited Conacher, who played for the Kings from 1992-93 through about half of the 1995-96 season, as a big reason for the turnaround.
“He’s been around, and he’s been around [Wayne Gretzky], the greatest player to ever play the game,” said Weal. “That really helped, because everything he said, the guys were really listening. When you have a coach that guys really respect, it can help a team a lot.”
“He’s a real [hard-nosed coach], and I think that’s exactly what we needed in Regina,” added Weal.
Despite Conacher’s efforts, the Pats were bounced out of the WHL playoffs by the Moose Jaw Warriors in five games.
“We were up against a really good team, the Moose Jaw Warriors,” Weal noted. “We were down [in the series], 2-1, and we were [leading Game 4], 4-3. But with five minutes left in the game, we got a five-minute major [penalty]. We would’ve tied the series, 2-2, if we had won that. But we took that penalty, and they scored on the power play, and won it in double overtime.”
“When they were up, 3-1 [in the series], they had a real stranglehold on the series,” Weal added. “That was tough. If we could’ve tied the series, it could’ve been a different story. But it’s one of those experiences that you have to go through. Hopefully, everyone learned something from it.”
Despite being eliminated from the WHL playoffs in fairly short order, after three seasons of not making the WHL playoffs with the Pats, Weal accentuated the positive.
“We actually won Game 1 in Moose Jaw, and I think they only lost three games all year in their own barn,” he said. “We played one hell of a game. All of our lines were going, It was pretty cool to get our first playoff win. It didn’t go our way after that, but to get our first playoff win in that rink was pretty special.”
“For a couple of years, we didn’t have a winning team, or a winning attitude,” he added. “Just getting back on track with that—winning is so much fun. It makes your life much more enjoyable, and I think I forgot what that [felt] like. This [past] season, I got a feel for it again, with all the wins coming together. Being on a good team, that came together as a 24-man unit was the highlight [of his season].”
“The way we were winning, it was a real team effort. There wasn’t pressure on one or two guys to get the job done, like there was in previous years in Regina. It was all the guys firing, and all lines contributing. We had great goaltending all year, and we had one of the best defensive corps in the league.”
On the offensive side of the red line, Weal scored 41 goals and contributed 75 assists for 116 points in 70 regular season games, improving upon his 2010-11 regular season numbers, 43 goals and 53 assists, good for 96 points in 72 games.
“I got to play with some guys who were really hard workers, and that’s all you can ask from your wingers, and I played a lot at center,” he explained. “They did a lot of hard work along the walls to get me the puck, and to get the puck up to the offensive zone [and they] gave me time and space to make plays and create scoring chances.”
Consistency has also been an issue for Weal, but he is making strides in that aspect of his game.
“It’s always a challenge to be as consistent as you can throughout the year,” he stressed. “It’s something I take pride in. You know that you’re not going to be at your best every day. But that’s when you know that you have to bear down, and give the team all that you can.”
Despite his lack of size, Weal added a bit of physical play to his repertoire last season, something he will need at the NHL level.
“Another thing I was doing a lot more this [past] year was hitting, and it’s knowing when to hit,” he noted. “When you’re a smaller guy, you can’t just go running at a 210-pound guy when he’s looking at you. It’s got to be as he’s turning—you’ve got to catch him by surprise, get on’em as quick as you can, while he’s off-balance, to knock him over.”
“It’s something I’m starting to get a hang for,” he added. “Everyone needs to have [some physical play] in their game. If I can keep improving on that, it’ll really help me.”
Even more important than hitting, for a smaller player, is the ability to win loose puck battles against bigger, stronger opponents, something that will likely play a huge role in determining whether or not Weal can make the jump to the NHL.
“Loose puck battles are something that I’ve always worked on,” said Weal. “I think I do pretty well in the corners. I’ve tried to work on that a lot, because it’s a big part of anyone’s game. If you can [win those battles] anywhere on the ice, you really give yourself opportunities to have success.”
Although he was not among the players the Kings brought to Los Angeles during their playoff run to the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise, Weal watched all the games and drew inspiration from them.
“What the Kings did was pretty spectacular, losing only four games throughout the playoffs,” he emphasized. “That’s pretty unheard of, and they [had to play] the top three seeds in the Western Conference, all pretty awesome teams.”
“I was thinking that I was skating with [Kings captain Dustin Brown] nine months ago [at training camp], and now he’s lifting the Stanley Cup,” Weal added. “It just shows you that if you keep working hard, and keep going after your goals, maybe one day, I’ll have an opportunity to play [for the Kings].”
After winning the Stanley Cup, expectations are now higher for everyone in the Kings organization, and that includes their young prospects. But Weal knows that his focus cannot change.
“It took a lot of hard work, and they wanted it more than anyone else—that’s why they won the Cup,” said Weal. “But that doesn’t change [things for me]. I just have to stick to business, and keep doing what I’m doing.”
“If you let too much stuff get into your head, you start thinking about everything, you stray from things that you really want to do,” added Weal. “I want to play [at the professional level], and that’s going to be my goal this summer, in training. If I don’t reach that goal, it’s going to be disappointing, so I’m going to work as hard as I can.”
Weal is realistic enough to know that he has virtually no chance of making the Kings roster for the upcoming season, but their American Hockey League farm team, the Manchester Monarchs, is a distinct possibility (he could also wind up back with the Pats as an over-ager). But then there’s that big, annoying monster that has followed him throughout his hockey career…
“It’s just a matter of proving people wrong,” he stressed. “There’s been so many stories of guys who were smaller, but they defied the odds, and made their dreams come true by playing in the NHL, and winning Stanley Cups.”
“I’m just going to have to take a page out of their book.”
If nothing else, you have to admire Weal’s determination…
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