EL SEGUNDO, CA — All it takes is a quick glance at the roster to see that the Los Angeles Kings are set with their top six defensemen, with Drew Doughty, assuming the Kings can get him to sign a contract soon, leading their blue line corps.
The Kings are also developing several young prospects for their blue line, including Jake Muzzin, Thomas Hickey, Viatcheslav Voynov, Andrew Campbell, David Kolomatis, and Patrick Mullen—all played for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, last season.
But if you think the pipeline ends there, sorry, guess again.
Indeed, even more prospects are working their way up the ladder, trying to achieve the dream of someday playing in the National Hockey League, and three of them, Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort and Nicolas Deslauriers, participated in the Kings 2011 Development Camp in mid-July at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, the Kings’ practice facility.
Gravel, 19, recently finished his first year with the St. Cloud State University Huskies of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), scoring a goal and adding five assists in 36 games.
The 6-4, 190-pound native of Kingsford, Michigan was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (148th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Gravel has been invited to USA Hockey’s evaluation camp for prospective members of their 2012 World Junior (under-20) team.
“I’ll have a couple of weeks off in between [the Kings Development Camp and the USA Hockey camp],” said Gravel. “I’ll keep training, and I’m really looking forward to trying to make that team.”
“What better way to get in shape for that camp than to be here,” added Gravel. “This has been a pretty grinding week, but it’s been a good week.”
Gravel’s second Kings Development Camp served as reinforcement for everything the team’s development staff has been asking him to work on.
“They reiterated everything,” he said. “Anytime you can do things more than once, it’s going to stick with you. All the off-ice skills, the stick-handling, how much they emphasize that, it’s a huge part of your game, being able to protect the puck.”
“[This camp drives home] how hard you have to work to make it as a pro,” he added. “The training that you do, all the hours you have to put into it. It definitely hits close to home when you have to go through it, and experience it first-hand. It really sticks with you.”
Gravel also discussed the progress he has made since last summer.
“I’m just more developed,” Gravel noted. “I’m more comfortable with another year of college under my belt, playing in the WCHA. I’m more comfortable playing my game—handling the puck, not being afraid to make mistakes, trying something new.”
“As a person I’m a year older, another year away from home, so I’m maturing a little bit, having to live on [his] own,” Its been a good year for me.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray took note of Gravel’s invitation to the US junior squad camp..
“He’s a big body guy,” said Murray. “Kind of came out of nowhere with the US junior team. He’s going to get an invite again this year. That’s good stuff.”
Forbort, the Kings’ first round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (15th overall), represented the United States in the 2011 IIHF World Junior (Under-20) Championships, winning the bronze medal.
But Forbort, 19, did not get on the scoresheet in six games, and that would be a constant of his 2010-11 season. Indeed, despite contributing 15 assists, he failed to score a goal in 38 games during his freshman season at the University of North Dakota.
As luck would have it, a bout with mononucleosis put a huge crimp on his season.
“Getting mononucleosis in the middle of the year—it was a challenge to come back from that,” Forbort lamented. “But I think, once I got my legs back, got my strength back, I had a good, solid end of the year.”
Nevertheless, the illness limited his effectiveness heading into the World Junior Championships.
“I think I may have come back a little too soon,” he added. “I had two weekends to get ready for the World Juniors after [his bout with] mononucleosis. It was pretty tough.”
About coming up with a big zero in the goals column, the 6-5, 200-pound native of Duluth, Minnesota shrugged it off.
“I think of myself more as a puck distributor than a shooter,” he said.
Despite having an off-year, Forbort, who has also been invited to the USA Hockey’s evaluation camp for their 2012 World Junior (Under-20) squad, believes that his game has improved since last summer.
“Another year playing hockey,” said Forbort. “I’m a smarter player, a stronger player. Everything’s a little better.”
“He’s got a good year under his belt, and he’s more mature,” Murray noted. “He certainly has grown. He’s still a little raw, still needs time. He’s a good player. He’s got good feet, he moves the puck, sees the ice well.”
“He’s more comfortable,” Murray added. “He’s not as nervous as he was last year, coming [into the development camp]. He’s got a year under his belt at North Dakota. Surprisingly, a young player like that, 19 years old, playing in Division I hockey, is pretty amazing. Most guys are getting through juniors, and they might redshirt you for another year before they even want you on the hockey club.”
Of the three prospects, Deslauriers is the most experienced and polished, having played four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, three with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and last season with the Gatineau Olympiques.
Since last summer, when he was 6-0, and barely hit the 200-pound mark, the native of Ville Lasalle, Quebec, has added some muscle to his frame.
“I got a little bit bigger, I weigh almost 215 [pounds],” he said. “Last year, I wasn’t even 200.”
Deslauriers, who scored 13 goals and added thirty assists for 43 points with a +22 plus/minus rating and 53 penalty minutes in 48 regular season games last season will likely return to the Los Angeles area to train later this summer.
“There’s such a big difference between pro and junior,” said Deslauriers, who scored five goals and tallied 15 assists for twenty points with 19 penalty minutes in 24 playoff games last season. “The training helps us a lot. I’ve been here for a week already, and it’s [full] days, but I think it’s worth it. I’ll probably come back this summer to do the same [off-ice training].”
“In juniors, [players have to train on their own],” added Deslauriers. “Here, you have [strength and conditioning coach] Tim [Adams], who’s excellent. He’s the best trainer I have now. [Training] with a professional like him…helps a lot [in terms of using] correct techniques.”
Deslauriers, now twenty years old, showed greater maturity compared to previous Development Camps.
“[Another year of experience] helps everywhere,” he noted. “I was kind of young, two years ago. It was all brand new for me. Now, I’m kind of like a veteran here in camp, because this is already my third year. You mature a lot out there.”
“I’m trying to act more like a pro this year,” he added. “My on-ice stuff was pretty good this week. Off-ice stuff has to be better, but I think that’s the difference.”
Deslauriers said that the biggest difference in his game from a year ago is that he can now play a two-way game.
“Two years ago, I was just an offensive defenseman,” Deslauriers explained. “This year, I played on the penalty-kill, so I became a two-way defenseman. That’s what I’m looking for. These days in the NHL, you don’t see just an offensive defenseman. It’s pretty much all two-way.”
“I played with a good coach—I had his confidence,” Deslauriers elaborated. “I played almost forty minutes a game. In the playoffs, we lost in the finals, but I had two or three games where I played sixty minutes in double overtime. Just having the confidence of your coach helps you a lot. If you play a lot, it [really] helps you.”
“It was the best thing to happen to me. That coach, Benoit Giroux, he coached for [the] Rochester [Americans of the AHL] two years ago, and I think he’s one of the best coaches in the Q. He won the President’s Cup six or seven times. Like I said, I had his confidence. I was his number one defenseman. I couldn’t ask for more, and I give him all the credit for making me a two-way defenseman.”
Playing with the Olympiques also gave him some experience in dropping the gloves.
“Everybody has to scrap a little bit,” he stressed. “I’m one of the biggest guys, and there’s a lot of small people on the team. I got in a couple of scraps for the goalies. I think everybody has to drop the gloves a few times.”
“I don’t mind dropping the gloves, even if the guy is 6-5 or 5-11, I’ll drop the gloves even then,” he added. “You’ve got to get that into your game. Hockey is now like that.”
Deslauriers appears to have taken a big step forward in his development since last summer, and this has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s more under control now, said Murray. “He’s got a good grasp on what needs to be done, and how to play it the right way. That’s the maturity and the emotional part of the game.”
“Physically, he’s bigger and stronger,” added Murray. “He’s got a couple of summers under his belt now, working out with the program. That’s going to be the natural progression of his game. We’ve got a good prospect there.”
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