LOS ANGELES — Just as the Los Angeles Kings were closing up shop on their 2013 Training Camp, and as the 2013-14 season was about to get underway, they acquired a new, young left wing prospect—a power forward with a scoring touch.
That player just might have a chance to become a top six forward for the Kings somewhere down the road. But the best part is that they did not have to give up anything to get him.
The reason: the player in question is none other than Nicolas Deslauriers, who was selected by the Kings in the third round (84th overall) in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
The 22-year-old, 6-1, 230-pound native of Ville LaSalle, Quebec is a natural defenseman who played for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, before he began his professional career with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, in 2011-12.
Deslauriers played exclusively as a defenseman during the Kings’ recent training camp, and in pre-season games. But once he arrived in Manchester for their training camp, there was a problem.
“We had to do it out of necessity,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “As soon as we spoke to Nic, we tried to sell it—we were short on forwards. We had plenty of defensemen who came to Manchester’s training camp from the ECHL, and we were at a shortage [up front], so we asked him if he minded playing [left wing] for a couple of exhibition games.”
Deslauriers did just that in a pre-season game against the Portland Pirates on September 28, and did not look out of place one bit. In fact, he was so good, he scored four goals.
“It was kind of fun,” said Deslauriers. “I was playing with [center Jordan] Weal, and [right wing Scott] Sabourin, two guys who helped me a lot in that game. I have to give credit to all my teammates. They were setting me up for everything. I just buried almost every one of my shots.”
“I got lucky,” added Deslauriers. “I don’t think that’s going to happen again, but that game set me up for being a forward for a couple more games. It was a lucky four goals, I think.”
As the saying goes in the hockey, you make you own luck. In any case, it was certainly a memorable night.
“My first one, on the second shift, Weal just gave me the puck, and I had a short breakaway,” he recalled. “I just shot it top shelf. The second one was more of a battle in front of the net, and I just tapped it in. The third one was on the power play, just a shot from the blue line, and the last one was on my own rebound.”
“They were like almost all the goals that I score in practice but never happen in games,” he added, chuckling. “They all happened in one game. I saw a lot of ice time, and it was fun. All the boys were laughing about it, since I was playing my first game up front.”
Actually, it was not his first game as a forward.
“We had him up there last season, and then, after one of the exhibition games, [Kings Special Assistant to the General Manager] Jack Ferreira said to me, ‘you’ve got to make that Deslauriers a left wing.’”
I said, ‘can I do that?’ We had to do it out of necessity last year, and again [in pre-season games this year],” said Morris. “He went right out and scored four goals, so we told him that this isn’t a permanent move, but if you like it, we’re short in that position. We don’t have many power forwards on the wing position, so if you could ever fill that role, that would be a real bonus for us. He was good with that, and it all worked out.”
Deslauriers indicated that he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.
“There weren’t a lot of forwards in [the Monarchs’ training camp], so [Morris] tried me out there, and asked me what I thought about it,” said Deslauriers. “I told him that whatever the team needs, I’ll pitch in.”
“I’ve been playing well,” added Deslauriers. “But it’s not my position. I still play [as a defenseman] on the power play, and I play four-on-four on defense, as well.”
Indeed, Deslauriers has played on left wing in all four of Manchester’s games so far this season. But when the Monarchs have the man advantage, as he stated, he goes back to his natural position.
“We weren’t going to take away any power play time from him, because he’s pretty effective from the blue line,” Morris noted. “He’s got a good shot, and he likes playing his off side. He works well with the guys on the half boards, and he can distribute the puck from up top.”
Although Deslauriers has not recorded a point in four games this season, Morris has liked what he has seen from him on left wing, and he has encouraged Deslauriers to push forward.
“Like Mark told me, he said, ‘you’ve got a lot of speed, size, and you’re probably one of the only guys on our team who could try to hit somebody on every shift,’” Deslauriers noted. “He told me to try to focus on that, and good things will happen.”
Morris also indicated that making the move a permanent thing is something Deslauriers might want to seriously consider.
“If he continues to play the way he has—he’s a great athlete,” Morris noted. “He can skate, he can hit, he can fight, he can score. It may be a position where he can freelance a little more, and really utilize his skills.”
Freelancing is something that comes from Deslauriers’ time in the QMJHL, where, as a defenseman, he often carried the puck end-to-end in a run-and-gun league that is not known for defense.
“When you’re a defenseman, a lot of times, your role is to support the play, have a good defensive line, and make sure you’re cleaning things up in your own zone, Morris explained. “Knowing Nic, that kind of goes against his personality. He’s a guy who likes to really take off with the puck. One of the hardest things we had to teach him when he played defense is to stay home. He liked to take off with the puck, and try to take it coast to coast.”
“Now, in a wing position, what we’ve realized is he takes pucks off the wall as well as anybody we have,” Morris elaborated. “It’s natural for him to play along the wall, he makes great decisions on breakouts, and he’s very dependable in that area, from the top of the circle to the blue line, along the wall. That’s a gift. When you can play that, that’s where good wingers really earn their keep.”
Deslauriers has noticed the difference between the two positions.
“There’s more freedom for me to skate around, and try to bang bodies everywhere,” he indicated.
As a winger, Deslauriers is also holding his own on the defensive side of the puck.
“He’s quick to close on guys, whether he’s forechecking in the offensive end, or [backchecking through] the neutral zone,” said Morris. “Because he’s such a great skater, he catches a lot of guys on the backcheck, and with his physicality, he’s intimidating to play against.”
Nevertheless, Deslauriers is, of course, still rather inexperienced as a forward, and that shows up mostly on the defensive side of the puck.
“Defensively, he’s still learning the nuances of how to shut off the top, and to protect the back side in the defensive zone when he’s the weak side forward,” said Morris. “But those are little corrections he’ll pick up as he plays more in that position.”
Defensive play has been Deslauriers’ Achilles Heel, since coming out of the run-and-gun QMJHL, but he’s working on it.
“I still have to learn the system [from a forward’s perspective] a little bit more, but I’m just putting my head down, and working as hard as I can,” he noted. “I still have to focus on my defensive game, even if I’m playing as a forward. To play in the NHL, you have to be good defensively to get the call. That goes for every position.”
But overall, Deslauriers’ play up front has been positive.
“He looks pretty comfortable,” Morris observed. “He can make plays, he can pass. When he’s played with Jordan Weal, he’s in position to catch the puck, and he’s in full flight. He’s getting through layers of the defense, and he’s not afraid to get in on the forecheck, and finish checks.”
After just four regular season games on left wing this season, not surprisingly, Deslauriers remains rather unsure about the move.
“It’s kind of hard,” he said. “It’s the last year of my contract, I was drafted as a defenseman, so I don’t know what’s going on, but my team has given me a lot of credit. They’ve said that I’m playing great on the wing, and helping the team a lot.”
“Every day, I basically don’t know where I’m going,” he added. “But I’ve been practicing on the top line this week, so we’ll see what happens. I know we have a pretty good first line, with [right wing Tyler Toffoli], [left wing Tanner Pearson], and [center Linden Vey]. But the last game, I don’t know what Mark saw. He put me on the left wing in Pearson’s place. We’ll see if that’s going to keep until the next game on Friday.”
Despite his uncertainty, Deslauriers is considering the switch.
“I’m adapting to this position now, and I’m not going to complain when I’m playing on the top two lines up front,” said Deslauriers. “But I need to talk with Mark again to see what the plan is for the year. We’re already four games in.”
“I need to talk a little bit more with the staff,” added Deslauriers. “What’s better for me, and for this organization? The AHL is a good thing, but you don’t want to stay there. You want to play in the NHL, and if it’s up front, I’ll be happy to do that. If it’s as a defenseman, I haven’t lost anything there. I’ve been there for awhile. Whatever is better for me to take the big step, I’ll do it. Whatever the team needs, I’ll just buy in. If the team is playing well and winning, it doesn’t matter where I play.”
Should Deslauriers embrace the move to left wing—it appears that he is doing just that—his versatility could increase his value, and give him a greater chance to make the move to the NHL.
“The good part is that when you have guys who are able to play more than one position, if you have a defenseman go down, and that’s his natural position anyway, he has a real good feel for what our systems are, and he’s played there for a couple of years now,” said Morris. “This just gives him another weapon in his arsenal, to be able to play forward, or play defense, and fill holes when we need him. At the American league level, things are constantly changing.”
Morris then pointed to one such player who has already made that move successfully, as an example.
“There’s guy in San Jose who’s doing a pretty good job of it.” Morris noted, referring to San Jose Sharks forward Brent Burns, who moved from defenseman to right wing last season, and has been a huge asset for the Sharks up front.
Deslauriers pointed to another such player.
“If I had to compare myself to a player, it would be Dustin Byfuglien, because he played up front with Chicago, and won a Stanley Cup. But now, [with Atlanta, which moved to Winnipeg], he’s now a defenseman, and he’s pretty good, too.”
Morris stressed that players who can change positions like that have to be very athletic.
“Those guys who can [make the switch] are just great athletes,” Morris noted. “If you watch Nic, whether he’s kicking a soccer ball, or any other athletic move, he’s highly coordinated, and he adapts really well.”
“When we watch our guys do things, other than play hockey, it’s amazing how many guys are lost outside of this sport,” Morris added. “We’re talking running, throwing—some guys are just one-dimensional. That’s all they’ve ever known, but it’s pretty apparent that Nic knows how to be an athlete.”
This weekend, the Monarchs play at Hartford on October 18, and then they host Providence and Wilkes-Barre Scranton on October 19 and 20, respectively.
Deslauriers is expected to play on left wing in all three games.
“I didn’t know why [I was being moved to left wing] at the beginning, but if they think I’m helping the team by doing this, I’ll do everything for the team,” he emphasized. “If I can help the team get more points towards making the playoffs, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“It’s my third year of professional hockey,” he added. “It’s time to make a big step forward, and look at my options. I love L.A. They have a great team, but we’ll see what happens with moving up to forward. That could make a space for me in the NHL. We’ll see.”
Frozen Royalty’s Nicolas Deslauriers Coverage
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