TRAINING CAMP COVERAGE: In this story, forwards Trevor Lewis and Ethan Moreau share their thoughts about training camp and what lies ahead for them, left wing Dustin Penner talks about his increased speed and quickness, and…did you know that left wing prospect Richard Clune is a food critic?
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Day 3 of the Drew Doughty saga has come and gone with no end in sight to the contract dispute between the 21-year-old holdout defenseman and the Los Angeles Kings. Coincidentally, it was also Day 3 of the team’s 2011 Training Camp, which saw the team focus on the system they will play.
“It’s been good, it’s been fast,” said veteran left wing Ethan Moreau, who was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year deal on August 23. “We’ve been on the ice a lot, probably more than I’ve been on the ice in the last ten years. We’ve been working on system play, which is important.”
“Sometimes, when you don’t do that, and you’re go into exhibition play, it’s a little chaotic out there, so it’s been a good start,” added Moreau. “It’s been hard, but it’s been good.”
The 35-year-old native of Huntsville, Ontario was happy to learn that the Kings’ systems fit his style of play.
“The last couple of days, we’ve focused on our systems a little bit,” he noted. “Some of it is new for me, and some of it is really good for me. I like the freedom you have on the forecheck. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for a lot of contact, which is the way I like to play.”
“It’s going to take a few days, a few practices to get adjusted to the different systems, but the way we play is fast and aggressive, which is good for me,” he added.
Last season, Moreau missed 37 games due to a broken hand, but is feeling no ill effects now.
“I feel awesome,” he stressed. “I felt great last year, but I had [to deal with] unfortunate hand surgery. I feel the same as I did at the start of last year, and I started really well.”
“Physically, I’m good. Mentally, I’m good. The name of the game is to stay healthy and play well.”
Will Added Confidence Help Trevor Lewis’ Hands Catch Up To His Feet?
Last season, when asked about the play of speedy forward Trevor Lewis, head coach Terry Murray would often remark that he hoped that, some day, Lewis’ hands would catch up to his feet.
Although the book is still out on when or if that will ever happen, Lewis did improve last season from being a healthy scratch to a guy the team depended on, especially in defensive situations, and on the penalty-kill.
Heading into the new season, Lewis hopes to continue right where he left off.
“[He intends to] stick to the same plan, but, with a little more confidence, maybe produce a little bit more, showing more of my offensive side,” said Lewis. “When you’re confident out there, you’re going to play more with the puck, and do more with it.”
“It’s a big thing for me, coming back this year, knowing I can play here [with the Kings at the National Hockey League level], knowing that I should be here,” added Lewis. “Hopefully, that translates onto the ice. It’s one less stress, but we’ve got a lot of good talent here, so it’s good to really push yourself in these camps, and make sure you’re ready to go for the start of the season.”
“It feels great to get back out there, and start competing again. I played a lot of summer hockey, but it’s good to feel someone on your back, and stuff like that. It’s been pretty fast-paced, so it’s fun.”
Lewis spent the summer at home in Utah.
“I was in Salt Lake City for most of it, back home, visiting family and friends, and working out there,” he said. “I’ve been out here for about a month or so, training and getting ready to go.”
But now, as stated earlier, Lewis is looking to add some offense to his repertoire at the NHL level.
“[He still needs to work on his] consistency, but everything, really,” Lewis noted. “And, like I said earlier, producing more, showing a little more of my offensive game.”
“[He also needs to] be a little stronger,” Lewis added. “Again, it goes back to the confidence thing there. Just playing hard on someone, knowing that you should be here, and that you should be doing these things.”
This season, the Kings appear to have a glut at the center position, and it is all but a foregone conclusion that Lewis, a natural center, will play on right wing this season. But that will not faze him one bit.
“I’ve played everywhere,” he said. “I’ve played a little bit more at center, bit I’m pretty comfortable on the wing.”
“It doesn’t really matter where I play. Whatever works, works. I’m ready to play anywhere.”
Citius, Altius, Fortius
In case you don’t recognize the Latin phrase above, Citius, Altius, Fortius, which means, Faster, Higher, Stronger, is the Olympic Motto.
But in the case of the Kings, one might also apply it to left wing Dustin Penner, who is noticeably faster and stronger after a summer dedicated to rather grueling workouts.
As for the “higher” portion of the motto, try standing next to him one day. You’ll instantly know how “higher” applies to him.
After three days of watching him during training camp drills, it is obvious that the hard work during the summer has paid off, as Penner is faster and quicker than at any point last season…maybe even in his NHL career.
“I can feel it out there,” said Penner. “My cruising speed is a lot faster than it used to be. It’s getting into open ice quicker, and creating separation.”
“The biggest thing for me, and for most big guys, is that you often look slower than you’re actually going, and that translates to the [opposing] defenseman as well,” added Penner. “When you create that separation, you’ve already got a high-end cruising speed. Your moves become more effective, because your first move—the [defenseman is more likely] to bite on it, or respect it.”
“You can have the best hands in the world, but if you don’t have any speed, you’re literally stick handling in a phone booth…because you’ll stay there.”
With the speed and quickness already on display, now he has to work to be able to maintain it over a longer period.
“I’m just working on my endurance, and that’s what training camp helps with,” he explained. “The fact that I’m able to push from the bottom of my stride to the end helps me work harder and stronger. I think it’s going to pay off.”
Although Penner will never become one of the fastest players in the NHL, with the considerable increase in speed and quickness, what kind of offensive output, namely goals, should be expected from him this season?
In jest, I asked, “Forty goals? Fifty?”
Penner, who frequently turns scrum interviews with the media into his own, personal stand-up comedy theatre, decided on a more subtle approach to humor this time around.
“You’ll have to talk to Kopi,” he said with a laugh.
Richard Clune: Food Critic
Richard Clune is a 24-year-old left wing prospect who is more than a long shot to make the Kings’ 2011-12 roster. Indeed, as a 5-10, 199-pound checking forward who is known far more for using his fists than for having soft hands that can put the puck in the net, he is a virtual lock to spend another season with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League in 2011-12.
Although he has a burning desire to make it to the NHL, Clune is definitely not the type to be deterred or discouraged.
“I don’t give a [expletive deleted], the odds are against me,” said Clune. “Bring it on. I don’t care. I’m not going to quit and go to Europe. This is what you play for, right?”
Clune’s mention of not leaving the Kings organization to play in Europe, where he could earn more money, was some not-so-thinly-veiled criticism aimed directly at Kings forward prospects Corey Elkins, Bud Holloway, Oscar Moller and John Zeiler, who all bolted for Europe this summer.
“Those guys are all my friends, but, that said, when you sign a contract, you live up to it,” Clune emphasized. “I’m here to see it out. I want to make this team just as bad as anybody else. I’ll go through a wall for anybody here. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
“I love this team, and I owe a lot to the management and coaching staff for giving me my shot two years ago, and I think I’ve come a long way as a player, on the ice and off the ice,” Clune added. “I just leave it all out on the ice. I think I’m definitely better than I was when I played here [two seasons ago]. That said, the team is a lot better [now], too. But I’ve got nothing to lose. I know what it’s like to be cut, I know what it’s like to make the team.”
With the addition of forwards Mike Richards and Simon Gagne over the summer, the Kings are expected to contend for the Western Conference title, and push deeper into the playoffs than their first round exits the last two seasons.
Those expectations are not lost on those who are not expected to make the team.
“The feeling here is that you want to do anything you can to push this team in the right direction,” said Clune. “You want to go through a wall to make this team. You can tell this team is going to go somewhere this year.”
“There’s not a lot of guys in here who are going to win the scoring title,” added Clune. “Maybe [star center Anze] Kopitar. But everyone else is going to be judged based on the team’s success, and they’re going to be able to live their lives as champions, hopefully.”
“I’d rather be on a team that’s got 23 guys looking to be champions than have a couple of guys trying to win the scoring title.”
But anything can happen, and Clune will be ready, just in case.
“I think everyone here knows what they want, and what they have to do, from the draft picks to the guys who are going to play,” he said. “For a guy like me, it’s kind of like being a Navy SEAL. You never know when you’re going to get thrown into action, right?”
“In a perfect world, I make this team, and I start on opening day, maybe kick the [expletive deleted] out of someone, score a goal,” he added. “But I’m just here to be ready, and show the organization what I can bring, and I think I can make an impact in this league. I’m going to try and show that.”
“I’m just going to lay it all out on the ice. [After that], it’s in God’s hands.”
Clune also had one other thing to say about why he will not to go to Europe…
“I don’t think I’d like the food over there, anyway,” he quipped.
In Other News…
On September 19, the Kings signed right wing enforcer Kevin Westgarth to a two-year contract extension reported to be worth $1.45 million. Westgarth will earn $700,000 in 2012-13, and $750,000 in 2013-14, for a salary cap hit of $725,000 per season.
“I’m ecstatic to extend my time here in Los Angeles,” said Westgarth. “It’s an extremely special group of people who I think are going to do some special things in the next couple of years. It’s fantastic to be a part of that.”
The Kings also announced their lineups for both split-squad exhibition games on Wednesday, September 21.
Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes (at Glendale, Arizona, 7:00 PM PDT)
Coyotes vs Kings (Staples Center, 7:30 PM PDT)
Raw audio interviews from Day 3 of the Kings 2011 Training Camp
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Trevor Lewis (3:12)
Jack Johnson (2:30)
Kevin Westgarth (2:41)
Ethan Moreau (1:29)
Dustin Penner (1:44)
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