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 2013 unrestricted free agent, right wing Scott Sabourin. Audio interviews with Sabourin and Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake are also included.
LOS ANGELES — Nearly one year ago, a young player, fresh out of major junior hockey in Canada, turned a lot heads during the Los Angeles Kings’ 2013 rookie camp and training camp.
During the rookie tournament that preceded training camp, this player was a standout for his all-around ability, not to mention his willingness to stand up for his teammates.
He continued to impress in pre-season games, sending a noticeable buzz through the crowd at Staples Center in Los Angeles on September 15, 2013, when he used a burst of speed and a nice move to split two defenders near the Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes)’ blue line and go in on a breakaway. Even though his wrist shot missed wide left, the impression he was making grew exponentially.
Two days later, at Anaheim, he scored a nice goal to put a cap on a tremendously impressive performance during the rookie and training camps. The fact that a player of his size—6-3, 203 pounds—made the skill and skating ability he displayed even more impressive.
“He pretty much made everyone look at the game sheet right after the first game [against the Anaheim Ducks during the rookie tournament],” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake. “No one knew who this guy was, that’s for sure. Everyone started looking at their sheet saying, ‘who is this guy?’”
That guy, 22-year-old right wing Scott Sabourin, came out of nowhere, almost literally. Indeed, he was not drafted by a National Hockey League team before. Despite that, he overcame astronomical odds to earn himself a three-year, entry-level contract with the Kings (signed on October 7, 2013).
Sabourin himself was surprised at how it all went down, especially since he was a camp invitee, not a draft pick.
“It’s definitely a little different [compared to being prospect who was selected in the draft],” said Sabourin. “[But] I never thought I was out of the picture. I knew I always had it in me, that I was a good player.”
“Just because other people didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, so I was just going to keep playing for myself and for my family and friends,” added Sabourin. “Eventually, I was lucky enough to get noticed and things started working out.”
“To be honest, I didn’t even expect that much out of myself. But I went up there and played my game, lowered my head and did what I knew I could. I was fortunate enough that things worked out. It’s been a fine experience ever since then.”
A fine experience, indeed. Nevertheless, there were some early bumps in the road.
As reported in this space on November 14, 2013, the native of Orleans, Ontario had a great rookie camp and training camp with the Kings, but struggled quite badly early in the season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
“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,” now-former Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said in November 2013. “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.”
“We were hoping to see that same focus, but there was some drop off,” added Morris.
Sabourin thought it was all downhill after his standout performance in training camp.
“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,” Sabourin said in November 2013. “[The AHL is] a totally different league—it’s still a great league.”
Like virtually all young prospects coming out of major junior hockey in Canada, or college hockey, the jump to the pros was a big one for Sabourin.
“It’s definitely a big jump,” he noted. “It’s a lot faster, [the players are] a lot stronger. I’m a physical guy and I got into a couple of fights in junior, and I got into a couple of fights in the American league. There’s definitely a big strength difference, so you’ve got to watch what you’re doing.”
“In junior, I was kind of the go-to-guy,” Sabourin said of his time with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. “But then, you go into the AHL, you have to start back from scratch and work your way up again. That was the biggest adjustment.”
“In general, the hockey is a lot quicker and there are stronger guys. But I thought I adapted well.”
Having crashed back down to Earth, Sabourin went back to work.
“I found myself all over the roster, all the way from first to the fourth line, so I got put in every situation,” he said. “It was a good thing for me. I got to get used to playing a lot of different roles. Hopefully, it leads into a big season this year.”
“I’d say that I had a pretty good season in my first year [of professional hockey],” he added. “I don’t want to plateau there. I want to keep improving, keep getting better every day. I want to go into the Kings [training] camp and I’d love to crack the roster, but we’ll see what happens there.”
Sabourin scored twelve goals and contributed 14 assists for 26 points, with a +6 plus/minus rating and 115 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games for the Monarchs in 2013-14—a good first season as a professional.
“Number one, he’s very competitive and that’s what stood out the most during rookie camp,” said Blake. “He was a guy who wasn’t just going to go through camp and go back to junior or to start his AHL career. He was going to make an impression. The competitive edge came out and he held that all season long.”
“He battled with some of the biggest guys in the league, but he also has a scoring touch,” added Blake. “He’s a got a real good shot, a real good release.”
But like most young prospects, Sabourin needs a lot of work on his positioning, on both sides of the puck.
“His biggest thing right now—he’s going to learn and understand positioning—being in the right spot and doing the right [things] without the puck,” Blake noted. “Don’t always chase everywhere. You’re a winger. You’ve got a position. You do your job up and down the wing and the game will come to you.”
“There are things you can get away with in junior [hockey], but you can’t get away with at the pro level,” Blake added. “He made good adjustments throughout the year with that.”
Sabourin pointed to skating and defensive play as parts of his game that need extra work.
“I’ve always felt that my skating could use some work and I still feel it does need some work,” said Sabourin. “I think it’s come a long way, but there’s still a long way for it to go. A lot of that just comes from athleticism and just staying low and keeping your shifts short. I think it’s a minor fix, but I think I’m striding in the right direction.”
“[My defensive play] can definitely get better,” added Sabourin. “I started off a little sloppy at the start of the year, but I think with every game and month after month, it improved. I’d like to think it’s still improving, so I’m not too worried about it.”
Sabourin showed that he was a physical player during rookie camp and training camp, both in terms of hitting and dropping the gloves, both of which he did well with the Monarchs.
“I don’t think [fighting is] going to be an issue and knowing how and when to do it—he’s got that figured out very well, too,” Blake observed. “Those aren’t so much the issues as we’ve got to get him into position, understanding the job of a winger, most of the time, without the puck, and knowing where you have to be. You’ve got to be open so that when other players get the puck, you’re the guy they’re looking to give it to.”
Sabourin was one of the Black Aces, one of the young prospects who was recalled during the Kings run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship to watch and learn, rather than play.
Sabourin took particular note of how all the “little things” that players do can add up to something big.
“A lot of it is just the little things,” he observed. “You watch a game and it’s not the flash and dash. It’s not the big plays. It’s nothing like that. It’s the board work, dump [the puck] in when you have to. Making a check, taking a check, sticking up for a teammate. It was all the little things.”
“That’s what makes for a championship team,” Sabourin added. “It’s not a bunch of all-stars. It was a lot of grit. Even the skilled guys played with grit, and the gritty players knew what they had to do.”
There was one thing Sabourin observed that he indicated that could be applied to his game.
“I was really impressed with the board work,” he said. “I tried taking a couple of notes [on that], so we’ll see if it comes into play. But the guys up there are definitely good with their board work. There’s no room for error up there, so any play that’s there, they make it. One day, I’d like to get myself to that level.”
This summer, Sabourin has been hard at work in the gym and is already thinking about training camp in about one month.
“I’m definitely going to be bringing a lot more confidence into [training] camp this year, trying to show what I’ve really got,” he said. “[Last year], I came in as a rookie, and sort of had to find my way around the league and stuff like that. But this year, I think I’m just going to be able to go out there and show them all my best qualities, assets and all that I have to offer.”
“For now, I’m just trying to work hard during the summer and see where that gets me,” he added.
Although Sabourin talked about making the big club’s 2014-15 opening night roster, he is fully aware of the reality of the situation—the Kings’ roster is all but set.
“I just want to keep improving and keep moving forward,” he stressed. “I’m not going to [worry or sulk] if I don’t make the Kings. I’m just going to go to Manchester, work hard and keep my head up.”
“[I just want] to build off last season and keep improving,” he added. We’d like to work towards a championship in Manchester as well.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Scott Sabourin (9:26)
Rob Blake (2:54)
Frozen Royalty’s Scott Sabourin Coverage
- LA Kings RW Prospect Scott Sabourin Is Falling Short of Expectations
- 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
- Manchester Monarchs Forward Scott Sabourin Has Made Quite The Impression In LA Kings Training Camp
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