LOS ANGELES — For any National Hockey League team, drafting and development of young prospects is crucial to their long-term success. But for the majority of their 42-year history, the Los Angeles Kings generally resorted to foolishly trading away their first round draft picks and their best young players for NHL veterans—some had been star players—who were little more than washed-up has-beens.
That started to change under former general manager Dave Taylor, but the great emphasis on drafting and development has come under current Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, who has built the team’s drafting and player development infrastructure up to what is now regarded as one of the best scouting and development staffs in the league.
Last month, four Kings prospects represented Canada in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Center Brayden Schenn (Brandon Wheat Kings, Western Hockey League), defenseman Colten Teubert (Regina Pats, WHL), right wing Brandon Kozun (Calgary Hitmen, WHL) and goaltender Martin Jones (Calgary Hitmen) helped lead Canada to the Silver Medal, losing to the United States in the championship game.
Lombardi expressed a great deal of pride that four of his team’s young prospects made Team Canada and he spoke with Frozen Royalty about Teubert’s and Kozun’s development.
“[Teubert has] made a lot of progress, but he still has a lot to learn,” said Lombardi. “The whole thing about his physical game still has to be channelled in the right direction. You can’t play like the Flyers of the Seventies, so you have to channel that type of aggression. You can’t get away with just running around being physical.”
Indeed, the 19-year-old native of White Rock, British Columbia, who is the captain of the Pats and was one of two Kings’ prospects (Thomas Hickey) to win a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors, is a rather imposing physical force, but tends to get caught up in trying to make the big hit too often, taking himself out of defensive position.
Although the 6-4, 194-pound Teubert has improved on that, he still has quite a ways to go.
“I think we saw in the [Kings] rookie camp [tournament held in September 2009], I loved the fact that when you saw that guy run Hickey, he was in there,” said Lombardi. “Those are the type of things that, as that type of player, he’s got to do. But he’s got to pick his spots better.”
“Then, he’s got to get smarter with the puck,” added Lombardi. “Sometimes these guys try to add to their game too much, thinking they should be rushing pucks. Whoa. You were drafted to be that physical, make the first pass guy.”
Even though Teubert’s defensive game was very raw when the Kings selected him in the first round (thirteenth overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, his physical game and toughness was what they needed.
Nevertheless, he has a lot of work to do before he hits NHL ice for good.
“I think he had his ups and downs last year,” Lombardi noted. “The World Junior team wanted him because of that [toughness] element, just like why we drafted him. But he got a big wake-up call when we sent him to the [Ontario Reign of the] ECHL [late last year]. He wasn’t ready for [the AHL].”
In 45 games with the Pats this season, Teubert has scored nine goals and has added 24 assists for 33 points with eighty penalty minutes. In the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships, he recorded one assist and had a +5 plus/minus rating in six games.
On the other side of the red line, Kozun is lighting up the WHL.
“This Kozun kid is off the charts,” Lombardi beamed. “I love this kid. To do what he’s doing in the Western Hockey League, and I know the scoring is diluted, but it’s not [as bad] as the Quebec [Major Junior Hockey] League. He has gone to another level.”
“The Quebec league has always had inflated [scoring], but the Western league? He’s scoring at will,” Lombardi added.”
Kozun, 19, is ranked fourth in WHL scoring this season, (through games played on February 9, 2010), with 24 goals and 52 assists for 76 points and forty penalty minutes in 48 games with the Hitmen.
Nevertheless, Kozun’s size, or lack thereof (5-8, 155 pounds), will be a huge obstacle for him to overcome in his trek to the NHL. But Lombardi remains hopeful.
“He’s got a Volkswagen, [Theoren] Fleury-type mentality,” Lombardi explained. “He’s a little guy, but he’s got the right chip on his shoulder. You can see that he’s small, but this kid is wound up and he just loves to play. You can just see it.”
“That’s why he goes in the middle rounds,” Lombardi elaborated. “But for guys like this, you always overlook the heart. But he’s skilled.”
Is Kozun, who was selected by the Kings in the sixth round (179th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the next coming of former Calgary Flames great Theoren Fleury?
“Fleury went in the seventh round,” said Lombardi. “But this is about your scouts doing a good job. You take a swing [in the middle rounds]. [Kozun’s] got a chance. You have to hit your two in every draft, and you’re going to have to hit in the middle rounds once in awhile. We might’ve scored here, this is pretty good.”
“You always overlook this [pointing to his heart]. You know what? You’ve got to be careful. You never want to count those kids out. He’s fun to watch. He’s pretty good.”
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