FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Frozen Royalty continues its summer coverage of the Los Angeles Kings and their young prospects with a look at defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers, who completed his rookie season in the American Hockey League in 2011-12, with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
LOS ANGELES — After three seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and one season with the Gatineau Olympiques, both in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Nicolas Deslauriers was an offensively-gifted defensemen—the QMJHL is not known for being a great defensive league, to be sure. Nevertheless, his play in the defensive zone left something to be desired.
But the 21-year-old native of LaSalle, Quebec is a good skater, and has a heavy shot from the point. Add to that the fact that he is a 6-1, 214-pound blue liner, and it is easy to see why the Los Angeles Kings gambled on him in the third round (84th overall selection) of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
“Nicolas Deslauriers is really coming on,” Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris told Frozen Royalty back in January 2012. “He’s made huge strides for us. He’s one of the guys who’s made tremendous improvement since the get-go. He’s done a great job.”
“Nick is a beautiful skater,” Morris added. “He’s got a real heavy, hard shot. He’s an extremely strong guy, he’s becoming more positionally sound, and more poised with the puck. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there—he’ll go into the fray.”
With the 2011-12 season behind him, Deslauriers participated in the Kings’ annual Development Camp for their young prospects in July 2012, where Frozen Royalty caught up with him for an exclusive interview.
Deslauriers explained that he had a hard time breaking into the Monarchs lineup at the start of the season.
“It was hard to get into the lineup at the beginning of the year, being a rookie, and with all the defensemen that we had,” he said.
Like a lot of young players coming up from junior hockey, Deslauriers struggled a bit with the added speed and quickness of the game at the American Hockey League level.
“At the beginning of the season, the guys were flying,” said Deslauriers. “I was a little surprised by it. It’s pretty quick.”
Deslauriers had little trouble holding his own, physically. But the speed and quickness, especially when he was on the ice against the opposition’s top lines, was another story, for awhile, anyway.
“I’m a pretty big guy, so I’m able to play against the tough guys,” he explained. “The size doesn’t matter for me. I can play against anybody. But playing against the top lines is pretty hard, especially in the first two games that I played. But I adjusted, and all the defenseman we had, like [Jake] Muzzin], and [Andrew] Campbell, gave me some tips.”
“At the NHL and AHL training camps, you see how good and how quick the players are,” he elaborated. “The thing that [really] changes is that the game is really fast. You have less time to think with the puck. You have to make your play quickly. But if you keep your head in the game, nothing is too hard. You just have to keep the game simple.”
There is an old saying in hockey that goes something like, “an injury just creates an opportunity for someone else,” and although it was not the way he planned on breaking into the Monarchs lineup to stay, an injury is exactly what gave Deslauriers his shot.
“When Muzzin was [out with an injury for a few weeks], that’s when I got to play a lot,” Deslauriers noted. “I grew up a lot during that part of the season, playing with [defenseman Thomas] Hickey, getting some time on the power play, putting up some points, and [playing] on the penalty-kill.”
“I got my chance, and I took [advantage of it],” Deslauriers added. “I played 45 games straight, or something like that. I wish I had brought more to the team, but for my rookie year, it was pretty satisfying.”
Last season, Deslauriers scored a goal, and tallied 13 assists for 14 points, with a -14 plus/minus rating and 67 penalty minutes in 65 regular season games. In the playoffs, he was held off the scoresheet, had a -2 rating and seven penalty minutes in four games.
As reported earlier, Deslauriers was known in the QMJHL for being an offensive defenseman. But upon his arrival at Manchester, he began to learn how to play in his own end as well.
He will need to make even bigger strides in the defensive zone this season.
“That’s my main focus, to [improve] in the defensive part of my game,” Deslauriers stressed. “At the beginning of the year, I was trying to [do] a little too much, in terms of rushing the puck. I know I can do it, but it’s not the best play every time.”
“During the season, Mark Morris and [assistant coach] Scott Pellerin (now the head coach for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers) taught me a lot, and made me a better defensive player,” Deslauriers added. “Like I said, when Muzzin got hurt, I got to play a lot on the power play, and on the penalty-kill. That helped to improve my game, defensively. I can truly consider myself a two-way player now.”
“That was one of the main points for me this season, that I don’t have to rush the puck. I have to look to see if someone’s open before trying to [move it up the ice]. It also depends on the score. A couple of times, when we were down, 2-1, midway through the third period I started to rush the puck. That was the play to do [at that point in the game]. But when the game is tight, you have to manage [the puck] better.”
Indeed, end-to-end rushes are a lot of fun to watch, and can be breathtaking—Kings defenseman Drew Doughty scoring a goal off an end-to-end rush during Game 2 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final immediately comes to mind. But such plays are rarely the smart ones to make at the professional level these days.
“Nick just has to be more consistent,” Morris noted. “For him, it’s the finer details of the game—being a little more poised to support the rush, rather than leading it. It’s typical of guys from major junior and the [other] leagues beneath us, where they have the ability to go coast-to-coast. In the pro game, things have to be a little more predictable. There aren’t many guys in the game who can get the puck, and go the length of the ice, and it’s not really what we’re after.”
“We want guys to distribute the puck, and support the rush, instead of leading it,” Morris added. “We’ve seen him do a more thorough job of getting the puck to people, backing up his passes, and jumping into the rush at the appropriate times as a secondary threat, as opposed to trying to get it and go himself.”
Although he is not known as a fighter, Deslauriers had to drop the gloves a couple of times last season, and understands that he needs to be better prepared for the rough stuff, especially if he makes it to the NHL.
“I’m not a fighter, but I got into a couple of tilts this year,” he noted, mentioning that he has to be able to stand up for his teammates.
“That has to be part of my game, with the size that I have.”
Although Muzzin’s most significant “contribution” towards helping Deslauriers last season may have been getting hurt, allowing Deslauriers to earn a spot in the lineup, it was not his only contribution.
Indeed, Deslauriers credits Muzzin, along with Campbell, for being role models, of sorts.
“It’s [their] experience,” said Deslauriers. “Jake Muzzin played a couple of games in the NHL, and you see the experience that he has [after] playing with better guys. Andrew Campbell, who has played a couple of years in the AHL, is a leader, and he brings a lot of experience. I grew up a lot [last season], but I [still have a lot to learn].”
Like most of the Kings’ prospects, Deslauriers was in Southern California during much of the Kings’ run through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It was exciting,” he said. “It’s all guys you worked with in training camp, and to see them lift the Cup—you wish you were there. You know that you’re part of the organization, and that’s fun, but you want to be part of that team.”
“It’s pride…to see them win the Cup,” he added. “You know the organization is doing [amazingly well] after all the years that they didn’t win it. There is a lot of pride in playing for this organization, even if you’re [playing for the Monarchs, and not the Kings]. It’s amazing.”
This season, Deslauriers knows his fate is sealed, in terms of where he will be playing…with the Monarchs, and not with the Kings. After all, the Kings are returning their entire roster in 2012-13, with the exception of right wing Scott Parse, who was not re-signed. On top of that, both Muzzin and Hickey are ahead of him on the depth chart, in terms of left-shot defensemen.
As such, he has resigned himself to that fate. However, that does not mean that he lacks confidence, or that he does not have lofty goals.
“I talked with [Kings assistant general manager and Monarchs general manager] Ron Hextall at the end of the year,” Deslauriers noted. “He told me I had a great year, and that I needed to do the same thing [next season].”
“I want to try to dominate [the AHL] next year,” Deslauriers added, emphatically. “I’m an offensive defenseman, but I have to play [well defensively, too].”
Perhaps the increased pride in playing for the Kings organization, now that they have won the Stanley Cup, will give Deslauriers a big push towards achieving that rather lofty goal.
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