Scott Sabourin Struggled “Big Time” After Great Training Camp With LA Kings

Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Scott Sabourin, shown here with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
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Photo: Steve Babineau/Manchester Monarchs
LOS ANGELES — As reported on November 13, Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Scott Sabourin made quite the impression on the Kings’ brain trust with his strong, surprising performance during rookie camp and training camp last September.

Sabourin was invited to the Kings’ training camp on a tryout basis after being signed to an American Hockey League deal by the Manchester Monarchs (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, and for all intents and purposes, he came out of nowhere, almost literally.

Indeed, Sabourin’s journey through two seasons in Tier I Junior A hockey, before playing three seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, was not the usual road most Canadian players take to try to make it to the National Hockey League. Nevertheless, he made the best of his situation, and made a strong impression on the Kings during rookie camp and training camp last September. But that did not mean he would lock up a spot on the big club’s roster, and, as expected, he was assigned to the Monarchs on September 21, 2013.

Despite that, the 21-year-old, 6-3, 203-pound native of Orleans, Ontario wowed the right people enough times and he was rewarded with a three-year, entry-level contract with the Kings on October 7, 2013.

Sabourin is now playing in his first full season in the AHL, and through eleven games, he has scored a goal, and has contributed an assist. He has a -3 plus/minus rating, to go along with 23 penalty minutes.

Although Sabourin’s numbers are not out of line with what one might expect from a checking forward, they do not tell the whole story. Indeed, like so many young prospects just starting their professional careers, the adjustment from major junior hockey in Canada to the professional ranks has been challenging for him.

“He came back from [the Kings’ training] camp, and I guess, since he played so well in camp, we were hoping that the same level of focus would unfold here in Manchester,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “But he really struggled, big time, when he first got here. I think the letdown from camp was pretty drastic, so he sat out some games.”

Four games, to be exact.

“We were hoping to see that same focus, but there was some drop off,” Morris lamented. “He’s still learning how to play his position effectively, and play smart at critical times—making sure pucks get in and get out, not overextending his shifts.”

“Those are things we see from a lot of guys that come up from lower levels,” Morris added. “They want to get all the ice time all at once. But you’ve got to pack a lot into short, hard shifts. You just can’t be out there for too long, because you end up getting hemmed into your own zone for a lot of time when you don’t have much left in the tank. We’re trying to get him to realize that, and not overextend his shifts.”

Sabourin knew he was not going to make the Kings’ roster this season. Despite that, it has taken too long for him to look away from the glitz and glare of the bright lights of Los Angeles, so to speak.

“That definitely played into coming back here to Manchester,” said Sabourin. “I thought that if I had it figured out there, I should have it figured out down here, but that’s not necessarily the case. [The AHL is] a totally different league—it’s still a great league.”

“It’s definitely a tough league, and I think I took it for granted when I came in,” added Sabourin. “It’s a good league, and it takes some adapting, but the last five games, I think I’ve been coming into my own. I’ve been playing well, and I’ve been getting more ice time.”

“It’s a big step, and there’s always some adjusting when you get into a new league. I had to get my bearings, but I think things are coming along now.”

Sabourin indicated that he is starting to feel better and more confident on the ice.

“It’s just getting my confidence back with the puck, and making the right plays,” he noted. “[Early on], I was a little hesitant, a bit panicky with the puck. The last few games, I’ve felt comfortable, just getting onto a steady line. The first few games, I was in and out of the lineup, and that plays into your confidence. It’s hard to get on track when it’s hard to get into a rhythm. But the last few games have been good for me.”

“Every game, I feel like I’m getting a little bit better, and a little bit more comfortable with the puck,” he added. “More chances seem to be coming to me, and the puck seems to be finding me, so I think it’s only a matter of time until I start doing well here.”

Morris said that Sabourin is starting to make the necessary adjustments.

“Little by little, he’s earning some ice, and doing a few of the things that he had done in camp,” said Morris. “I think that just learning the nuances of his position, and learning how to play with and without the puck is starting to sink in. But he’s still got a long way to go.”

Morris does not appear to be overly concerned about Sabourin’s slow start.

“It’s typical,” said Morris. “When you see flashes, like we did in camp, and the odd flash here and there since he’s been in Manchester, you know it’s in there. Now it’s just a matter of him figuring things out and getting stronger.”

Despite the tough sledding, Sabourin appears to have a good perspective on the task at hand.

“At the pro level, it’s a business,” he noted. “You’re here to work every day. You’ve got to put your hours in, and you’ve got to work hard. Everyone’s competing for a job, for a contract, and to move up the totem pole, per se, so it’s definitely bigger, faster, stronger. Mentally, the plays are just a little quicker. Everything is just a little faster. It’s definitely a tough league. It’s really good hockey.”

During the Kings Rookie Tournament and in pre-season games a couple of months ago, Sabourin showed that he could duke it out with the opposition’s tough guys, and he is not shying away from the rough stuff in the AHL.

“He’s earning a lot of respect around the league,” said Morris. “He’s had a couple of scraps. People are starting to understand that he’s a guy who can hold his own.”

“I guess it comes with my physical play,” Sabourin explained. “I like to get in on the forecheck, get my body in there, and with that, comes confrontation. I’m not going to shy away from that stuff. If a teammate’s in trouble, I’m going to stick up for them. I just want to be a good team guy. With that comes confrontation, and a fight every now and then.”

As for the parts of his game that need the most work, again, like so many young prospects, Sabourin pointed to his skating and defensive play.

“Everything can better,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect hockey player, so I’m going to say my skating, first off, but everything else can improve. Defensively, I’ve got to tighten that up. That’s a huge thing for the Kings, the defense first mentality.”

Morris indicated that Sabourin’s skills are apparent, despite the fact that he is in a checking role.

“He may not look like a guy with the most orthodox style,” Morris noted. “But he can score the odd goal. He’s got good hands for a big guy, and with added work on his core strength, and a lot of work on his skating, his puck skills are going to help him to turn some heads, as he develops more leg strength, and works on his balance.”

Morris also said that Sabourin might have the potential to earn a top six spot on his team—not necessary at the NHL level, mind you.

“I think he can play some of the top lines, eventually,” said Morris. “Right now, he’s on the fourth line, and he’s going to relish any ice that he does see. But we put him in front of the net on the second unit on the power play up in St. John’s. He dug some pucks out, and he scored a goal last weekend.”

“When he’s skating, and when he’s getting in on the forecheck, that’s when he’s at his best—when he’s using his size, his reach, and his strength to get in there, and knock people off the puck,” added Morris. “Then, he has the skill to come off that check and re-establish his positioning to be a part of the next play.”

On the ice, Sabourin spends much of his time with line mates Rob Czarnik and Hunter Bishop or Maxim Kitsyn (Czarnik and Kitsyn are Kings prospects). But off the ice is a little different.

“I’m living with [defenseman] Derek Forbort and [center] Nick Shore (both are Kings prospects),” said Sabourin. “They’re great guys, and all the rest of the guys aren’t far from us, either, so it’s been fun.”

Major junior hockey players in Canada live with a billet family, or their own family, so they mostly get to focus on hockey—no laundry, cooking, little cleaning. But once they go pro, all that changes.

“Obviously, it’s a little different,” Sabourin noted. “You don’t get your billet’s meals, or adults doing your laundry. But we’ve been managing so far. We haven’t starved. Things are going OK.”

From that comment, you might guess that cooking isn’t exactly Sabourin’s forte.

“I can [cook] when I apply myself,” he said, chuckling. “Every now and then, laziness kicks in after a long day, but I can make myself a meal when I have to.”

Making a meal is one thing. But does he have any dishes that he is good at preparing?

“I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten to that point, yet,” he said. “I’m still experimenting.”

Makes you wonder what Forbort and Shore do, or where they go, for that matter, when Sabourin is cooking.

Frozen Royalty’s Scott Sabourin Coverage

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