DEVELOPMENT CAMP: Here’s a look at couple of the Los Angeles Kings’ lesser-known prospects along with head coach Terry Murray’s thoughts as the development camp wrapped up on July 12.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Each summer at the Los Angeles Kings annual development camp for their young prospects, fans ooh, ahh and gush about the players who were highly-touted first round picks, the massive hulks who throw a big hit or two to get the attention of the coaches and management, not to mention the occasional late-round draft pick who scores a highlight-reel goal and wows the crowd.
But outside of that relative handful of young players, the majority of the prospects are long shots to make it to the National Hockey League—that goes for the prospects of every single NHL franchise. But they aren’t the proverbial chopped liver, either, so Frozen Royalty spoke with a couple of the Kings’ young prospects who are not on most people’s radar.
Although the Kings were focused on big, tough physical players during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, one of their draft picks did not fit that mold.
Puck-moving, offensive defenseman David Kolomatis caught the eyes of the Kings’ scouts with a solid third season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring eighteen goals and contributing 28 assists for 46 points with 52 penalty minutes in 63 regular season games.
In four playoff games, Kolomatis scored two goals and added two assists for four points.
The 5-11, 186-pound native of Livingston, New Jersey was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (126th overall) of the 2009 draft and within a couple of weeks, found himself in a totally new environment.
“It’s actually my first time on the West Coast,” Kolomatis said of his time at the Kings development camp. “I didn’t get a chance to touch the Pacific Ocean yet. We’ve been pretty busy here. It’s been a great experience for me.”
‘You see some of the pro guys around but to be in that dressing room, in that sort of lifestyle, it sort of grabs you and makes you want to give it your all to try and stay here.”
Kolomatis, who served as captain of the Attack last season, grew up in New Jersey Devils territory and draws inspiration from some pretty good players.
“I grew up right around the block from the [Devils] practice facility,” he explained. “The Niedermayers, [defenseman Brian] Rafalski—he’s a smaller defenseman, but he uses his skating to his strength and that’s what keeps him up at that level.”
But as you might expect, especially for a late-round draft pick, Kolomatis has some work to do to improve his game.
“Decision-making [is one of the aspects of his game the Kings want him to work on],” said Kolomatis. “It gets that much quicker at the next level. Things I can get away with in junior, you can’t out here, especially with the talent level that was here this week.”
“Less stick-handling, less cross-overs,” added Kolomatis. “Get the puck, move it up, if you can jump in the rush. If not, just survey the situation, pick and choose your spots and try and contribute where you can. Just keep the game simple and make the right play. It’s more about making the right play than making the fancy one at this level.”
“I like to fancy my game as a good, puck-moving defenseman. It gets that much tougher as you move up through the levels.”
Another prospect who might turn out to be an even longer long shot than Kolomatis is forward/defenseman Patrick Mullen, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent to a two-year, entry level contract on April 3, 2009.
Mullen scored four goals and added 21 assists for 25 points with 39 penalty minutes in 38 games for the Denver University Pioneers last season. In four seasons with the Pioneers, the 5-11, 185-pound native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania scored twenty goals and contributed 61 assists for 81 points with 148 penalty minutes in 152 games, splitting time between forward and defenseman.
Indeed, Mullen, 22, began his hockey career as a forward, but also played as a defenseman during his four seasons with the Pioneers, and the Kings are continuing his conversion to defense.
“I played in college the past two years,” Mullen explained. “That’s how they scouted me. They wanted me to play defense and they think I can help on defense.”
“It’s been fun, a learning experience,” Mullen elaborated. “I started playing defense a couple of years ago in college. It’s just another step up that I have to take and get used to.”
Of course, the transition from forward to defenseman is not easy.
“I’m learning to play defense,” said Mullen. "I live up in Boston in the summer so I see Mike O’Connell [who handles Pro Development and Special Assignments for the Kings] to work on defense. I play in a pretty good adult league up there. He teaches me throughout the week and then I put into the game in the adult league.”
“It’s kind of just getting into the mentality of a defenseman,” added Mullen. “I’ve been a forward so long—that’s natural to me that it’s not really doing the opposite, but you’re doing something different that you’re not used to. It’s getting used to different events coming at you.”
For those of you who have been following the game for awhile, the Mullen name does indeed have some history behind it.
Mullen is the son of Hockey Hall of Fame member Joey Mullen, who played in sixteen seasons in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Flames in 1989 and the Penguins in 1991 and 1992. He was also the first American-born hockey player to score 500 goals and register 1,000 points in the NHL.
Despite all that, Patrick Mullen said that he feels no pressure to live up to his father’s legacy.
“I bet if you asked any of [the other prospects], maybe ten will know who my Dad is,” he said. “I don’t think any of the coaches are putting any pressure on me because of my Dad’s name. I’ve dealt with it all my life, so I just go out and play.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray, along with assistant coaches Mark Hardy, Jamie Kompon and goaltending coach Bill Ranford, led all of the on-ice practice sessions and was very pleased with what he saw during the camp.
“I was talking to the other coaches and I’m really impressed with the level of play, the intensity, the pace, the tempo,” said Murray. “Here we are in July and the conditioning they’re coming in with, not only physically, but mentally, they’re ready to go. They’re ready to show management and the coaches that there’s no back-off in their effort, They’re going to be here every day and be very hungry to learn. It’s real good stuff.”
“Every one of these guys have come in and have shown a lot of potential as eighteen-year-olds that they’re going to be good hockey players,” added Murray. “It’ll be a matter of continuing the process of development, on and off the ice.”
Part of the development process is strength training and each of the prospects has been given a workout program to follow this summer.
“They’re all on a program now,” said Murray. “We have a new strength coach in place. They all have the information they need to continue on through the summer with their off-ice workouts.”
Speaking of working out…the Kings have several of their veteran players, including Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Matt Greene, Sean O’Donnell, Jonathan Quick, Jarret Stoll and John Zeiler, among others, working out at the Toyota Sports Center where they can’t help but interact with the prospects.
Like Kolomatis stated earlier, Murray stressed the importance of the influence the veterans have on the young prospects.
“Being around the environment of the NHL players—we’ve got NHL guys working out [here],” said Murray. “They’re seeing that. They know these guys now. They’re just feeling a part of the organization. These are great things now.”
Anyone watching practice drills may have noticed that Murray looked like he was really in his element while in teaching mode. In any case, he looked like he was having a lot of fun out on the ice.
“You know what’s really a lot of fun about it? You’re working with young people but they’re so hungry, they go out and do it the right way right away,” Murray emphasized. “They’re paying very close attention to all the stuff that’s being talked about in meetings off the ice and then you get on the ice and diagram stuff on the board as far as drills we’re going to do in training camp and in the regular season. You want to tell them that this is stuff you’ll see in the camp. Pay attention and go out and do it the right way.”
“From day one to the practice we had this morning, it’s been incredible,” Murray added. “The way the chatter is, the tempo, their passing of the puck, just the overall improvement that each one of them has shown has been very impressive. There’s nothing that’s been negative. When you have a group of guys here in the middle of July coming in and working as hard as they have, it’s truly a positive environment and situation for those kids.”
“When you think back over the years, why didn’t [development camps] happen many years ago for everybody? It’s helping them become better hockey players.”
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