VIDEO: Also includes video of interviews with Brayden McNabb and head coach Darryl Sutter after practice on December 5, 2014.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Things have begun to look up for the Los Angeles Kings over the last three weeks, as the team has shown signs of pulling all aspects of their game together.
In their last nine games, the Kings are 6-2-1, with wins over Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, Minnesota, Boston and Arizona during that span, along with regulation losses to Dallas and Chicago, and a shootout loss to Nashville.
Doing his part to contribute towards the Kings’ recent rise has been rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb, who has contributed eight assists in those nine games, and has tallied at least one assist in six of their last eight.
Prior to that, McNabb recorded just one assist in the first 15 games of the season.
“I think it’s getting better,” said the 6-4, 208-pound native of Davidson, Saskatchewan. “I had kind of a slow start, just getting used to everything. But I’m starting to settle in here, playing a little better.”
“There’s still things I’ve got to get better at, and I’m going to continue to do that,” he added.
One reason for the slow start was the move west.
“The Western Conference is bigger and stronger [than the Eastern Conference],” McNabb explained. “I didn’t play much against [the West] in Buffalo. It’s just getting up to speed with everything.”
But the most significant factor in McNabb’s slow start has been…
…wait for it…
He’s a 23-year-old defenseman who is in his first full season in the National Hockey League, something head coach Darryl Sutter was quick to point out after practice on December 5.
“He’s  years old,” Sutter emphasized. “What you do is you try and learn the league. It’s not just automatically playing in the league, and [handling with ease the] expectations and demands that his teammates would put on him. He’s the youngest defenseman on our team, and there’s lots of growth there.”
“The biggest part [for young, inexperienced players] that they learn is the preparation for game days,” Sutter added. “Doing your due diligence, in terms of knowing who your opponent is, and who you’re going to be up against, and if you’re playing different minutes.”
Sutter indicated that McNabb’s improved play has allowed the coaching staff to give him more responsibility, along with ice time in situations where he might not have played before.
“With Brayden, even now, he is learning—[our penalty-kill] has, primarily, [had veteran defensemen on it],” Sutter noted. “Pushing [lesser experienced] guys into it, and learning about it—Drew [Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov]—pushing those guys, getting those guys [into it], and now we’ve done that with Brayden. So it’s the role part of it, understanding what kind of player you are, and how we want him to play.”
With the Kings defensive corps continuing to see players in and out of the lineup due to injury, or, as in Voynov’s case, suspension, McNabb has been given a tremendous opportunity.
“With all that’s gone on with our back end, that’s allowed Brayden to play,” said Sutter. “That’s been really good for him, and that’s been really good for us.”
“It’s not just now,” added Sutter. “In the big picture of it, like I was talking about with [the Martinez] signing, it’s the same with Brayden. He’s our youngest defenseman. He’s looked at as a guy who we wanted to integrate into our team, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
26 games into the season, McNabb has filled in admirably, and as indicated earlier, has shown considerable improvement in recent weeks.
“I’m just starting to play like how I normally like to play,” he noted. “I’m confident in making the little plays in the defensive zone, and when you’re good in the defensive zone, the offense takes care of itself.”
“[Offense] all starts in your defensive zone,” he added. “If you’re good in the defensive zone, you’re not playing in your defensive zone [very much], so you have energy in the offensive zone.”
While things are looking up for McNabb, he knows that there’s still a long way to go.
“He works at it,” Sutter noted. “He’s coachable, and he understands the game, so he’s only going to get better.”
“[The coaching staff is] always honest, telling us about things to work on,” said McNabb. “It’s all little stuff. Angles, stick position, just little details.”
Little stuff…aspects of the game that all players have to work on throughout their careers, especially NHL rookies.
“It’s my first year in the NHL, so I’m just going from there,” said McNabb. “Now that I’ve got [some] experience under my belt, it’s going to help me going forward.”
Post-Practice Interviews: December 5, 2014 via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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