ALSO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell is expected to be in lineup at Denver tonight to face Avalanche. Details and audio below.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — On September 15, when the Los Angeles Kings played split squad pre-season games against the Phoenix Coyotes, one at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona, and the other at Staples Center in Los Angeles, there was a moment when just about everyone at Staples Center was asking, “who’s that guy?”
Fast forward to September 17, when the Kings skated at Anaheim in their third pre-season contest of the 2013-14 season, and once again, many were asking that same question.
Indeed, “that guy” deftly split two defenders to skate in on a breakaway against the Coyotes, and “that guy” scored a nifty goal off the rush at Anaheim.
“That guy” was none other than forward prospect Scott Sabourin, a 21-year-old, 6-3, 203-pound native of Orleans, Ontario.
Even after all that, I’m sure many of your are still asking, “huh? Who’s that guy?”
Sabourin is an unknown to the vast majority who follow the Kings because he is not a Kings prospect. In fact, he was signed as a free agent by the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), not the Kings.
But Sabourin, who signed with the Monarchs very late in the 2012-13 season, is in the Kings’ 2013 Training Camp, and, as the descriptions of his play might indicate, he has been quite the surprise so far.
“What a remarkable story that is,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “[Sabourin] came to us at the end of last year, and kind of felt his way around. He didn’t shy away from any type of controversy on the ice.”
“He was one of those guys, when you look him in the eye, you know he gets it,” added Morris. “He’s a bright guy. He knows when to go in and muck it up, and when to play hockey. He’s just got a real good feel for the game, and what was evident in the first [couple] of exhibition games that he’s played in is that he’s made huge strides. He’s had some early success. I think his confidence has got to be on the rise.”
“He’s been a pleasant surprise for everybody. It’s a breathe of fresh air when you see a guy who’s rough around the edges make his presence known in a camp like this.”
Sabourin played in five regular season games for the Monarchs last season, recording one assist, with a +1 plus/minus rating, and four penalty minutes. In the AHL playoffs, he did not get on the scoresheet in three games.
“I’m still learning about him myself,” Morris indicated. “I think all the coaches are. My first snapshot of him was when he came to us. He was a real raw guy. I kind of looked at him like when I saw Kevin Westgarth for the first time—a guy who was not the prettiest skater, but he played with great enthusiasm, and I knew he could be scrappy.”
What has been surprising about Sabourin is that everyone knew that he was a physical player, and that he scored thirty goals last season with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. But no one expected to see the skating ability and skill he has shown in the Kings’ training camp.
“I never saw the offensive gifts that he has,” Morris emphasized. “He has soft hands. He can catch a pass, he can make a pass, he knows where the net is, and as we saw, it’s almost like he was swept up by a gust of wind, and blew right through two, pretty good [Phoenix] defensemen.”
“[At Anaheim], watching him lean in, and beat [goaltender Viktor] Fasth up high, short side—those are all encouraging signs that says that there’s a lot more upside to that player,” Morris added. “We’re looking forward to continued play like that, because a guy with his size, and a scoring touch, is a welcome addition to the organization. He’s certainly turned some heads.”
For his part, Sabourin is just soaking everything in during his first National Hockey League training camp.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” he said. “The tempo is a bit quicker, the guys are a bit stronger, but I think it’s been a great experience for all the younger guys, including myself. I’m just trying to take it all in here.”
“I’m glad that I got the opportunity to come here,” he added. “All the guys have been great to me, and things seem to be going well on the ice. I’m just trying to keep it simple. Make the easy passes, play my role. I’ll put pucks on net when I can, but I’m going to try to not do too much out there.”
Although Sabourin is not a highly-skilled sniper or playmaker, he appears to have abilities in several different areas.
“I like to think I can do a bit of everything,” said Sabourin. “I’m physical when I have to be, and I try to contribute offensively, when I can, and I make sure to take care of my end before going on offense. I’m just trying to establish myself here, physically, and just keep things simple.”
“I’m definitely a physical player,” added Sabourin. “I like to keep things simple—straight-line hockey. North-south. I’ll protect guys when I have to, and try to chip in offensively when I can.”
Despite a good showing so far in training camp, Sabourin knows his game still needs work.
“The development guys have been working with [me] on my skating, staying athletic out there, my board work—stuff like that, to round my game out,” he noted. “[The coaches have] been positive. They’ve been nothing [short of] great with me. They’ve helped me on the ice.”
“They haven’t said too much, but I think they like me,” he added.
Like just about all players coming out of major junior hockey in Canada, for Sabourin, the speed and quickness of the game at the NHL, and even the AHL levels, took some getting used to. But at the same time, some things are a bit easier, simply because the players are better and more experienced.
“It’s a lot more structured than at the junior level,” Sabourin noted. “Passes are a lot crisper, and everyone’s in position. It almost makes it easier because you always know where someone’s going to be.”
Although he has certainly turned some heads during training camp, Sabourin, as reported earlier, is under contract to the Monarchs, not the Kings. As such, he cannot be considered to be an NHL prospect at this time. In fact, he has a lot left to prove before he can even think about earning an entry-level NHL contract.
“We’re all about watching our guys move up the ladder,” said Morris. “That’s what we do, and the sooner it happens, the better for the organization. But at the same time, guys do have to prove that they can hold their game at a real high level for an extended period of time.”
Indeed, Sabourin has a very long way to go before his dreams of playing in the NHL might be fulfilled. But he is not letting that get him down.
“I can see myself here, one day,” he said. “Hopefully, sooner rather than later.”
Mitchell To Give Knee A Whirl
As reported by Frozen Royalty on Twitter just seconds after he said it, veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who missed last season due to two surgical procedures on his knee, said that he will be in the lineup tonight when the Kings skate at Colorado in a pre-season contest.
Willie Mitchell said that he will play on Friday at Colorado #LAKings—
Frozen Royalty (@frozenroyalty) September 19, 2013
For Mitchell, the game will be his first in nearly 15 months.
“I’m playing for sure, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Mitchell. “I’m not looking forward to the thin air, but are you kidding me? After the road [I’ve] travelled, I’d take that any day of the week, so I’m really excited to go, and to get into game action.”
Sutter will be watching Mitchell closely.
“It’s game action,” said Sutter. “He hasn’t played a game in almost 15 months. He’s had almost two weeks of practice now, and with a lot of contact. He feels good about it, so we’ll look at the game part of it, the endurance part of it, and how he can fit into game situations.”
Sutter also emphasized the importance of Mitchell being back with his teammates.
“He’ll be the first one to tell you how much fun he’s had just being back in a group setting, and not having to skate by himself, or workout by himself,” Sutter noted. “To do it in a group, and be with his teammates is—I know that feeling from being hurt. Not as long as he was, but it’s always motivating to be back with the group.”
Game action or not, Mitchell is still working to get up to speed.
“It’s the same as everyone else,” he said. “[I’m] just getting prepared, trying to work on stuff every day, and get my timing. It’s fun to be out there.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Mark Morris (3:55)
Willie Mitchell (0:39)
Frozen Royalty’s Scott Sabourin Coverage
- LA Kings RW Prospect Scott Sabourin Is Falling Short of Expectations
- RW Prospect Scott Sabourin Could Be Another Diamond In The Rough For LA Kings
- Scott Sabourin Struggled “Big Time” After Great Training Camp With LA Kings
- Scott Sabourin Took An Unusual Path To Become An NHL Prospect With LA Kings
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.