VIDEO: Includes video of May 25 media interview with Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter with bonus footage available only from FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube.
But that is what Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi thought he could be getting when he dealt center Pavol Demitra, the Kings’ best player in the 2005-06 season, to the Minnesota Wild on June 24, 2006, in exchange for center prospect Patrick O’Sullivan (now playing in Finland), who was the top prospect in the Wild organization at the time, along with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
That the Kings not only used that first round pick to select Lewis, but that they also traded to get the opportunity to select him, speaks volumes about the high expectations they had for the native of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“For us, getting Trevor Lewis is huge,” said then-Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray. “We like Trevor Lewis a lot. This is a name that not a lot of people know, but all the hockey scouts know. We’ve had several teams come up to us who would’ve picked after us in the first round, indicating they were disappointed he wasn’t [available].”
“He’s a terrific skater, he plays a two-way game,” added Murray. “I’m not going to say he’s Rod Brind’Amour, but if people want to think style, that’s the style he can play. He’s very good offensively in addition to defense.”
“The move that our new GM orchestrated helps us get a guy that we are very excited about,” said then-Kings Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting Grant Sonier. “He’s been compared to a Rod Brind’Amour-type player. We like his character and he is a top-end skater.”
In other words, the Kings had high hopes that Lewis would develop into a top six forward, a considerable offensive threat.
Fast forward almost seven years, that never materialized, and based on those expectations, one could argue that Lewis is a draft bust. But that would a very shortsighted, ill-conceived notion.
Indeed, Lewis is not the top six forward–the top goal scorer or playmaker—they were expecting when they drafted him in 2006. But all one has to do to understand his importance to the Kings is to think back to Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
During the overtime period, Lewis chased and knocked down Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis, creating a turnover in the neutral zone. That allowed center Jarret Stoll to pick up the loose puck and score the game-winning goal to eliminate the Canucks in five games.
But like many young players coming into the NHL, Lewis was good defensively at lower levels, but when he reached the professional ranks, he discovered that he had a lot to learn. He spent two full seasons with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, in 2007-08 and 2008-09, along with 23 games in 2009-10.
Lewis credits the Kings development staff, along with his time with the Monarchs, for teaching him the finer points of the professional game.
“I knew I had some things to work on, coming out of the draft, in order to be a pro,” Lewis told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview. “I knew it was going to be tough, and when I first got here, it was a big learning experience for me, just learning the pro game, to compete, and about the effort you have to put in every night.”
“The jump from junior to pro is a big jump,” Lewis added. “Playing my first year [with the Monarchs], I learned that it’s not going to come easy. You really have to work at it. It’s just the little things in the defensive zone, being hard and [strong] on your sticks, stuff like that.”
Lewis indicated the Monarchs coaches, along with the Kings development staff, also opened his eyes to how hard an NHL player must compete on the ice, night in, and night out.
“It was the compete [level], and how hard it is, every night, how tough it is, and how hard you have to work to be on the right side of pucks, little things like that,” said Lewis. “[Those were] the big things I needed to take care before I could make it, and all the guys in Manchester, and all the development guys did a good job.”
“It’s a lot of hard work, and a lot of paying attention to detail,” added Lewis. “The organization has done a great job of developing players, the guys at Manchester do a great job, and the player development guys during the summer—it’s great. You get a lot of help.”
Even after coming up to the big club to stay, Lewis still had a tough time getting into the lineup at the start of both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Some of that was due to him needing to be stronger in loose puck battles along the boards and in the corners, not to mention inconsistent play, overall.
“[Lewis was] a kid who was a high [draft] pick, and probably a little bit miscast—everybody thought he was going to be a big scorer,” head coach Darryl Sutter noted. “That happens to a lot of kids in the first round. Then, it takes some time for them to settle into that role, and most of’em have to change organizations to do it.”
“Lewis played really [well] in the American Hockey League,” Sutter added. “[He has] a really good skill set. I think I felt a little different about Trevor than other guys did, and I think it’s helped him.”
“If everybody was a great goal scorer, jeez, we’d have twelve of them. But not everybody is a great goal scorer, so [it was about] finding his role, and making him feel comfortable.”
But in 2013, Lewis is a Stanley Cup Champion, and is now a reliable fixture on the Kings’ third line. He is even chipping in offensively here and there, including career highs in goals and points during the regular season with five goals and nine assists for 14 points, with a +5 plus/minus rating and 19 penalty minutes—Lewis reached the two career highs even though the NHL played an abbreviated 48-game season this year.
Lewis’ previous career best in points came in 2010-11, when he scored three goals and tallied ten assists for 13 points in 72 games. But those numbers came at a fairly high cost—he had a -11 plus/minus rating that year.
In Game 5 of the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks on May 23, Lewis, who has not played a lot at center for the Kings during the last two seasons, played a key role in their 3-0 victory, which gave the Kings a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series, which resumes tonight (5:00 PM PDT, NBC Sports Network; TSN and RDS in Canada).
In the third period, Lewis won a face-off in the right circle, setting up a goal by defenseman Slava Voynov just 53 seconds into the period.
What makes that a rather remarkable feat was that, as stated previously, Lewis has not played many games at center over the past two years, and has not taken many face-offs. But even more remarkable is the fact that he beat one of the best in the league in the face-off circle on that draw, Sharks center Joe Thornton.
“The puck was bouncing,” Lewis explained. “I just turned around, and got it back to Slava. It was a big goal for us. Slava did a good job of getting it through, and [forward Dustin] Brown did a good job in front of the net, so it was good execution all around.”
Even though Lewis won just seven out of 16 face-offs in the game, while Thornton won twenty out of 29 draws, Lewis somehow managed to beat Big Joe.
“He was beating me quite a bit throughout the game, but you’ve just got to bear down, and I had great help from Brown and [left wing Dwight] King on the walls there, jumping in and helping me a lot,” said Lewis. “I give credit to those guys, too, helping me get as much of the puck, and his stick, as I could, taking his space away.”
Solid defense, speed, chipping occasionally on offense, are all part of Lewis’ game now. For defenseman Rob Scuderi, Lewis is a reminder of a former teammate.
“I can think of Max Talbot,” said Scuderi, who played with Talbot on the Pittsburgh Penguins 2008-09 Stanley Cup Championship team. “He was a guy who was a Jack Of All Trades for us. He played a little bit of power play, maybe not a lot. He was a great penalty-killer, and he was good on face-offs when you needed it.”
“[Talbot was] just a guy on the ice who will take care of business,” added Scuderi. “I think [Lewis is] probably our most underrated player.”
Speaking Of Face-Offs…
For the first time during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles came out ahead in the face-off circle in Game 5 against the Sharks, winning 51 percent of the draws.
Prior to that, the Kings had been dominated in the face-off circle throughout the 2013 playoffs.
“[In Game 5], we were just bearing down,” Lewis noted. “[Center Anze] Kopitar took a lot of draws, and won a lot. It’s always good to win face-offs. It means you have possession of the puck.”
Winning face-offs will be key again during Game 6.
“It starts with face-offs and puck possession, and they’ve got a good team [when it comes to] face-offs,” said center Mike Richards. “It’s a group effort. “[During Game 5], I thought we were better on face-offs, which gave us more time with the puck, and [as a result], an easier job forechecking, getting our game established. We started winning those face-offs, and getting pucks in deep.”
But in tonight’s game at HP Pavilion in San Jose, the Sharks, as the home team, have a key advantage when it comes to face-offs.
“Especially at home, you get to put your stick down last, and that helps a lot,” said Lewis. “Obviously, we miss [center] Jarret Stoll, who is suffering from a concussion, [as confirmed by Sutter on May 25].” He’s our best face-off man. He takes a lot of big draws.”
“It’s not easy beating those big, strong guys who have good hands,” Sutter noted. “There is something there about having your stick on the ice [first].”
“[During Game 5], two guys, Kopitar and Joe—that’s a lot of face-offs that they took,” Sutter added. “Even though Lewis and [center Colin] Fraser won key draws in our zone, and obviously, they’re talking about Lewis because he won one for a goal, but still, you’ve got to win some face-offs. You have to, and [Thornton is] not easy to win against. When Thornton wins face-offs, it’s extended time in your zone.”
The Kings will need to win their share of the draws in Game 6, if they expect to be able to spend more time in the San Jose zone than their own.
“It’s said a lot in the playoffs, but for our team, it’s one of the things we need to do to have success,” Richards emphasized.
“It’s not just the centermen,” said Sutter. “I think it’s the wingers—everyone’s got to help out on the draws. We’ve got to do a better job. [At the very least], if we don’t lose them cleanly, it helps us out a lot.”
“They have to bear down,” added Sutter. “As a team, and we still have guys who are really struggling, but our percentages have gone up, and that manifests itself in how much time you have the puck, and how much time you play in your own zone.”
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