EL SEGUNDO, CA — National Hockey League training camps are still almost a week away, but NHL rookie camps are open across the league, including at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, where the Los Angeles Kings are getting a close look at their young prospects.
The Kings opened their 2009-10 Rookie Camp on Saturday, September 5, with meetings and physical testing.
The rookies began two-a-day, on-ice practice sessions on Sunday and that will continue through Tuesday, September 8.
Since their July Development Camp, Kings head coach Terry Murray has noticed improvement overall among his young prospects.
“[Saturday] was a very good day with the on-ice/off-ice testing,” said Murray. It was very demanding and we’re seeing a real good upside to a lot of the guys.”
“I see a change in players coming back from the Development Camp,” added Murray. “Physically, they look better, young guys getting stronger and improving.”
Although anything is possible, no one should expect one of the young prospects to make the Kings roster this season, especially not one coming straight out of junior hockey.
“Never say never and I mentioned that yesterday in our introductory meeting,” Murray emphasized. I pointed out that at the end of the season there were five guys—rookies who made major contributions [on our team last season]. We’re looking for good things—I want to throw that encouragement out there.”
But Murray was rather blunt in adding that no one should get their hopes up too high.
“I don’t want to close the door on anything, but we’re a better hockey club today than what we were last year at this time,” he said. “They’re going to have to show us a lot of good things to break into the lineup this year. But the possibility is always there.”
One of the players who does not seem to have unrealistic expectations is 6-0, 198-pound center Brayden Schenn, the Kings’ first round pick (fifth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft last June.
At the Development Camp back in July, the Kings asked Schenn to work on his strength and conditioning and Murray said that he sees improvement in those areas.
“I see an improvement in him,” said Murray. “The commitment he made over the summertime with the [strength and conditioning program the Kings designed for him]—going to the Canadian World Junior camp is a good thing for young players like that. He’s going to learn from every one of those experiences. He has shown improvement.”
Like any young player, Schenn would love to make the Kings roster in his draft year. But he seems to have everything in perspective.
“I’ve got a lot to prove,” said Schenn, 18. “I’m looking to get better each day. For me, it’s just making a good, overall impression.”
“After the first day of a rookie camp, I’m not worried about making the LA Kings,” added Schenn. “If you’re going to get better each day, that’s the main focus for me. You can’t make it the first day anyway.”
“He’s a player with a great mindset,” Murray noted. “I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of player he’s going to show us in the two games we have coming up this week.”
Another player showing improvement is 5-11, 177-pound forward prospect Andrei Loktionov, who helped lead his junior team, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, to the Memorial Cup Championship last season.
“When you win the Memorial Cup, that’s not luck,” Murray stressed. “You have to earn the right to win it. That’s a very hard tournament, as it is in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You have to earn the right to win that thing.”
That experience has accelerated Loktionov’s development.
“There’s a determination that I didn’t notice last year,” said Murray. “Just as an example, that one drill we did when he had the puck in the far corner—the job is to take the puck off him—two guys. But he didn’t want to give it up. He had a ‘that’s my puck and you’re not having it’ kind of an attitude.”
That’s sheer determination,” added Murray. “The year in junior’s been wonderful for him. Confidence. The strut in his stride. You can see the focus, the determination in his eyes. I’m very impressed in what he’s shown from Development Camp all the way to today.”
Another factor in Loktionov’s development has been his relationship with Hall of Famer Igor Larionov, former NHL star and a member of the famed KLM Line, along with Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, on the legendary Soviet Red Army team of the 1970’s.
“He is from my hometown and he knows my Dad,” Loktionov, 19, said in broken, accented English. “His older brother was my agent.”
“He talked to me about how I need to play and how hockey in the United States is different—it’s not like Russia,” Loktionov added. “He helped me a lot. We talked about everything.”
“He watched me while I played in Windsor last year. He talked to me about what I’m doing right and what I’m not doing right.”
Murray said that Larionov has certainly had an influence on his young protege.
“That’s a pretty special player to have as a role model,” said Murray. “He’s got great awareness on the ice. He has some of the qualities that Larionov has—puck skills, confidence with the puck, making plays, attacking and that fierce competitive look in his eyes, it’s there. Wow…what a comparison.”
While the Kings appear to be set with the top three goaltender positions in their system, there is competition for other spots on the depth chart and one of the goalies hoping to move up the ladder is netminder Martin Jones, who helped lead the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League to the Memorial Cup finals last season.
The 19-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia earned a 45-5-4 record last season with a 2.08 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage with seven shutouts in 55 regular season appearances.
The Kings saw something in Jones two years ago and invited him to their Development Camp. He was impressive enough to earn himself a three-year, entry-level contract.
“I was invited last year as a free agent tryout,” Jones explained. “It was an extremely exciting time. I was very fortunate to get invited. It was at the last minute and I didn’t know the LA Kings were interested or that I was even going to go to a camp. When I got the good news, it was awesome.”
“Just to get the chance to come to camp last year was a great honor and a great experience for me,” Jones elaborated. “To play well and be able to get a contract out of that was huge. It was huge for my confidence and everything’s been snowballing from there. I had a great season last year.”
Jones, who is 6-3 and weighs 181 pounds, does not give opponents a lot of net to shoot at.
“Obviously, I’m a big guy and I take up a lot of net, so position is big for me and being able to move well,” said Jones. “I think being big is a huge asset. There’s a lot of times when I don’t have to [come out of his net to cut down the angle and challenge shooters]. I can be a little more conservative, stay back in my net a bit, be able to read the play and get across my net if I have to.”
Like all the other Kings netminders, Jones is working with the goaltending coaches to refine and develop his game.
“Working with Bill Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh is a lot of fun and they really know their stuff,” said Jones. “There’s some little goalie things here and there, but they’re not trying to completely change my game. I mean, whatever I’ve been doing right is what’s gotten me here, so it’s little things here and there but overall, it’s sticking to my game.”
“A lot of it is just what I’m comfortable with,” added Jones. “There’s been things here and there about being aggressive in how I want to play, but overall, it’s what I’m comfortable with. There’s little things like head position and gloves, things like that. But overall, it’s not really trying to change my game.”
Rookie Camp Audio Interviews (September 6)
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