Transition From College Hockey To The AHL Hasn’t Been Easy For LA Kings D Prospect Derek Forbort

LA KINGS PROSPECT WATCH: Throughout the summer, Frozen Royalty will be taking a look at several of the Los Angeles Kings’ young prospects. In this installment, the focus is on 2010 first round selection, defenseman Derek Forbort. An audio interview with Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake is also included.

LA Kings defenseman prospect Derek Forbort
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/
LOS ANGELES — As it often is for young players making the jump from major junior hockey in Canada to the professional ranks, moving from college hockey to the pros can be very challenging, if not very, very difficult.

Defenseman Derek Forbort, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (15th overall) of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, played in the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program before heading to the University of North Dakota (UND) for three seasons.

As reported in this space in July 2013, Forbort, 22, was deemed a “project” by Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi when he was drafted. But he lost that label after the 2012-13 season, when the native of Duluth, Minnesota had a strong junior season at UND, and played six games with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, to end the season.

Forbort spent the 2013-14 season, his first full season in professional hockey, with the Monarchs, scoring a goal and contributing 16 assists for 17 points, with a +19 plus/minus rating and 42 penalty minutes in 74 regular season games.

“It was fun playing in all the games and getting to know the guys,” said Forbort. “I think I played pretty well for most of the year and I think my game grew. I think it was a good development year for me.”

“I think I got off to a pretty good start,” added Forbort. “As time went on, I just had to stay focused and get up for every game. That was the bigger challenge.”

Instead of only playing one or two games each weekend during a college season, Forbort was now playing three games in three nights, along with some mid-week games—a much more taxing schedule than he was accustomed to.

“[One] of the challenges were being ready to go, every single game,” he noted. “There are so many games in pro [compared to] college. Being a pro, being ready to play those Sunday games at 3:00 PM—that took a little time for me to get used to, but I think I did.”

“It’s little things like that about what it takes to be a pro,” he added. “I’ve just got to be ready to go, all the time.”

Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake, who also serves as general manager for the Monarchs, indicated that, like so many young prospects coming out of junior or college hockey, Forbort has to focus on getting used to the grind of the professional game.

“It’s a big adjustment, coming from college,” said Blake. “We saw him early—he had good strides early and then it kind of flattened out. But just after January and into February, things started to pick up again for him because I think he started to get that second wind and he started to understand that this is more of a grind.”

“It’s a day-to-day battle, rather than the short college season,” added Blake. “As we got down through the season, he ended up being a pretty prominent defenseman for us. That’s just him understanding what the pro game is all about.”

But there is more to making that adjustment than the rigors of the schedule at the professional level.

“It’s definitely a different style of game than in college,” said Forbort. “You have a lot better players than there are in college. As far as the strength and speed [is concerned], it wasn’t that big of an adjustment. But the players are so much smarter, so I’m getting used to that and to making plays around players like that.”

“The guys are older and they’ve played the game a little longer,” added Forbort. “They’re going to be smarter out there. Those are things that I’ve had to adjust to—knowing that guys are reading me all the time.”

As Blake noted earlier in this story, Forbort was pretty solid in his own end last season, as indicated by his impressive +19 plus/minus rating, even though there is more to a plus/minus rating than defensive zone play.

“We had a great team, we scored a lot of goals,” Forbort explained. “It’s a fun style to play, but I like to take care of the defensive end first, be a reliable, steady guy back there, make plays to the forwards and contribute offensively when I can. I just tried to do that every night.”

Positioning and having a good stick were strengths for Forbort last season.

“He uses his reach, he’s very good with his reach,” Blake said. “He has a good stick—it’s always on the ice and in the passing lanes. He can deter plays because he’s a bigger guy and he’s in the right spot.”

“He’s very sound in his positioning,” Blake added. “He’s a bigger guy, he skates well and he uses his stick real well. The good thing with him is that, when you watch him, you see that he recovers and gets into position so well.”

A factor in Forbort being solid positionally is his skating ability.

“He’s a big, lanky guy,” Blake indicated. “He doesn’t look like he’s skating real hard, but he always seems to be in the right spot.”

“It’s something I’ve always worked on,” said Forbort. “I wasn’t a very good skater when I was younger, but my Dad worked on it with me a lot. I ran the ski hill a lot and got leg strength from that. The skating followed.”

Skating and positioning are keys for Forbort’s game, making up for him not being as physical as one might expect from a player who is 6-4, 212 pounds.

“He’s not a big hitter,” Blake noted. “He’s not going to run you over, but he can use that size and reach to his advantage to deny plays. That’s what we’re trying to teach him. It’s not all about running guys over. Either you have that or you don’t. Some guys just don’t have that in them, so you use your size and use that to your strength.”

Forbort acknowledged that he needs to play a more physical game, among other aspects that he needs to focus on.

“I just need to work on being more physical every night, being consistent with my checking, getting more pucks to the net, keep making a good, hard first pass [while clearing their zone]—just making that first pass every time, making sure it’s hard and in a good position for the forwards to catch and be meaner and tougher to play against,” said Forbort.

“[I need to be] more consistent every night, bringing the same game to the rink every night—no dips in my level of play,” added Forbort. “Just being hard to play against every night.”

Blake does not seem to be concerned about Forbort adding more physicality to his game, and that includes battles in front of the net.

“That will come,” Blake noted. “Those kids grow into their bodies and they [eventually] understand that they’re physically stronger and can push some guys out of the way. I don’t think we had an issue [with Forbort in that regard] throughout the season.”

What stood out in Blake’s and Forbort’s minds, in terms of what Forbort needs to work on the most, was his first pass to clear the zone.

“He’s got to work on passing and control of the offense—understanding what his options are,” said Blake. “Sometimes, the first option is the best option, whether it’s a direct pass, right up to the winger quickly, or a pass to your partner. But rather than making the tougher play, make the simple play, but make it well. That’ll come.”

“More of [the emphasis on what Forbort needs to work on] was keying on his first pass and getting out of our zone quickly—getting that first pass, making that play and making it quickly,” added Blake. “The rest of it will come. He’ll be able to skate, follow that play, jump in and be an option later on as the play develops. But we’ve got to get that first pass [going] and get in under control so we can out of that zone quickly.”

Forbort’s hesitation before making that first pass is not simply the result of him over-analyzing his options.

“At times, [it is],” Blake noted. “But you’ve got to remember that you have that time in college, or you have that time in junior. You don’t have that time in the AHL and you definitely don’t have that time in the NHL. Those are steps.”

Forbort was one of the Kings’ prospects who was recalled during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs once the Monarchs were eliminated from the AHL playoffs—he was among the “Black Aces” who were with the Kings during the first and second rounds (a handful remained through the 2014 Stanley Cup Final).

“I was watching the defense, just seeing how hard they compete, how they make plays coming out of their zone, and how they control the game back there,” he noted. “They’re a really good crew and a big part of why they won the Stanley Cup.”

What did he learn from watching the Kings defensemen?

“You’ve got to make plays with the puck,” Forbort observed. “They don’t throw the puck away much, they make a lot of plays back there. I need to work on doing that every time I touch the puck, every time I go back for a breakout, making a good play coming out of my zone.”

Raw Audio Interviews

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

Rob Blake (4:23)

Frozen Royalty’s Derek Forbort Coverage

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

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