A Glimpse At The Critical Role Development Has Played In LA Kings’ Championships

Former NHL defenseman and general manager Mike O’Connell (standing) instructs LA Kings prospects during the team’s 2014 Development Camp on July 8, 2014, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
Photo: David Sheehan/FrozenRoyalty.net

2014 DEVELOPMENT CAMP: Frozen Royalty begins its coverage of the Los Angeles Kings’ 2014 Development Camp with a story on what the team is trying to accomplish during their annual camp for their young prospects and the impact their development staff has had on the team’s success. ALSO: listen to an audio interview with former Kings left wing Mike Donnelly, now on the team’s development and scouting staffs.

EL SEGUNDO, CA — The hockey world is now in what should probably be known as The Dreaded Lull, that period between the height of unrestricted free agent signings on July 1, and the start of National Hockey League training camps in mid-September, a period when it seems like everything related to the game has been sucked into a black hole.

The result: hockey fans are bored out of their minds, clamoring for any little tidbit of something hockey-related to help them survive the two-and-a-half months before training camps open.

Something that helps fans cope is that NHL teams now have development camps for their young prospects in July and August, giving fans and hockey media alike something to chew on during The Dreaded Lull, and the Los Angeles Kings are no exception.

Indeed, the Kings opened their camp on July 6, with the prospects undergoing medical exams. 24 players, including 13 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders hit the ice at the Kings’ practice facility, the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, for the first time on July 7.

15 of the players are Kings draft selections. The rest are camp invitees, hoping to make a good enough impression to be invited to the team’s rookie camp and training camp in September.

But unlike years past when there was a lot more skating, open practices and scrimmages—the Kings even invited fans to camp scrimmages in the past, selling tickets with proceeds going to the Kings Care Foundation—the focus has changed almost completely in the past few summers.

“The thing is that we’re not really doing a lot of game situation stuff,” said former Kings left wing Mike Donnelly, who works on the team’s development staff and serves as a collegiate scout. “It’s more of a teaching environment, so when I look at these kids, I’m thinking, ‘what can I do to make them better?’ So I’m looking at things differently than if there was a game situation. I’m trying to instill good habits.”

“What we’re [doing] is trying to teach them good practice habits, work ethic and introduce them to some of the things that we believe are important for young players to start practicing,” added Donnelly. “We’re trying to change some of their habits to make sure that they’re all quality, good habits. That’s our goal.”

Donnelly noted the important role the camp plays, both for the prospects, and for the organization.

“It’s very important,” he emphasized. “These five days that we have with them are crucial. We get to meet our new draft picks and get to see what type of [players they are]. As development staff, we don’t get to see them [during the season]. We haven’t seen them. This is our first time, so we get them on the ice.”

“It’s very important to spend this amount of time with them at this stage of their careers, for them and for us,” he added.

Defenseman Roland McKeown, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (50th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft on June 28, described the experience.

“You can definitely tell that you’re in an NHL development camp,” he said. “The coaching is amazing. O.C. (Mike O’Connell), Nellie (Nelson Emerson) and Mike Donnelly—they really preach. We do some martial arts stuff, and we do some dry land workouts.”

“We do a lot of watching video of the LA Kings themselves, seeing how they have won two Cups in three years,” he added. “There’s a reason for that. That’s why they’re the LA Kings. Just being able to watch that and learn from that is pretty special. That’ll make me a better player.”

Donnelly took note of the talent brought in by the Kings scouts.

“After two days [of the development camp], I’m really impressed, and I’m not surprised,” said Donnelly. “Our scouts do an excellent job, they really do. We’re very fortunate with the time they put in and the effort they put in throughout the whole year, to see the group of kids they get, year after year. We always have great kids to work with.”

Once the scouts convince President/General Manager Dean Lombardi to draft, or otherwise acquire, a young player, the development staff takes over.

“Our job is to get these kids as NHL-ready as we can,” Donnelly noted. “We know what our job is. We have an excellent staff with Mike O’Connell, Nelson Emerson and Glen Murray. We have do to whatever we can to help these kids for when they’re ready to step in and play.”

All one has to look at to see the impact of the Kings scouting and development staffs is the fact that eleven players who were drafted by the Kings, and spent time in their development system, went on to contribute at the NHL level towards two Stanley Cup Championships and making it to the conference finals in 2013.

“The reason we do it is [Tanner] Pearson, [Tyler] Toffoli, [Alec] Martinez, [Slava] Voynov, [Dwight] King,” said Donnelly. “We’re very fortunate, from the top down, that we’re able to provide a service to these kids, taking all the experiences that we’ve had in our [NHL] careers and help them avoid some of the pitfalls, bumps and peaks and valleys that we had to go through, as players.”

Players at the Kings Development Camp have taken note of the fact that so many draft picks have come up through the team’s development system to not just play at the NHL level, but to be key figures in winning championships.

“[The fact that] young guys got onto the team and helped them to win gives you some hope,” said forward prospect Valentin Zykov, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (37th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft. “Tyler Toffoli and guys like that—what they’ve done—[keep] getting better every year. [I’m going to] try to do the same thing.”

What Donnelly has described, not just about Development Camp, but the Kings’ emphasis on drafting and development, is a total sea change from the way the Kings did things for most of their 47-year history, and they have paid dearly for it. Former Kings great Dave Taylor began to change things when he was the general manager, but it was not until Lombardi joined the franchise in April 2006 that the big shift in thinking occurred, and they have never looked back.

“We’re very fortunate that everyone in the organization believes in development and how important [development] is,” Donnelly stressed. “We take our jobs very seriously and when we see our kids make it and play at high levels, like we saw in the playoffs, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t describe it.”

“We put a lot of work into this over the last eight years and it’s awesome to see the results we’ve had,” Donnelly beamed. “Two Stanley Cups and one final four appearance. It’s awesome, as a group.”

Raw Audio Interviews

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):

Mike Donnelly (6:12)

Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Off-Season LA Kings Prospects Coverage

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16 thoughts on “A Glimpse At The Critical Role Development Has Played In LA Kings’ Championships

Add yours

  1. The Kings scouting and coaching staff should be very proud of their record. Their are former Kings draft picks and players all over the NHL.

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