EL SEGUNDO, CA — While many who follow the Los Angeles Kings were glued to the World Wide Web and Twitter to follow the news about what unrestricted free agents were going where, most notably, superstar left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (who is still unsigned as of this writing), the Kings were busy conducting their annual Development Camp for their young prospects, which began on June 28 and ran through July 3.
Three days of the six-day camp were open to the public and the media, comprised of a scrimmage game sandwiched between two practice sessions, featuring prospects ranging from those who have been in the system for awhile to their most recent draft picks.
“I’ve been impressed with some of these players, and, certainly, everybody as far as the work ethic,” said head coach Terry Murray. “It’s been outstanding with the conditioning level and what they’ve been through over the past several days, on and off the ice.”
“A lot of focus, a lot of digging in, hungry and they want to learn,” added Murray. “Attitude. It’s really coming along well. As a group, it’s been tremendous.”
Murray also took note of his team’s five 2010 draft picks, who were all present at the camp.
“All the draft picks seem to be really good kids,” he said. “They’re good people with good character.”
For the 2010 draft picks, who were selected by the Kings just days before during the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft on June 25-26, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the camp was the culmination of a whirlwind couple of weeks that opened their eyes to what lies ahead.
“The draft picks who came—they had no idea what was going to happen,” Murray noted. “Surprise! You’re coming to a development camp and we’re going to do a lot of hard off-ice work, we’re going to have some games going on. They’ve really stepped in and have done an excellent job.”
“The tempo was great,” defenseman prospect Derek Forbort said about the scrimmages. “The guys out there are unreal hockey players. I was just doing my best to keep up.”
“[The camp has] been a great experience so far,” added Forbort, a 6-5, 198-pound defenseman out of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program. “I’m starting to get the hands back after not skating for awhile. I’m starting to get used to how they do things. It’s been good.”
Forbort, 18, was selected by the Kings in the first round, 15th overall, but do not look for him to crack the Kings lineup right away. Indeed, he is expected to need at least two years to develop his game before having a realistic chance to make it to the NHL level.
“Derek is a big body defenseman, he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” said Murray. “He sees the ice, he’s got a great stick.”
“He’s going to have to catch up with his body,” added Murray. “He’s going to have to get stronger, but that’s what the purpose of this whole thing is, to understand what it takes so [Kings Strength and Conditioning Coach] Tim Adams can get some time with them and to put a program in their hands and in their heads so they can take it back home and continue to work at it.”
Center prospect Tyler Toffoli, a 6-0, 178-pound center from the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), selected by the Kings in the second round of the 2010 draft (47th overall), learned quickly that he will need to make some adjustments to his game.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment. There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m looking forward to working and to seeing how I can compare to these guys at the end of summer.”
“[I’m] getting stronger and my skating—getting a bit faster,” he added. “I think once that improves, my game will improve a lot.”
Toffoli, 18, was impressive in the final scrimmage on July 2.
“I thought Toffoli had a real good scrimmage here today,” said Murray. “He was on the puck, very noticeable.”
“I’m a player who can find the right spots on the ice to score goals and I like to score a lot of goals,” said Toffoli.
2010 third round selection Jordan Weal was also a bit surprised at how demanding the camp was, physically.
“The workouts…they’re extremely tough,” said the 5-10. 162-pound center from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. “Working out at the next level is a whole new ball game. You’ve got to push yourself that much more. I was a little shocked at the first workout, at how hard it was and how hard it has been [during the camp].”
“The warm-ups we do for workouts are almost harder than the workouts themselves, added Weal. “Tim Adams pushes us really hard. That’s really going to help the organization.”
The demanding off-ice work was a revelation for Weal.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s been a really tough three days here. All the guys have been working hard, but this is what you’ve got to do to get to the next level, and we’re starting to realize what kind of work has to be put into it.”
“I’m just getting a little closer every day to making my dream come true, to play in the NHL,” he added. “I just have to keep working, keep improving my game every single day and keep working on new things. I’m starting to realize that I’m going to have to push myself that much more to get to the next level.”
For all of the Kings’ young prospects, but especially their wet-behind-the-ears 2010 draft picks, Murray emphasized that they must work hard on their own this summer on their strength and conditioning.
“It’s about continuing the off-ice program,” Murray stressed. “I’ve watched these young guys with Tim, going through their program off the ice and it’s hard.”
“It’s demanding, not only on the physical side of it, but the emotional, mental buy-in to get through that dark time when it’s really hard and you want to say, ‘Oh man. I can’t do this anymore,’ and you get through it,” Murray added. “That’s what needs to continually take place the rest of the summer.”
Among the older prospects was recently acquired defenseman Jacob Muzzin, who was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent to a three-year, entry level contract on January 4, 2010.
Muzzin, 20, was the captain of the Sault Ste. Marie (Soo) Greyhounds of the OHL this past season. Once his season with the Greyhounds ended, the 6-2, 216-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario joined the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
It did not take long for him to find his way into the lineup.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Muzzin. “I got up there, and, within a couple of days, [Monarchs head coach Mark Morris] put me in the lineup. I didn’t think I was going to get in and they put me in.”
“I played one regular season game and then into the playoffs, added Muzzin. “I kept playing and playing and I was playing well, I thought. It was a good experience for me to meet the core group at Manchester and to get to know some of the faces around the organization.”
Muzzin was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round (141st overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. But he suffered an injury and missed his entire first season in the OHL due to back surgery. He was not signed by the Penguins or selected in the draft by another NHL team and became an unrestricted free agent last summer.
“I was drafted two years before and I just got my game together, being physical and putting up points,” he said. “Being a solid, two-way defenseman was what [Kings scouts] liked.”
“I’m a bigger body, so I like to play physical in my own zone,” he added. “I also like to jump up in the rush when I can and provide that offense, but the first priority is looking after my own zone first.”
One of the older prospects in attendance could be running out of time with the Kings.
Indeed, 6-0, 199-pound center Trevor Lewis, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (17th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has not delivered up to expectations going into his fifth year in the Kings’ system.
This past season, Lewis made the Kings roster out of training camp, but was their extra forward and was a healthy scratch most of the time, so much so that he was finally assigned to Manchester on October 30, 2010.
The plan was for Lewis, 23, to get more ice time. But then there’s that old saying about the best laid plans…
“I started out up here and then got sent back down to Manchester, but I separated my shoulder and had to get shoulder surgery about five games in,” Lewis lamented.
“That was tough,” Lewis elaborated. “I was out for awhile. When I came back, it took a little bit to get my legs and timing back again. But, luckily, we went on a long playoff run and I started to get it back then.”
“It was tough. I just think I didn’t get into enough games and they wanted me to play a little more. Unfortunately, I got hurt down there and didn’t get a chance to come back up. But, like I said, we went on a long playoff run and that was good for me.”
The Monarchs went all the way to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, but were eliminated in six games by the Hershey Bears.
“We had a great group of guys—really close—down there,” said Lewis. “We were all just playing for each other, trying to learn how to win.”
Lewis’ biggest challenge in terms of making it to the NHL level has been improving his play along the boards and in the corners.
“[I need to] stay strong on the puck and be more gritty,” Lewis stressed. “I was trying to do that, but things didn’t work out like that. But going into this camp, I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve just got to go out and do it.”
Lewis, a restricted free agent, received a qualifying offer from the Kings, who retain his rights. However, he is not yet under contract for the 2010-11 season.
Despite being unsigned and even though he is likely running out of time to make the Kings’ roster, Lewis expressed confidence that he will finally join the Kings once and for all.
“I’m pretty confident in myself,” he affirmed. “I definitely think I can make it [onto the Kings roster] to stay. I just have to go out there and prove it to them.”
“I need to come in and have a good camp like last year. To make the team, I have to make sure I never come out of the lineup by staying hard on pucks and doing all the little things right.”
Raw Audio Interviews (edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Derek Forbort (1:22)
Tyler Toffoli (2:50)
Jordan Weal (2:06)
Jacob Muzzin (1:53)
Trevor Lewis (2:38)
Terry Murray (4:57)
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