EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings have completed three days of their 2009-10 Rookie Camp with the focus on drills designed to improve their young prospects compete level, decision-making, positional play, puck handling, and more.
“Overall, I’ve been very excited about what’s happened here in the three days,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “From the first day—the testing—I was impressed with the work they put in off the ice in several of the tests they did. On the ice, they’re working hard, showing lots of energy and determination and a real passion to go out and work, listen and try things that we’re talking about.”
Murray was also impressed by the physical improvement among the young prospects.
“The thing that jumps out is the maturity [and] the physical strength of these young guys [and how it] has increased over the course of one year,” Murray noted. “It’s very evident. We’ve done a lot of compete drills, dot-to-board play, and that demands endurance and strength.”
“I’m seeing positive play from players who, last year at this time, were just not able to get there because, being rookies, they hadn’t pushed themselves off the ice to get to a certain level,” Murray elaborated. “There’s no question that our [new] strength [and conditioning] coach, Tim Adams, has done a tremendous job to get in touch with everyone over the off-season and really push them and demand that they pay attention to what we’re asking of them and it’s paying dividends for them already.”
After three days of drills, the prospects will finally get into some game action, with two games against their counterparts with the Phoenix Coyotes.
“The two games coming up are going to be important for these players to show a lot of that determination and their skill level to show us what they’ve got as players,” Murray stressed.
The first game is scheduled for 6:00 PM PDT on Wednesday with the second game played at 2:00 PM on Thursday. Both games will be played at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. More details, including ticket information, can be found here.
Murray said that the younger goalies will play in the two games, with Martin Jones, 19, going all the way in goal on Wednesday and Jean-Francois Berube, 18, getting the nod for Thursday’s game.
“We have three good, young players,” said Murray. “Jones, coming out of junior last year, his numbers are incredible. He had a phenomenal year. Berube I’m just learning about. He looks like a kid who’s fundamentally pretty sound. He has a nice upside to his game.”
On the outside looking in terms of the rookie tournament games is netminder Jeff Zatkoff, 22, who is not expected to see game action until the pre-season.
But that is not because of anything Zatkoff did or did not do.
“I just spoke with him on the ice,” Murray explained. “He’s kind of in that in between right now. We’re going to play the two young guys in the rookie games and he’s the third guy. He’s a pro, he’s shown [himself] to be a good pro and, as a result, he’ll get his game or part of his game, in the main [training] camp.”
Zatkoff said that he understands the situation.
“We just kind of talked about the games this week coming up in the rookie camp,” said Zatkoff. “Since this is my second rookie camp, they’re going to give the younger guys a chance to play.”
“I’m in the middle phase,” added Zatkoff, who played for the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ ECHL affiliate, last season. “We’re short on goalies so I had to come to rookie camp. But it’s not a bad thing. Any opportunity I get to play in front of the coaches works to my advantage and it gets me into a little better shape going into the main [training] camp.”
“You want to play in the games but I understand. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get into an exhibition game. They’ve seen me play and they know what I can do. It’s a chance to look at the two younger guys since they have to go back to junior hockey. I’m just going to keep working hard.”
Although it is likely that Zatkoff will see time in at least one of the pre-season games, he is not likely to get a lot of playing time.
“I have three goalies on the other side [Jonathan Quick, Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Bernier] who I want to see in the majority of the games,” said Murray. “[Zatkoff is] just going to have to deal with it, as I mentioned to him, and understand what’s going on, keep working hard with the right attitude.”
“His game has grown tremendously over time and when he gets his chance to play during the regular season, it’s going to be real important for him to grab ahold of it,” added Murray.
“It’s a bit of a difficult position to be in right now. [But Zatkoff is] a solid citizen. He’s got a good head, he’s working very hard at his game, he has great awareness on the ice in what’s happening in all the drills that we’re doing. He’s got a very nice upside to his game.”
Indeed, it appears that Zatkoff has the right attitude about his situation.
“Obviously, i want to play at the highest level possible,” he said. “I played a few games in the [American Hockey League] last year, so I know I can play there. I just want to have an opportunity where I can compete with someone one-on-one. If I know I’m going to be in a battle I’ll be able to earn my playing time.”
This summer, like all of the Kings young prospects, Zatkoff focused on his strength and conditioning.
“I had a groin issue at Ontario, I tore it in January,” Zatkoff explained. “I was out for about a month but I came back and had to play a ton of games. At the beginning of summer, I took a month off just to rest it. The [focus for me this summer] was to get stronger. I tried to get in the gym and get as strong as possible, but at the same time, not lose flexibility.”
“There’s still a lot that I need to work on and get better at, but over time, that will come,” Zatkoff elaborated. “With goaltending, it’s not all about bulk. It’s finding that balance. I’m trying to put some weight on but mostly, gain strength laterally, side-to-side, without losing quickness.”
“Especially coming into Development Camp [back in July], I feel quicker side-to-side. Another year or so, it’ll be that much better if I continue to work on it.”
Zatkoff has also been honing his skills and technique.
“At this point, everyone has their own style,” he noted. “It’s more about maintenance and working on small things. I’ve been focusing on small things like tracking pucks behind the net, getting into good habits and watching pucks all the way into my body.”
Another player the Kings are paying close attention to is defenseman Alec Martinez, who played his first year at the professional level last season with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
“It was a good year, a good learning experience,” said Martinez, 22. “I really thought I got a grasp on the pro game. It’s a little bit different from college. I learned a lot and it was fun.”
“It’s a different game,” added Martinez. “It’s a lot more controlled and guys are obviously more skilled. It’s a little bit faster and guys are just smarter. In college, some guys can run around a little bit but the pro game is not really that way. That’s probably the biggest thing [that was different].”
The coaching staff at Manchester, along with the Kings development staff, worked with Martinez to help push his game forward.
“[The Kings have told him to work on] staying strong positionally, and all the little things you work on after practice involving your shooting, stick-handling, puck skills, stuff like that,” he said.
“It’s just little things,” he added. “Winning puck battles in the corners and being a little bit grittier. I think I got better at that as the year progressed. I’ve really improved my defensive positioning and my skills, which is a testament to the development staff. Just more experience and coming in now, knowing what to expect…a little bit more mature.”
The improvement in Martinez’ game was apparent.
“I was pretty impressed with Alec last year,” said Murray. “He shows a lot of composure and makes good decisions with the puck. The only thing I really want to see where he picks it up in the main camp is a higher level of intensity. Do things faster because the pace of the play does pick up in the main camp and I want him to be prepared for that.”
“But overall, his game is more consistent,” added Murray. “He’s got a year [at the pro level] under his belt and you’re seeing the confidence and the attitude, ‘I know how to do things right here,’ and that’s a real positive for him. It’s going to be an interesting main camp for him. I’m going to play him in games. I want to see the next level of play from him and I think it’s in there.”
Although, like all young players, Martinez would love to make the big club’s roster, he too seems to understand his situation.
“There’s really only one way to go in training camp and that’s to focus on making the team,” said Martinez. “I’m just going to come here, try to do my best every day and we’ll see how everything ends up.”
“There’s a little disappointment when you get sent down but it’s also an opportunity because they tell you what you need to work on and you go down to Manchester and get better so that you can get called back up to LA,” added Martinez. “There’s opportunity there to get better.”
Rookie Camp Raw Audio Interviews
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Another great article Gann – see you later this evening.
Good read, Gann, thanks. While Lombardi sounded pretty high on Martinez coming out of college, he seems to have been passed on the depth chart by newer additions. I guess if he turns into a top 2 guy in Manchester, who can fill in in LA in case of injury, that’s not the worst thing in the world. The Kings seem to have a lot of guys (Doughty, Johnson, Hickey, Voinov) who might play the same style as Martinez, but at a higher level.