EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since he was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round (84th overall) of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, many have kept an anxious eye on defenseman prospect Nicolas Deslauriers, because he had the size, strength, skating ability, and more—he already looked like he had many of the necessary attributes—maybe even the complete package—of the prototypical NHL-caliber defenseman.
But the 22-year-old, 6-1, 214-pound native of LaSalle, Quebec had one hitch in his game: defensive zone play was a rather foreign concept to him, but that was not necessarily his fault. After all, he played his major junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which has a reputation for run-and-gun, fire wagon hockey, with little defense.
“I’ve seen other gifted skaters who have come out of the Quebec league who just [seem] to have the license to take off [with the puck],” said Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris.
Indeed, and Deslauriers was no different, putting him at a disadvantage as he moved up to the professional level.
“The last three years in the ‘Q,’ I was basically the running back—carrying the puck,” said Deslauriers. “[Professional hockey] is a totally new game, with way better players. I just need to focus on defense.”
Although plus/minus can be the most deceiving statistic in hockey, the fact that Deslauriers was a -14 in each of the last two seasons with the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) must be considered to be at least some indication of the fact that his defensive game still needs a lot of work. But to his credit, Deslauriers appears to be well aware of that fact.
“I think he’s starting to realize the importance of detail in his game,” said Morris. “One step in the wrong direction against guys at this level is going to cost you.”
“Nic might be one of the best athletes we have,” added Morris. “He’s physically strong, he’ll drop the mitts, he’ll pick up the puck [deep] in his own end, he’s an excellent rusher of the puck. But it’s recognizing when to distribute it, and realizing that most really gifted defensemen are guys who are able to get that puck to the right areas at the right time, make that great, first pass, and then, from there, to follow up the play at a safe distance so that you can jump into those holes.”
“Once he learns that, he’ll be able to utilize that great release that he has. He has a bomb [for a point shot]. He scored some goals for us on the power play in the past. I expect that this year, we’re going to try to get him to tighten up his coverages, and to recognize situations.”
Of course, it would be foolish to constantly yank on the reins of a race horse. The idea is to know when to let loose the reins.
“If you can make those guys a little bit more responsible in recognizing when to go, when to cut your losses, and be a little bit more patient, then I think you’re going to start to see [Deslauriers’] value rise,” Morris noted. “He should see a lot of quality ice time this year for us [in Manchester]. We’ll continue to reinforce all the little aspects of the game that are going to make him an NHL defenseman some day.”
Deslauriers indicated that he will be concentrating on his defensive zone play this season.
“My defensive play—that’s my main focus this year,” he stressed. “I want to have a great year, defensively. Points will come when they come. I just want to be focused on defense, and have a great year.”
“Offensively, I don’t think I have to touch that [part of my game],” he added. “If it comes, it comes. Defensively—that’s the main point I have to change this year. I was used to rushing the puck a lot. Last year, [I did that less]. I’ve talked a lot with Mike O’Connell [who handles pro development and special projects for the Kings], and he’s given me some pointers.”
Going up against NHL-caliber talent in training camp has helped Deslauriers see how much he has improved, as well as how much work he still has ahead of him.
“You can see how skilled the NHL guys are,” he noted. “They see everything, so you’ve got to pick up your defensive game.”
To that end, Deslauriers has been in Southern California since the first week of August, training and working on his game at the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, California.
“I got here earlier this year—it’s been five weeks already,” said Deslauriers. “Just being around the boys, and with the older guys, that made me stronger, too.”
“I think my game has doubled up [in terms of progress and development from one year ago],” added Deslauriers. “I think my confidence [has grown]. I’m acting almost like a veteran here, and in the Rookie Camp. Overall, I feel way better than all the other years [in Kings’ rookie and training camps]. I’m in better shape. I spent a lot of time in the gym, just trying to improve.”
Kings coaches have taken notice of Deslauriers’ improvement, but they also stressed that he has a lot of work still ahead of him.
“I think he’s keen to learn,” said Morris. “He made some great strides last year, and I think he’ll continue to progress.”
“Deslauriers is making progress,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “He’s a little bit older, but [he’s] a defenseman—takes a little longer.”
Frozen Royalty’s Nicolas Deslauriers Coverage
- LA Kings Defenseman Prospect Nicolas Deslauriers Is Still Playing Catch Up In Defensive Zone
- LA Kings Blue Line Prospect Nicolas Deslauriers Wants To Dominate The AHL in 2012-13
- Down On The Farm With LA Kings Blue Line Prospects Deslauriers, Hickey and Muzzin
- Showing Signs Of Progress: LA Kings Blue Line Prospects Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Forbort, And Kevin Gravel
Raw Audio Interviews With Manchester Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris
(2:32; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.