DEVELOPMENT CAMP COVERAGE: As the Los Angeles Kings enter Day 2 of their 2013 Development Camp, forward prospect Jordan Weal took some time to speak exclusively with Frozen Royalty about the 2012-13 season, his first full season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, and his first season at the professional level.
LOS ANGELES — Especially with a glut of players on American Hockey League rosters due to the lockout in the National Hockey League at the start of the 2012-13 season, it was not exactly inconceivable that a small forward like Los Angeles Kings center prospect Jordan Weal could have easily found himself back with his junior team, the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, for an over-age season.
Indeed, because of his small stature—Weal is 5-10 and weighs 178 pounds—it would have been easy for the Kings and Manchester Monarchs (Kings’ AHL affiliate) brain trusts to ease the roster glut by sending him back to his junior team. After all, he would be able to work on his game on a team where he would get more ice time, not to mention spending another year working on his strength and conditioning, better preparing him for the rigors of professional hockey.
But to his credit, the 21-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia made the Monarchs roster to stay, and ended up playing in 56 regular season games, scoring 15 goals and adding 18 assists for 33 points, with a +8 plus/minus rating, and 38 penalty minutes.
In four playoff games, Weal recorded two assists, with a -2 plus/minus rating, and six penalty minutes.
Despite recording respectable numbers in his first season in professional hockey after being selected by the Kings in the third round (70th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Weal had a tough time getting into the lineup early in the season, due, in large part, to the roster glut caused by the NHL lockout.
Weal indicated that watching games instead of playing in them was very difficult to deal with.
“It was a learning experience,” Weal recently told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview. “The first half of the year, we had a lot of guys here, and it was tough to get an opportunity to get into the lineup for an extended period of time. It was a real fight for ice time.”
“I didn’t get to play as much as I would’ve liked, but I learned a lot,” Weal added. “I learned that you’ve got to take the most you can out of every shift, and help the team out as much as you can during that shift.”
Once the NHL was back in action, Weal took advantage of the opportunity.
“After the lockout ended, a couple more spots opened up, and I think I had a bigger role, as the season progressed, and it’s been fun, playing more, and having a bigger part in wins, and also losses,” he noted. “It’s been a good year.”
A good year, to be sure, especially when you consider that he was in his first full season in professional hockey, one level away from the NHL. Nevertheless, he struggled for awhile with the fact that unlike in major junior hockey where he was a prolific scorer, he was just another spoke in the wheel, to coin a phrase, with the Monarchs.
“In junior, when you get older, you get to be one of the key guys on your team,” Weal explained. “But coming here for the first couple of months, it was tough. Every practice was important for you because you needed to have a good practice to get into the lineup.”
“It was a new experience, having to put that much emphasis on practice [compared to his previous experience in major junior hockey], but that also helps me, as well, because you definitely have to practice like you play,” Weal elaborated. “It forces you to work harder and get better every day.”
Things really began to click for Weal after a game at St. Johns in early January.
“In our first trip up to St. John’s, in the second game—it was the last game before the lockout [ended], I had a really good game, and I felt, ‘I can do this,’ more and more, as the season goes on, because I knew I was going to get opportunities,” Weal noted. “I got confidence from that game, and I just tried to build from there.”
The Monarchs ended up winning both games at St. John’s, on January 4 and 5, 2013. In the second game, Weal scored his second goal of the season at 3:42 of the first period, helping lead the Monarchs to a 3-2 overtime win.
“The puck was finding me, and I was playing like I knew I could play,” he said. “I was playing like I had in previous years. Once I had one of those games, I felt a lot more comfortable, and when you feel comfortable, you get confidence. When you get confidence, things come a little easier than before.”
Despite that, things could have been much easier for Weal if he had done more to make his teammates better.
“He fancies himself as a stick handler,” Monarchs head coach Mark Morris told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview. “He’s very creative. He’s unbelievable in shootouts. He has a high, high threshold for holding onto the puck.”
“From a production standpoint, he was involved in a lot of really nice goals that we’ve scored this year,” Morris added. “If he uses his line mates better, moves the puck, and jumps to holes, he’ll be even better than he has been to this point. It boils down to having a lot of those same types of guys who think the game at a high level. They’re used to having the puck on their stick, and they all want it. But there’s only one puck out there.”
For young players who were big-time scorers in major junior hockey, like Weal, the tendency to carry the puck and hold onto it for extended periods is not uncommon. But that generally doesn’t work at the professional level.
“When you’re used to having it on your stick, you don’t want to give it up,” Morris noted. “But my question is, frequently, what’s everybody else doing when you’re carrying it?”
“A big part of this game is making those around you better,” Morris added. “[Weal] can pass, he can shoot—he’s got a great shot. He’s got a great hockey mind. He works exceptionally hard studying the game. When he starts to distribute the puck more effectively and quicker, you’re going to see his numbers, and his production, improve immensely.”
Weal noted that Morris made that point with him continually over the past season.
“He talked to me about that most of the year, and I tried to incorporate that a little more,” said Weal. “I think it worked well, because our line had a lot of success.”
“If you want to get better, you want to be able to work on things like that, and incorporate them in practices first, and then, bring them into a game,” added Weal. “That’s what hockey is all about. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. The guys who are going to really excel at the professional level are the ones who are willing to make changes to their game, and always continue to get better.”
That said, Weal indicated that there are times when holding onto the puck is the right play.
“You definitely have to pick your spots to do it,” he noted. “There’s been times where I’ve been patient, and I held onto it, then I found a guy in the slot. There’s a lot of quick plays when you get to professional hockey. It’s a little different in that respect, for sure.”
Like virtually all young prospects, especially those who were big-time scorers in major junior hockey, defense is not one of Weal’s strengths, but he is working on it.
“Defense is a funny thing,” he noted. “As you get older, you get more experience, and you know where to go. In the defensive zone, it’s about positioning, and just outsmarting guys. I find that the best players in the defensive zone—they’re barely even moving around. They’re always in the right spot, and they’re always picking off passes.”
“I think it’s just getting older, and understanding the game more,” he added. “If you study the game, and learn where pucks usually find their way around the ice, you can figure out where the best spots are to be in the defensive zone.”
Weal stressed that he needs to improve, not just on defense, but in all facets of the game.
“There’s always something you can work on,” said Weal. “I have a plan every summer to focus on—where I need the most work. I’m really going to go after those things, and force myself to improve in those areas. But you’ve got to work on everything.”
“The best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, is still working on his skating, and Pavel Datsyuk is still working on his hands,” added Weal. “There’s things that you’ve got to work on, more than others, but you’ve got to improve on everything, or you’re just going to stay the same, and that’s not what you want.”
Morris had a few specific aspects of Weal’s game in mind when asked about what he needs to work on.
“For his game to hit that next level, the things he needs work on are to become a more explosive skater, work on his balance, his foot speed, and moving the puck quicker,” Morris noted.
Strength and conditioning are also on the list, even though Weal has added 16 pounds to his frame since he was drafted in 2010.
“When he gets stronger, he’s going to become a more reliable defender,” said Morris. “It’s just Mother Nature. Most of our guys could be categorized as high-end skill guys, who are still learning how to play in their own zone, how to distribute pucks. It’s exactly what you’d want to have. It’s just going to take some time for them to get bigger, stronger, thicker, and realize how to use their teammates better.”
Although Weal will be working on this strength again this summer, no one should expect him to reach his goal by the end of the summer—it doesn’t happen overnight, so to speak.
“You can’t pack on a lot of strength over one summer because it’s going to slow you down,” he explained. “It would be hard to adapt to all that weight. But I’m gaining five-to-ten pounds every summer, and that’s what I’ve got to continue to do until I find a weight that I can really work with, and would be the best for me moving forward.”
“There’s a lot of opportunities that strength is a big part of,” he elaborated. “If I can find that balance between strength, speed, and smarts, then I’ll be the best defensive player that I can be.”
Student Of The Game
Morris has been especially encouraged by Weal’s enthusiasm in studying his game, especially through the use of video.
“He’s still a young kid, but he might be one of the most serious guys on the team, when it comes down to preparing, right from how he tapes his sticks, to where he sits in the locker room, and he time he spends by himself. He’s not afraid to come in and ask for extra video so he can study his game, and get better. I wish more guys would have that same attitude.”
Weal noted that video can be a tremendous teaching and learning tool.
“I like to see how I look out there, and see things that I can work on,” he said. “Sometimes, the best teacher is watching yourself play. You can see the things you did wrong, and the things you can improve upon. Watching video for things in the defensive zone is a really big thing you can use to your advantage.”
Weal provided an example of how he uses video.
It was just a couple of things, mostly positioning.
“We were in Portland, and there were a couple of plays in the defensive zone, whether it was a face-off, or battles down low, where one my teammates, or myself, got beaten,” Weal explained. “We could’ve been in a better position. You look at stuff like that, and you talk to your coaches. They’re there to help you. They’re a resource you have to use—they’re right there, and they don’t cost you any money. They’re gladly going to do it.”
“You can ask [assistant coach] Freddy [Meyer] or Mark what they thought of the play, and where they thought you could’ve been,” Weal elaborated. “It really helps a younger player to do that.”
If Weal sounds like he is on the mature side for a 21-year-old, you would not be alone in that assessment, and the way he is handling living on his own for the first time is another indication of that.
“It’s different,” said Weal. “When you’re with your billet family [in junior hockey], you’re always getting supper cooked for you. But now, you’ve got to cook your own meals. It was definitely a little tougher at the beginning of the year, when you weren’t used to it. But now, you cook a couple of things, and you get pretty good at them.”
“It’s definitely different, but it’s nice,” added Weal. “You have a lot of freedom. You get to choose what to eat, and when you want to eat it. It’s going to be my life for the foreseeable future, living by myself, so it’s good.”
Based on earlier interviews with Kings prospects playing for the Monarchs, evidence suggests that they possess varying degrees of culinary prowess.
Where does Weal rank among them? He did not specify, but stressed that he holds his own in the kitchen.
“[My cooking is] going pretty good,” he noted. “I’ve gotten a little creative, and my parents came out a couple of times and gave me some ideas. That helps a lot.”
Weal has his own place, but a few teammates—fellow Kings prospects Andy Andreoff, Marc André Cliche, and Brian O’Neill—are close by.
“It’s good to have my own spot for when family comes in, or when I need some alone time,” said Weal. “But I’ve got the guys here, if I ever want to hang out.”
Frozen Royalty’s Jordan Weal Coverage
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