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 defenseman Brayden McNabb, who was acquired last March at the trade deadline. Audio interviews with McNabb and Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake are also included.
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings had barely begun their summer-long celebration after winning the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship when it was learned that veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell would not be re-signed because the Kings would not be able to fit him in under the salary cap.
While Mitchell was moving across the country to Florida, the Kings signed veteran defenseman Matt Greene to a four-year contract extension on June 24, 2014. They also signed Jeff Schultz to a two-year deal on June 30—their top six defenseman positions would appear to be set.
But wait…there’s more.
Down on the farm, a little over 3,000 miles away, defenseman prospect Brayden McNabb was playing for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League after the Kings acquired him on March 5, 2014, along with a second round pick, in the 2014 and 2015 National Hockey League Drafts, from the Buffalo Sabres, in exchange for left wing/defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers and right wing prospect Hudson Fasching.
Last year, the 6-4, 207-pound native of Davidson, Saskatchewan played for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, scoring seven goals and adding 22 assists for 29 points in 38 games, before ending the season with the Monarchs, scoring three goals and contributing four assists in 14 regular season games.
Combined, McNabb scored ten goals and tallied 26 assists for 36 points, with a +14 plus/minus rating, five power play goals and 63 penalty minutes in 52 regular season games.
This season, McNabb is expected to make a strong push to make the Kings’ roster, perhaps even move into the number six defenseman spot.
“He’s another guy, similar to [left wing prospect Andy] Andreoff, with his contract status,” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake. “This becomes a very important year. We’d like to see him in that lineup.”
Both Andreoff (who will also be profiled here in an upcoming story) and McNabb, who were signed to new contracts earlier this summer, must be placed on waivers if the Kings want to assign them back to Manchester—both are a virtual lock to be claimed off of waivers by other teams.
“That’s what we explained to these guys, to [use their] summer [wisely because this is probably] their best opportunity right here,” Blake noted. “We can’t afford to lose you guys on waivers, so you’re going to get an opportunity to play with the big club. Let’s make sure when that opportunity comes that you’re ready to step in and play here.”
But is McNabb ready for the big show?
Like any player changing teams mid-season, it took some time for McNabb to make the adjustment after coming over from the Buffalo organization.
“[The trade] was definitely surprising for me,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea. It was kind of a shock, at first, leaving all your old teammates and then [having] new teammates—guys you don’t know. Making that adjustment was probably the biggest thing, but now that I’ve made the adjustment, I love it. I love L.A., the staff. They work with you really well. It’s been a good transition.”
A big part of that adjustment was something that should sound familiar to many Kings followers.
“Buffalo, and even Rochester, are going through a different phase, if you want to call it that,” McNabb explained. “They’re stuck on their identity, and the Kings have a solid identity. They know how to win. They’re a winning organization from top to bottom. That’s the biggest difference—the mentality.”
Although McNabb did not say it, specifically, the implication could not be clearer: that there is a tremendous difference in attitude, among other things, between franchises that are winners and those that are not—after so many years of misery, for the Kings, the skate boot is now on the other foot, so to speak.
Another adjustment for McNabb has been learning the system that the Kings [and Monarchs] play.
“It took a little bit, to be honest with you,” said McNabb. “It was a little bit tough. Their system is set in stone and you’ve got to be able to execute it. It took a few games.”
“The biggest thing was when I was a Black Ace with the Kings during the playoffs [was] being able to watch the games, see them execute it, be in practices and meetings, and know what’s expected in that system,” added McNabb. “That was the biggest thing that helped me out. It’ll benefit me throughout my career.”
McNabb, who is a left-hand shot, is billed as a defenseman who is strong in his own end, but can get the job done in the offensive zone as well.
“He’s a combination of both,” said Blake. “He was a big part of the deadline deals. Going forward, we knew we needed to have another young defenseman who could play both ways. We have Greene and [Robyn] Regher who play that physical style. With [Alec] Martinez and [Jake] Muzzin a little more on the offensive side, we needed another with a little bit of a mix in there, and I think McNabb can bring that option for us.”
“I’m a guy who has to take care of his own end and be physical, but who also has the ability to chip in offensively whenever I can,” said McNabb. “But first things first, [and that’s] taking care of my own end.”
The first thing Blake noticed about McNabb was his ability to make that first pass coming out of his own zone.
“He has real good poise with the puck,” Blake noted. “When we talk about [defenseman prospect Derek] Forbort’s first pass [something he needs a good amount of work on], that’s one of the things that probably stands out with McNabb. The first game I watched him in Manchester, every one of his passes to start breakouts in our zone were at the right spot and on players’ [sticks] when they wanted it. Sometimes, guys pass to players when they don’t want it, but he seems to know exactly when [to pass the puck].”
“I think the game well,” said McNabb. “I make that first pass out of my zone really well. I’m good at reading plays and making big hits when they’re there.”
As McNabb alluded to, physical play and hitting are also part of his repertoire.
“He also has a physical element,” Blake observed. “He can hit—he can stand up and make big hits when he has to. In game tapes I’ve watched of him in Buffalo and in games in Manchester, he’ll throw the big hits, he’ll stick up for his teammates, and he’ll stick up for himself. I don’t think [the physical side of the game] will be an issue at all for him.”
McNabb could eventually see time on the Kings’ power play, as well.
“I got lots of power play minutes with Rochester and Manchester, so the ability is definitely there,” he noted. “I like to be able to quarterback the power play, move the puck and shoot the puck whenever I can. It’s a skill I like to use whenever I get the chance.”
McNabb’s defensive zone play is also solid.
“He’s good,” Blake noted. “His reads are really good. He’s got good hockey sense and I think that’s made up for his skating, a little bit in that past, in that he’s very smart and understands his position in that.”
Indeed, the one knock on McNabb is his footwork and skating.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a bad skater, but it’s something that needs to be worked on,” he said. “[I also need to work on my] footwork a little bit. It’s gotten better, but it’s something that I’ve always had to work on, and that I’ve got to continue to work on. That’s what I’m doing and I think it’s going to improve going into this year.”
Blake was more specific about McNabb’s footwork and skating.
“His feet will be the thing that we need to work on the most—the skating aspect, and being able to play at the tempo that the NHL is at—things that aren’t out of reach, by any means, and can be accomplished here pretty quickly,” Blake explained. “Our development staff is definitely on that path.”
“The biggest thing will be the quickness in his feet, and it’s his quickness to react, [such as when] puck is in the corner—moving from the front [of the net] to the corner,” Blake elaborated. “Once he gets that straightened out, there’s a lot of opportunity here for him.”
Blake pointed out that McNabb might be a better skater than anyone really knows simply because he has not had to play at the pace the NHL game is played at.
“It’s [also] the balance part of it—being strong on his feet and understanding the pace that the NHL [game] is played at,” Blake emphasized. “This is another guy who hasn’t really had to [play] at this pace very often.”
Case in point: left wing Tanner Pearson, who displayed tremendous speed during the Kings’ 2014 playoff run that no one thought he possessed, at the time.
“We always said with Tanner Pearson, it’s skating, skating, skating,” said Blake. “But until you see him at this pace every day and understand that they probably can keep up—we’re excited that [McNabb] got to be around these guys for the playoffs. I think he has a pretty good understanding, going into this summer, about what is to be expected [in terms of the pace of the game].”
McNabb has been focused on his legs and feet during the off-season.
“I workout in Saskatoon,” he said. “A lot of it is weights and kinetic stuff. A lot of core [work] and agility, ladder and explosive work. It’s kind of hard to explain. I try to skate three to four times a week, working on mobility and quick feet stuff, too.”
“The biggest thing is my feet and getting my legs stronger, working on those first two steps,” he added.
As reported earlier, McNabb was one of the Kings’ Black Aces—young players in their system who were recalled during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs to observe and learn, rather than play. He was also among the handful of prospects who remained with the Kings through the Stanley Cup Final, as opposed to leaving with the majority of the prospects after the second round.
“The biggest thing [that he observed from his experience as a Black Ace] was the desire—wanting to win a Cup,” said McNabb. “We were somewhat a part of it. We really didn’t contribute on the ice, but to see those guys go out and see what they had to do in every game, every day—the preparation and everything was a great life experience that will benefit all of us there who were able to witness it.”
“I’m 23 years old, almost 24,” added McNabb. “This’ll be my fourth year [as a] pro. I showed what I can do in the minors and I think I’m ready for the next step. I’ve been able to witness what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, which was huge for my development. The Kings are really good at developing [their young prospects], making sure the preparation is there. That’s going to be one of the biggest things for me going into this season.”
As reported earlier in this story, the Kings have made it clear to McNabb what is expected of him heading into the team’s 2014 training camp.
“We’ve communicated quite a bit,” said McNabb. “I’m going to have to come in and earn a spot. Nothing’s set in stone, so I’m going to come into camp, be in good shape and earn all the ice time and games I can get.”
Although, as McNabb said, nothing is set in stone, the fact that he would have to be placed on waivers in order to be sent back to Manchester and with the Kings knowing that he would be claimed helps solidify his hold on a roster spot with the big club.
But don’t try telling McNabb that.
“I’m not looking at that, he stressed. “I’m just looking to come into camp in good shape, become a better player, make the team and contribute every night. That’s my goal. I’m not really worrying about all that other extra stuff that goes into it.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Brayden McNabb (9:20)
Rob Blake (4:05)
Frozen Royalty’s Brayden McNabb Coverage
Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Off-Season LA Kings Prospects Coverage
- LA Kings Believe The Time Is Now For Forward Prospect Andy Andreoff
- “Simpler” And “Smarter” Will Be Keywords For LA Kings Defenseman Prospect Colin Miller in 2014-15
- LA Kings Center Prospect Nick Shore Doesn’t Stand Out, But That’s A Good Thing
- LA Kings Center Prospect Jordan Weal Is “Doing Everything He Possibly Can To Become An NHL Player”
- RW Prospect Scott Sabourin Could Be Another Diamond In The Rough For LA Kings
- Transition From College Hockey To The AHL Hasn’t Been Easy For LA Kings D Prospect Derek Forbort
- LA Kings Goalie Prospect J.F. Berube Looks To Take An Even Bigger Step Forward In 2014-15
- Adding Strength Is The Priority For LA Kings Defenseman Prospect Zac Leslie
- Polished Off The Ice, LA Kings’ Defenseman Prospect Roland McKeown Is Working To Be Equally Polished On It
- You’ll Have To Look Closely To See Where LA Kings LW Prospect Valentin Zykov Has Improved
- LA Kings 2014 1st Round Draft Pick Adrian Kempe Returns To Sweden, But Not Before Making Solid First Impression
- A Glimpse At The Critical Role Development Has Played In LA Kings’ Championships
- Frozen Royalty Begins 2014 Off-Season Coverage With Photos From LA Kings 2014 Development Camp
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