EL SEGUNDO, CA — If you were anywhere in Southern California over the Labor Day weekend, you sweltered in the blazing heat, as temperatures reached into triple digits in many areas.
A heat wave is anything but “hockey weather,” but for the Los Angeles Kings, it was time for their first-year prospects to hit the ice for the team’s annual rookie camp, held this week at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
The Kings’ youngsters were put through their paces in morning and afternoon sessions on Monday, with drills focusing on one-on-one play, protecting the puck, chasing after dump-ins, outlet passes, and more.
Goalies also worked extensively with Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, and between sessions, the rookies participated in what appeared to be a team-building soccer game on the roller hockey rink.
Defenseman Patrik Hersley and forward Marc-Andre Cliche were held out of some drills as they continue to recover from injuries.
Goaltender Erik Ersberg, who was acquired by the Kings as a free agent on May 31, stood out during the afternoon session, displaying a quick glove hand and fast lateral movement.
The native of Sala, Sweden said that his speed and quickness are the strong points of his game.
“I’m pretty quick, that’s the best part of my game,” said Ersberg.
Ersberg is listed at 5-11, 182 pounds, but after seeing him without his protective equipment, strength is going to be a challenge for him.
“I’m not that big, so I have to be quick,” he said.
Coming over from Sweden, Ersberg will also have to get accustomed to the speed of the National Hockey League and rinks that are considerably smaller than the international-sized rinks used in Europe.
“After the [July] Development Camp, some of the goalies went up to Vancouver to work with [Kings goaltending coach] Bill Ranford,” Ersberg explained. “We worked on pretty much everything, including for me, adjusting to the smaller rinks.”
“I’ll face more shots over here,” Ersberg added. “In the Swedish league, you have to deal more with tap-ins.”
Ersberg is hopeful that he can earn a spot in the Kings lineup to start the season, but knows that he will likely be the number one goalie with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
“I’m just here to do my best, whatever I can to make the team,” said Ersberg. “Of course, I want to make the team. That’s why I’m here. But they have some other good guys here too, so it’s going to be tough. If I start in Manchester, that’s fine. Hopefully, I can work my way up.”
Despite the stifling heat on Sunday, Ersberg did not seem to mind.
“It’s fun here,” he said. “It’s a lot warmer here, but there’s a lot of rain this summer in Sweden. It’s nice to get some sun.”
But Ersberg just might be feeling a bit of culture shock.
“[Los Angeles] a big city. There’s probably more people here than in all of Sweden.”
For the record, Sweden has a population of over 9.1 million people, while Los Angeles County has over 9.9 million residents.
Center prospect Trevor Lewis, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (17th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, showed some good speed in the skating drills.
“My biggest strength is my speed, said Lewis, who is 6-1, 192 pounds. “I like to take the puck down the wall and look for guys, hopefully score a few goals and get some points.”
Lewis passed up a chance to play for one of the NCAA’s all-time best coaches, Red Berenson, to make the move to professional hockey.
“I just thought [Owen Sound] would be a better place for me,” Lewis explained. “My goal is to play professional hockey and I thought that was the best for me. I got to [the Kings] training camp last year and it helped me a lot.”
After a successful season at Owen Sound, scoring 29 goals and adding 44 assists for 73 points with 51 penalty minutes in 62 games, Lewis played a handful of games for the Monarchs and got some valuable experience.
“Some of the guys took me under their wings right away and really helped me out,” said Lewis. “They took me in, taught me all the systems and they just told me to play my game and I think I did pretty well.”
Indeed. Lewis saw limited action in the playoffs, but he played in eight regular season games at Manchester, scoring four goals and adding two assists for six points.
Lewis said that it was a little tough getting used to the play at the AHL level.
“The guys are a lot bigger and stronger,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get pushed off the puck there. In juniors, I was one of the stronger guys, so it was tough to get used to that.”
Since then, the Kings have been drilling the following message into his head:
“Always work hard, don’t let up on the puck and get stronger,” said Lewis. “I’m just going to go out there, work hard and try my best.”
And like Ersberg, Lewis is looking at the coming season realistically.
“It’ll be a little disappointing [if he does not make the Kings opening night roster]. But Manchester is really good and I’m still pretty young, so I’ll be happy to play at Manchester as well.”
One of the more interesting young prospects is center Teddy Purcell. Earlier this summer, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said that Purcell had an outside chance to make the Kings lineup and Purcell certainly has some offensive skills.
“I like to make plays and make things happen offensively,” said Purcell. “I’m a pretty good skater and I can shoot the puck well, so I’m a more offensive-minded player. But at the same time, I take a lot of pride in my defensive responsibilities. I don’t want to be a liability while I’m out there.”
In the rookie camp, Purcell is still learning the Kings’ systems.
“It’s all pretty basic stuff right now,” said Purcell. “It’s really interesting coming from a college program—you don’t learn the stuff that the NHL guys go through every day. They’re just trying to get us used to the pro lifestyle and the pro game, along with the systems they play here, getting that into our heads early.”
“It’s been a real interesting experience learning from the coaching staff,” added Purcell. “You just have to be a sponge and take it all in.”
Like Lewis, Purcell can clearly see the difference in how much better the player are at this level.
“In college, you can get away with stuff because the players aren’t as good,” Purcell explained. “But here, everyone here is unbelievable. Everyone is a lot stronger and faster, it’s more demanding.”
For Purcell, who is listed at 6-3, 177 pounds, the “stronger” part will be a challenge for him. Indeed, seeing him without his protective gear is quite telling about his lack of size. But Purcell is working hard to meet that challenge head on.
“I’m 198 now,” said Purcell. “I’m still a thin guy, but I worked with a nutritionist this summer and I went a long way with my workouts this summer. Everything is working so far. Hopefully, I’ll keep bulking up.”
“I came out here a couple of weeks ago, and during the Development Camp, and I was working out back home as well,” added Purcell. “It’s been pretty steady, four or five workouts a week.”
Purcell seems to have a firm grasp on the road ahead.
“First I was more of a fan, taking everything in,” said Purcell. “But in the end, you have to give [the other prospects] respect, but they put on their skates the same way you do, so you just have to go out, battle, and work hard every shift and not let anything get to you and do the things that you’re good at. Yeah, it’s going to take time to get stronger and bigger than these guys, but once you get used to that, you get more comfortable and you become a better player.”
“The biggest thing is now it’s a job,” added Purcell. “You still have to have your fun, but there’s always someone trying to take your spot away. You have to come to the rink prepared every day, you have to take care of your body, rest and eat right, all those things that make the great players great.”
And just like Ersberg and Lewis, Purcell knows that he is a long shot to make the big club to start the season.
“Everyone would like to start in the NHL, but I have to be realistic,” he explained. “I don’t like to say it, but I’ll probably start in the AHL, but hopefully, I’ll be up sooner rather than later and I’ll fit in well.”
“In college, you play forty games,” he added. “The pro game is 82 games, so you’ve got to bring it every night—be consistent. There’s always someone chomping at the bit to take your spot. It might take a little transition period with the speed and strength, but some day, I’ll be with the Kings to stay.”
Purcell played last year, his freshman season, at the University of Maine, scoring 16 goals with 27 assists for 43 points in 40 games. And after one year, he decided that it was time to move on.
“I was kind of an older guy,” said Purcell. “I went in as a 21-year-old, so I was as old as a freshman can be. But in terms of development, I wouldn’t have gotten worse in college, but I wouldn’t have gotten as good if I didn’t come out and learn from these coaches and gotten the experience of playing against tougher competition.”
“There are going to be bumps along the road, but that’s part of the process, and hopefully, I can keep going up from here.”
While this reporter was taking a break from covering the Kings to rest and recharge the batteries for the upcoming season, the Kings were doing the exact opposite.
Indeed, since we left off with our coverage of the Development Camp back in July, Lombardi and his staff were very, very busy. As such, we have a lot of catching up to do in this space…
New Deals, New Faces
On July 7, the Kings signed defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Hickey, 18, was the Kings’ first round pick (fourth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft on June 22, 2007.
In 68 regular season games last season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, Hickey scored nine goals and added a team-leading 41 assists for 50 points with 70 penalty minutes and a +15 plus/minus rating.
In eleven playoff games, 5-11, 182-pound native of Calgary, Alberta scored three goals and contributed four assists for seven points.
On July 20, right wing John Zeiler, 24, was signed to a multi-year deal rumored to be a two-way contract in which he will earn $525,000 in the first year at the NHL level. Year two is worth $550,000 and the last two years are worth valued at $600,000.
In 23 games with the Kings last season, scoring a goal and adding three assists for four points with 22 penalty minutes.
The 6-0, 196-pound checking forward from Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania also played in 56 regular season games with Manchester, scoring twelve goals and contributing 16 assists for 28 points with 70 penalty minutes and a +15 plus/minus rating.
In 16 playoff games, Zeiler scored three goals with two assists for five points with 14 penalty minutes.
Zeiler was selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in the fifth round (132nd overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Center Michael Cammalleri was awarded a two-year contract worth $6.7 million by an arbitrator on August 6.
Cammalleri, who reportedly sought $6 million per season, will earn $3.1 million in the first year, and $3.6 million in the second year of the deal.
The Kings reportedly offered $2.6 million per season.
Cammalleri will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the contract expires.
On August 20, the Kings signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Jon Klemm to a one-year contract.
The deal is rumored to be a two-way deal that will pay him $500,000 if he makes the Kings’ roster. If he does not, the contract will pay him $100,000 and he would play at Manchester.
The 37-year-old defenseman scored a goal and added two assists for three points with 24 penalty minutes in 38 regular season games with the Dallas Stars last season. He also played in one playoff game with the Stars last season.
Klemm, who won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, has played in 751 regular season games, scoring 42 goals and 100 assists for 142 points with 426 penalty minutes and a +78 plus/minus rating.
In 105 playoff games, the 6-2, 202-pound native of Cranbrook, British Columbia has scored seven goals and seven assists for 14 points with 47 penalty minutes and a +17 rating.
On August 23, the Kings signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Drew Bagnall to multi-year, entry-level contract.
Bagnall, 23, played in 39 games with the St. Lawrence University Saints last season, scoring six goals and adding 19 assists for 25 points with 74 penalty minutes. He led all Saints defensemen in goals, assists and points. He earned first team All-American honors and was named as the East Coast Athletic Conference Hockey League (ECACHL) Player of the Year and Outstanding Defensive Defenseman.
The 6-3, 220 pound native of Oakbank, Manitoba was also a finalist for the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award.
Bagnall also served as the Saints’ team captain, leading his team to the 2006-07 ECACHL regular season title, with his team advancing to the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals.
In the 2005-06 season, Bagnall scored a goal while contributing nine assists for ten points with 32 penalty minutes in 24 games. In 2004-05, he scored seven goals with twelve assists for 19 points and 68 penalty minutes in 37 games.
Bagnall was the Saints’ Rookie of the Year in 2003-04, scoring five goals and adding 13 assists for 18 points with 61 penalty minutes in 40 games.
Before joining the Saints, Bagnall was the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Top Defenseman in 2002-03 after recording 64 points (17-47=64) and 252 penalty minutes in 59 games with Battlefords North Stars.
On August 28, the Kings signed goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin to a one-year contract, and they re-signed defenseman prospect Richard Petiot, also to a one-year contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed for either deal, but Aubin will reportedly earn $525,000 if he makes the Kings roster. If he does not, he will earn less playing in the minors.
Aubin, 30, played in twenty games last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, earning a 3-5-2 record with a 3.34 goals-against average (GAA) and a .876 save percentage.
In 199 NHL games, Aubin’s numbers are better—2.91 GAA and a .901 save percentage, with a 75-77-15 record with the Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Aubin was selected by the Penguins in the third round (76th overall) of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and has twice won at least twenty games in a season, including a career-high 23 in 1999-2000. He led all rookie goalies that season in wins, games played and minutes played, and finished second among rookie goalies that year with a .914 save percentage and was third with a 2.58 GAA.
The 5-11, 180-pound native of Montreal, Quebec is an insurance policy in goal with Jason LaBarbera being short on NHL experience and Dan Cloutier being well on the downside of his career.
Aubin is expected to wear jersey number 1.
Petiot, 25, missed most of the 2006-07 season with a serious knee injury he suffered during the 2006 Pacific Division Shootout, the rookie tournament in which the Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks play most years prior to training camp.
In thirteen regular season games with Manchester last season, Petiot scored a goal and added an assist for two points with 25 penalty minutes.
The 6-3, 200-pound native of Daysland, Alberta also played in two playoff games with the Monarchs last season.
Petiot was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Dave Lewis Comes Home, Jamie Kompon To Work With Amateur Prospects
On August 28, the Kings signed former defenseman Dave Lewis as Assistant Coach, and promoted Jamie Kompon to Assistant Coach and Director of Amateur Development.
Lewis, 54, has spent the last twenty years as a head coach or an assistant coach after a 15-year playing career in the NHL, which included four seasons with the Kings from 1979-83, scoring four goals with 37 assists for 41 points with 238 penalty minutes in 221 regular season games.
In 18 playoff games with the Kings, Lewis contributed seven assists with 42 penalty minutes.
Lewis also served as the Kings’ team captain from 1981-83.
In 1,008 career NHL regular season games with the New York Islanders, Kings, New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings, Lewis 36 goals and added 188 assists for 224 points with 953 penalty minutes. In 91 playoff games with the Islanders, Kings and Red Wings, Lewis scored a goal and tallied twenty assists for 21 points with 143 penalty minutes.
After seven seasons as an assistant coach and five seasons as associate coach with the Red Wings, earning three Stanley Cup Championships, Lewis became Detroit’s head coach in 2002-03, after the retirement of legendary head coach Scotty Bowman.
In two years as head coach, Lewis earned a 96-41-21-6 record. His teams made the playoffs in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but a first round loss in 2002-03 and a second round loss in 2003-04 ended his career in Detroit.
The Boston Bruins hired Lewis for the 2006-07 season, but Lewis lasted just one season, with a 35-41-0-6 record.
“This is a perfect fit for our staff as we were interested in Dave taking a similar role with the Kings last summer before he accepted the head coaching job with Boston,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “Dave brings to our coaching staff and to our hockey club a great deal of success and a tremendous amount of experience. He is a member of three Stanley Cup championship clubs as a coach and he played in more than 1,000 career games in the National Hockey League.”
“Dave commands respect because he deserves respect, and he is really anxious to help get this team to be the best it can be,” added Crawford. “We’re excited to have Dave on board because as a former captain of the Kings, he’ll help us develop a strong tradition of Kings hockey.”
Kompon served as an assistant coach last season, but has added the duties of coordinating all areas of player development throughout the Kings organization.
“Jamie did an outstanding job coordinating our development camps and he has a great passion for teaching,” said Lombardi. “I have no doubt that Jamie, who is one of the hardest working people in hockey, will exceed in this critical role.”
Training Camp Starts September 10
The Kings will open their training camp for the upcoming season on Monday, September 10, with the first on-ice sessions beginning at 9:30 AM PDT at the Toyota Sports Center.
67 players will participate in this year’s camp, and all on-ice sessions are free and open to the public.
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