EL SEGUNDO, CA — As soon as he was named President/General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings a little over two years ago, Dean Lombardi made his philosophy for building a team very clear…that a team should be built from net on out.
Translation: the way to build a hockey team is to start with goaltending, then work on the defenseman corps and, finally, build up the forwards.
Lombardi inherited some good, young forwards, with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Michael Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov already on the roster, along with some developing forward prospects in their system. But outside of that, the cupboard, in terms of goaltending and defenseman prospects, was pretty much bare.
Fast forward to the summer of 2008 and oh what a difference two years makes.
In the last three drafts, Lombardi has added goaltending prospects Jeff Zatkoff and Linden Rowat, not to mention another young goaltending prospect with a boatload of potential in Jonathan Bernier. Lombardi has also added several defensemen, including Thomas Hickey and Drew Doughty, first round selections in the 2007 and 2008 NHL Entry Drafts, respectively.
To be sure, Lombardi has been following his “formula” for rebuilding and one of the defensemen prospects he is high on is Alec Martinez, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
“[Martinez is] going to challenge for a job and we’ve got a couple of other kids in the minors and they’re not going to give up either,” said Lombardi. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to and get some players out of [the Kings’ system].”
After three seasons with Miami University (Ohio), Martinez signed a three-year, entry-level contract on April 29, 2008. He was in Southern California for the Kings’ annual development camp in July and immediately noticed the difference from playing at the collegiate level.
“The pace is a lot quicker, the guys are smarter and more skilled,” said Martinez. “There’s a lot less running around. When you get more skilled guys and smarter guys, they know their position and they play it well.”
“It’s a different game, it’s more controlled for sure,” added Martinez. “It’s great to be out there. The guys are so good and you’re surrounded by great players. It’s definitely a faster pace and it’s more fun.”
The native of Rochester Hills, Michigan was originally listed at 6-0 and 188 pounds, but Martinez has since grown in inch and put on an additional twenty-five pounds.
“That’s really old, when I was seventeen years old,” Martinez said about his height and weight. “I’m 6-1, about 213 right now. I’ve grown a little bit and I’ve gotten stronger.”
Martinez said that he is working to get even stronger and is also working on his skating.
“You’re playing against older guys, strong guys,” he said. “You’ve got to build your strength and your speed as well. We’re working with the strength and conditioning staff and they’re doing a great job.”
“There’s guys in the NHL who are stronger now than when they started their careers and that’s only benefitted them,” he added.
As with all of their young prospects, the Kings’ coaching staff worked with their young defenseman to refine their games, and Martinez was no exception.
“There’s always little things,” Martinez explained. “You can improve your deception, picking your head up a little earlier, surveying the ice to get better vision. There’s definitely room for improvement.”
“The great players are great because they do all the little things well,” Martinez elaborated. “A lot of guys are skilled, a lot of guys can move the puck, but if you can do the little things well, that’s the difference between good and great.”
“They’re talking to the defense as a whole and we’re working on the little things every day—the deception, being positionally sound,” said Martinez. “Hockey is all about the next play. If you catch yourself out of position, the other team—the skilled guys and the smart guys are going to capitalize.”
And what does Martinez need to work on specifically?
“I could be more positionally sound,” he said. “Players my age tend to drift a little bit too much. That’s one thing we’re working on-staying between the dots. As a defenseman, if you’re in the right position, everyone else in the zone is reading off you and everyone else tends to be in the right position.”
Even though there is great concern about the Kings and the direction the franchise is heading, if Martinez is concerned about that, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“I don’t think you can really look at that stuff too much,” said Martinez. “If you look at that and get focused on it, it can get the best of you. All I’m trying to do is go out there, get better every day and [when training camp comes along], see what happens.”
“Obviously, the LA Kings are up and coming. They’re going to be a young team. It’s exciting. There’s a great group of guys here.”
Photo courtesy Miami University.
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