EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings 2009 Development Camp for their young prospects, which ended on July 12, was rather different from camps held in previous years for several reasons.
One was the fact that only three days of the week-long camp were open to the public and the media to allow the young players to better focus on the task at hand.
But another more striking reason was that compared to previous camps, there seemed to be a greater intensity during both the scrimmages and the practice sessions and much of that may have been due to the fact that the Kings have brought in a number of prospects who not only are capable of playing a physical brand of hockey, but their toughness and fierce, competitive nature extends into their psyche as well, something that has been somewhat lacking throughout the Kings’ system.
One such player is their first round pick (fifth overall) in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Brayden Schenn, a wet-behind-the-ears seventeen-year-old center from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“The one thing about this guy is that his number one attribute is his competitiveness,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi at the draft in Montreal on June 26. “He’s a playoff-type player. I know that’s what [Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian] Burke saw in him and that’s certainly what we liked about him.”
“He’s a good player, but this is a kid in the playoffs when they were playing the Calgary Hitmen where his shoulder went out and he refused to quit,” Lombardi added. “He tried to play with one shoulder and refused to leave the bench. When you talk about a competitor that’s pretty attractive.”
For the 6-0, 198-pound Schenn, it was his first trip to Southern California and he got a lot out of the development camp.
“It’s been good, my first pro camp coming in here,” said Schenn. “Really didn’t know what to expect. It definitely wasn’t an easy week. Long days, but at the same time, it was good. Learned a lot of good things. Everyone got something out of the whole week, so it was good.”
Like the rest of the young prospects, Schenn will now begin his off-season training regimen back home in Saskatoon.
“I’ll be working out with guys, we’ll have a trainer,” he said. “I’ll train with my brother [defenseman Luke Schenn of the Maple Leafs]. We have a pretty good program there and that’s what I’ve been doing for I don’t know how long now.”
The Kings want Schenn to work on his skating, his quickness and his strength.
“You can always get better in every aspect of the game, but for me, it’s quickness and skating,” said Schenn. “The first three strides—quickness. That’s always going to help you be in the right place at the right time. I haven’t really talked to them about it but I know from the development guys, the scouts—quickness, getting quicker, the pace of my play. That will give me another level to my game.”
“They obviously want me to get better, stronger and quicker,” added Schenn. “I still have a long summer ahead of me and I need to get better before the next camp.”
“I think the biggest thing he’s got to work on is his skating,” said Lombardi. “But his hockey sense is top notch. He has the ability to make those small, smart, little plays and has no fear going into traffic, going into the blue and along the walls. He’s a real competitor and I think he’s got a chance to grow into some leadership.”
Although Schenn is likely anxious to get to training camp and take a run at making the Kings’ 2009-10 roster, he is focused on the more immediate task at hand.
“For me right now, I experienced my first pro camp,” he explained. “I can’t look too far ahead. I still have a long summer ahead of me to get better and for the most part, the focus for me is working on the areas of my game that need to get better and once I come in here in September, then I’ll worry about trying to make this team.”
Speaking of making the Kings roster out of training camp…like most just-drafted prospects from Canada, Schenn is more likely destined to return to his junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, next season. Nevertheless, he will get a good look from the Kings coaches, scouts and management.
“I could be very candid with you, but I don’t want to put him in a position now here in the middle of July and have him read about it,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “I want him to come into the training camp with a mindset of playing for the NHL team. I think that’s an important attitude to have coming out of here that he continue to work and come to training camp to show his best. I don’t want to push anybody out of that opportunity at this time of year.”
If Schenn is a skilled player with a physical, highly competitive edge, rugged left winger Kyle Clifford, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (35th overall), also in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in June, is a high-energy bruiser who will pound on opposing players mercilessly.
“The Clifford kid in the second round was the guy we had targeted, he’s a real gamer,” said Lombardi. “You talk about guys like him and Schenn, these are the type of people you want to instill in your culture. The key now is our development program to make sure these kids become the best players.”
The 6-1, 200-pound native of Ayr, Ontario is definitely the kind of player who will not be afraid to knock anyone around.
“Every player has to contribute, that’s part of my game,” said Clifford. “The physical, tough game. Every team needs a couple of players like that to put the other team back on their heels.”
“My bread and butter, that physical, tough game, that’s what I bring to the table,” added Clifford. “I also have other elements to my game, penalty-killing, shot blocking. I’m that of heart-and-soul kind of player.”
Clifford gets inspiration from two tough, physical Eastern Conference forwards.
“There’s two players I kind of look at, the [Boston Bruins left wing] Milan Lucic and [Ottawa Senators right wing] Chris Neil-kind of player—a heart-and-soul player who’s physical, not afraid to put up a couple of points here and there and obviously drop the gloves.”
Another big, physical prospect is 21-year-old defenseman Andrew Campbell, who surprised just about everyone when he was assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) instead of being assigned back to his junior team, the Sault Ste. (Soo) Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (an over-age junior player).
Indeed, the 6-4, 208-pound native of Caledonia, Ontario was impressive enough in the Kings 2008-09 training camp to be assigned to Manchester and then surprised most people by securing a spot on the Monarchs’ roster, becoming one of their best players last season.
“It was a great learning experience,” said Campbell. “First year pro, learning how to be a pro, what the pro game is all about. It’s a lot different playing against men compared to boys in junior. It was a huge learning experience and overall, it went pretty well.”
“I worked pretty hard,” added Campbell. “My goal was to play pro, sign a contract and play in Manchester. When that happened, it was a great thrill.”
Campbell got the job done at Manchester through hard work and his willingness to play a physical brand of hockey.
“I pride myself on my work ethic,” Campbell explained. “I like to battle hard, play physical and put everything on the line every night. That’s what they’re trying to build here as an identity and I think I fit into that well.”
“I just bring a lot of heart and soul,” Campbell elaborated. “I like to play strong defensively and take care of my own end, take care of my teammates and just get the puck out.”
Like Clifford, Campbell also has a couple of good influences at the NHL level.
“You look at guys like [Bruins star defenseman] Zdeno Chara who’s kind of a big, lanky player like myself,” said Campbell. “He takes care of his own zone very well and is a tough, strong player. I like to gear myself towards him.”
“Anton Volchenkov played for Ottawa, we see a lot of him back in Ontario,” added Campbell.” He’s a shot blocker and a strong, physical defensive presence. Those two guys are the kind of guys I look up to.”
One look at the rather tall defenseman will tell you that among his challenges in terms of making it to the NHL level is that he has a good deal of work to do in the gym.
“I just have to get bigger and stronger,” he noted. “I need to fill into my height, put on some weight—good, positive strong weight. If I keep working at that, eating healthy and working out hard, it’ll work out for me.”
Raw audio from interviews with Schenn, Clifford and Campbell:
Kyle Clifford (due to poor audio quality, some portions, mostly questions from the media, have been edited out):
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