EL SEGUNDO, CA — Back in June 2010, when the Los Angeles Kings used their first round pick (15th overall) to select defenseman Derek Forbort of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program, they knew they were going to get a prospect who was a “project.”
“He’s clearly raw,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said about selecting Forbort in the 2010 draft. “He’s young. But when you get a defenseman with that size, that range, there’s a lot of upside. We really like where he’s going to be.”
Where Forbort ended up was in college, playing three seasons for the University of North Dakota (UND), one of the top college hockey programs.
Forbort ended his time at UND this past season, earning his best numbers with the Fighting Sioux, scoring four goals and contributing 13 assists for 17 points with 22 penalty minutes in 42 regular season games.
After completing the 2012-13 season, the 6-5, 207-pound native of Duluth, Minnesota left UND for points east, playing in six games with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) at the end of the regular season, recording one assist, and earning a +5 plus/minus rating.
The 21-year-old also played in four playoff games with the Monarchs, but did not record a point.
Forbort is in the Los Angeles area with the vast majority of the Kings prospects at the team’s annual Development Camp this week.
Although this summer’s Development Camp was not Forbort’s first, it was the first one in which he was noticed for something other than his height.
What was immediately apparent was that Forbort has added some muscle to his frame—he is nine pounds heavier than when he was drafted. Perhaps just as important for such a young player is that he showed greater maturity and confidence, as well.
Indeed, Forbort looks more sure of himself on the ice, but that also seems to carry over to how he handles himself off the ice. In fact, until this summer, what was so very noticeable about Forbort to many in the local media was that he said as little as possible during most interviews. In some cases, trying to get him to say anything was like pulling teeth.
But this summer, that has completely changed, as Forbort appeared to be at ease with the media, and was rather forthcoming during the media scrum interview with him on July 10, which began with him being asked about his jump to the AHL near the end of the season.
“[Moving up to the AHL level] was good,” said Forbort. “We made a little run there, to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, we lost three games in overtime. But I thought I played well, and I was happy with my transition to the AHL.”
Former Kings right wing Nelson Emerson, who oversees player development for the team, indicated that Forbort’s quick transition should be a boon to his development.
“He’s a college player who played in North Dakota for a few years since we drafted him,” said Emerson. “The big asset and positive thing that we had was the fact that he came out of school, and he was able to go to Manchester and play games [right away].”
“What a great experience for him, and he adjusted very well down there,” added Emerson. “His game was physical, and he played in the playoffs, so what a great learning experience for him.”
Emerson also pointed to the fact that Forbort was one of the Kings prospects who was invited to join the team during their 2013 playoff run—one of their “Black Aces.”
“With him coming in here for Development Camp, and he was a Black Ace with us, coming into training camp, he has an advantage,” Emerson noted. “He’s seen the players, he’s seen some of the systems we use, so it’ll help him a lot.”
Once he joined the Monarchs, it did not take long for Forbort to notice the difference between the AHL and college hockey.
“All the players were a lot smarter,” he said. “I don’t think the game was that much faster, but you had to make more plays—that’s what everyone was looking to do. There’s a lot more playmaking.”
“[Another difference was] how professional everyone is, on and off the ice,” he added. “There’s no one looking after you, kind of like there is in college. But I enjoyed it. I liked it a lot, so I’m happy with the move.”
Forbort also noted the added physical demands of the number of games played at the professional level.
“In college, you play two games a week, and then you get a whole week off,” Forbort noted. “At the pro level, you’ve got three games a week. That took a lot of time getting used to, especially in that playoff run. There were a lot of games in a short period of time. But I think I adjusted pretty well. I’ve just got to work on my conditioning for that next year.”
Next year and beyond is exactly what Development Camp is for, and the Kings have a laundry list they want Forbort to focus on.
“[They just want me to] play my game,” said Forbort. “Playing physical, moving pucks, and being consistent whenever I’m on the ice.”
Emerson was a bit more detailed.
“Stick skills,” Emerson emphasized. “He’s going to need to be able to make the first pass, he has to make plays out of his own end, and make plays under pressure when he’s being forechecked.”
“If you’re going to be an L.A. King, our defensemen close fast, they’re heavy, and they play hard,” Emerson added. “But they all make plays, too. He’s going to have to do all this, be able to make that first pass, and make plays in traffic, as well.”
Forbort also appears to have improved his skating considerably since he was drafted.
“He’s a good skater, and what a great tool to have,” Emerson noted. “Not many guys who are his size can skate, so what an advantage he has.”
The UND Connection
Although Forbort is expected to return to the Monarchs for the 2013-14 season, he now joins forward Matt Frattin and defenseman Matt Greene as former UND players who are part of the Kings organization.
Forbort played with Frattin during his freshman season at UND.
“I played with him in North Dakota for a year,” said Forbort. “He’s an awesome guy. [He has] one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen. I think he had 36 goals in my freshman year, but he got snubbed for the Hobey [Baker Award], though.”
“He’s a great team guy, sticks up for his teammates, and he plays really hard,” added Forbort. “I know the guys here will love him.”
Forbort has also spent a little time with Greene.
“[I only know Greene] from when I’ve been out here, getting to know him,” Forbort explained. “Sometimes, back in North Dakota, we’d talk, and do stuff together.”
“He’s been awesome. He showed me around out here, stuff like that. He’s a great guy.”
Frozen Royalty’s Derek Forbort Coverage
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