EL SEGUNDO, CA — With Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll secure in their positions as the Los Angeles Kings’ top three centers, there is no room for a highly-skilled, young center prospect on the big club’s 2013-14 roster.
But even with that knowledge, Jordan Weal, who was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft (70th overall), has turned some heads during the Kings’ recent Rookie Camp, and now, during their 2013-14 Training Camp.
Both coaches and media alike have noticed Weal’s ability to carry the puck, his shot, and his speed. But there is an underlying reason why these aspects of his game are being noticed more this time around.
“Jordan’s gotten much stronger [since last season],” said Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, who coached Weal during his first full season in professional hockey at the American Hockey League level. “The confidence with the puck on his stick is real evident to me. His strength is that he wants to possess it.”
“He’s built up his body to the point where he’s got more jump in his step, and he’s learning to distribute the puck, which is a quality that all good centers acquire when they’re ready for the next level,” added Morris. “He’s making great strides.”
Weal will need to continue to make strides in the strength department, as he is at quite the disadvantage at 5-9, 173 pounds—quite small by NHL standards. But his work in that area to this point is clearly paying dividends—he has been one of the standouts among the Kings’ prospects in training camp.
“[Training camp has] been good,” said the 21-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia. “It’s been a lot of fun, playing in the rookie games, and then, getting into my first [NHL] exhibition game (at Phoenix on September 15) was pretty cool. I thought I played hard, worked as hard as I could, and played pretty well. I’m pretty happy.”
As Morris alluded to, Weal trained hard this summer.
“It’s been a process, trying to get better every summer, and every [season],” Weal noted. “That’s what hockey is all about. If you get better every summer, that’s all you can do. You’ve got to work hard and keep playing. Hopefully, things go your way.”
“Gaining strength isn’t a one-summer thing,” Weal added. “You build your strength over five or six years. By the time you’re 24 or 25, you’re at your peak strength, and you can maintain that for the rest of your career. I think I’m making strides in that [area], and I’m making strides in [improving my] speed.”
Indeed, Weal’s added strength is only part of the equation.
“I did some skating work this summer with a skating trainer in Saskatchewan, and I think that helped my stride a lot,” he explained. “I’ve used that well in this camp. It’s really benefitted my speed.”
“The thing I worked on most was the efficiency in the stride,” he elaborated. “It really helps me get around the ice without using as much energy. If you’re more fresh by the end of your shift, you can use that speed to get around guys, something you can really use to your advantage.”
Added strength and speed should help Weal improve upon his 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points in 63 regular season games with the Monarchs last season. It should also help him in the face-off circle, where he is already their top face-off man.
“When I was 17, I really started to notice how important face-offs were, especially on power plays,” said Weal. “[Now] they’ve got that new rule where face-offs come in the zone. It’s so key to win that face-off—you can have the whole power play in the [attacking] zone.”
“That year [when he was still with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League], I got a new method of getting lower—we actually had [former NHL center] Mike Sillinger come and work with us,” added Weal. “He taught us a couple of things, and they’ve really helped. You’ve got to always work and improve because face-offs are a huge part of the game.”
Morris had high praise for Weal’s ability in the face-off circle.
“He might be one of the best face-off [men] in the organization,” said Morris. “[Kings center Jarret] Stoll is an elite guy in that area. In Manchester, we look to [Weal] to step in and take big draws because he competes his tail off when there’s loose pucks.”
Speaking of loose pucks, despite his small stature, Morris said that Weal is not afraid to get his nose dirty.
“He’s very responsible,” Morris noted. “Defensively, he’s very thorough. He’s getting better along the boards, and he’ll go into the fray. He doesn’t shy away from traffic.”
The one thing that Weal needs to continue to work on is distributing the puck, rather than holding onto to it, a habit developed during his time in Regina, where he was usually to go-to guy, the one who was going to score the big goal.
“We’ll continue to push to emphasize the puck distribution part of his game,” said Morris. “If he’s in the middle of the ice, he can be a great passer. I think that will free him up to gain speed through the neutral zone, [and utilize] his wingers at maximum effect.”
“There’s only one puck out there, and I think he realizes that he’s good at making decisions with it on his stick regarding how winds his way through the neutral zone,” added Morris. “But to take it to the next level, if he can give it up and get it back, he’ll start to penetrate defenses with more regularity.”
“That’s going to be a big step for him in advancing his game, because he’s extremely gifted around the net. He makes great moves. But as effective as he is at beating people through the neutral zone, if he can take that into the offensive end with speed, then we’re really going to see his game elevate.”
Morris also noted Weal’s work ethic and maturity.
“He’s had to play second fiddle to [Kings forward prospect] Linden Vey [Manchester’s top center last season] much of the time,” Morris indicated. “To his credit, he stays after and he works really hard to do things above and beyond what happens in practice.”
“I’m encouraged,” Morris added. “I like what I’ve been seeing.”
Encouraged? So is Weal.
“There’s been lots of encouragement [during training camp],” said Weal. “I’ve been hearing good things from the coaches, but you can’t get too high. You’ve got to stay at an even keel, and keep working. If I improve on every aspect of my game, that’s just going to make me a better player, and hopefully, give me opportunities in the future.”
Weal added that his biggest challenge, other than his physical stature, is his mental game.
“The line between the AHL and the NHL—it’s a lot of mental,” he stressed. “You’ve got to believe that you can play there. As soon as you get over that hump of being a little starstruck, you can go play your game. That’s what you’ve got to do. That’s what hockey is all about.”
“It’s something that a lot of guys have trouble with,” he added. “Hopefully, I can stay confident, and keep playing my game.”
Weal appears to be poised to take the next step in his development. As for stepping all the way up into the Kings lineup? That is not on the horizon just yet.
“Jordan trained really hard [over the summer],” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “I saw him a lot in Regina when I was in Calgary, so I’ve seen him play a lot, [but] he’s got to prove himself at the American league level.”
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Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Jordan Weal (3:55)
Mark Morris (3:31)
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