LA Kings’ Rob Blake On Jordan Weal: “There’s Not A Lot of Players Like That Around”

PROSPECT WATCH: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jordan Weal went from a player with loads of doubt on his shoulders due to his size to one who dominated at the American Hockey League level. But will he be able to translate that to the National Hockey League? Audio interviews with Weal and Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake are included. Final installment of a two-part story. Don’t miss Part 1, From Doubts To Dominating: LA Kings F Prospect Jordan Weal Has Risen To The Top Of The AHL.

LOS ANGELES — As reported in the first installment of this story on July 24, Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jordan Weal has ascended to the top of the American Hockey League as a dominant player who was one of the AHL’s top scorers this past season and its Most Valuable Player during the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, leading his team, the Manchester Monarchs, to the 2015 Calder Cup Championship.

But the Kings’ third round selection (70th overall) in the 2010 National Hockey League Draft was obviously not chosen to play in the minor leagues. After all, NHL teams do not draft players who have no hope of ever plyaing at the NHL level. Nevertheless, even after three years with the Monarchs, the Kings’ AHL affiliate (which will become the AHL’s Ontario Reign in the coming season), as with the vast majority of young prospects, questions abound.

Coming out of the Western Hockey League, Weal was a prolific scorer. But like most offensive-minded players coming out of college or major junior hockey, defensive play was not one of his strengths, which doesn’t fit with the Kings’ style of play.

But five years after he was drafted, Weal’s defensive awareness has become a strength, and he has improved his overall game.

“I tried to improve on every part of my game, and I have, from one year to the next—defensive zone, face-offs, down low in the offensive zone, coming out of my own zone, neutral zone,” said the 23-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia. “There’s so many parts of hockey that you’ve got to work on and learn to keep getting better.”

“It’s a process,” added Weal. “If you [stick with that] process, hopefully, one day, you can be in the NHL, and realize that the work doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to keep getting better, and keep working.”

As reported in first installment of this story, Weal indicated that he felt that he has been playing at the top of his game since midway through the 2013-14 season. He also said that in the past season, he was able to focus on specific aspects of his game.

“[He focused on] just coming out of turns—really small things, because the guys in the NHL are big, but they’re also fast,” he noted. “You’ve got to be well balanced, and have lots of explosiveness down low, especially as a smaller guy. There were definitely times when I was fine tuning things like that.”

The Kings took notice early on that Weal was a student of the game, spending hours upon hours watching video to see what he was doing well, and to work out the kinks in his game—his dedication to improving was something that really stood out, year after year.

“One of the special things about him is that he continues to try to get better all the time,” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake, who served as general manager for the Monarchs, and will continue in that role with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. “Whether its face-offs, coming out of the corner quickly—he’s always looking for an advantage. That’s what’s made him special. He’s very dynamic. There’s not a lot of players like that around.”

At 5-10, 182 pounds, Weal’s ability to withstand physical play, especially battles along the boards and in front of the net, has been a big question mark since his days with the Regina Pats of the WHL, and even before that. But his off-season training, working to add muscle, along with work with the Kings’ development staff, has worked wonders for him—so far, he has proved the skeptics wrong.

“That’s definitely a big part of an offensive, smaller [player’s] game,” said Weal. “It’s learning how to protect the puck, and being able to feel the defender on your hip—where he is, and watching video [to learn] where the open ice is.”

“It’s a combination of things you continue to work on,” added Weal. “In junior, I was having a lot of success, and when you come to the [professional level], it’s different. Guys are a lot older, stronger. In the AHL, there’s a lot of good defensemen, a lot of good, hard-to-play against forwards. It’s tough when you first come in, to do the same things you did [at lower levels], but I definitely learned, and gained some confidence over the last three years. It definitely came to fruition in this last year-and-a-half.”

“One of the staples of our development is board play,” said Blake. “He’s been in that for the last three years, and he’s a student of the game. Not only does he do it when you teach him, but he transfers that year after year into his game.”

Weal’s ability to find open ice, by avoiding and fighting his way through checks, and by just thinking the game, also took a big leap forward this past season—it was plainly evident during the 2015 Calder Cup Final against the Utica Comets, and helped Weal lead his team to the Calder Cup Championship.

“At that size, you’re not going to be able to run someone over to get open,” Blake noted. “You’re going to have to find different ways to do it, and he’s been able to do that. The board play—all the fundamentals that the development team here in L.A. teach and preach, he’s been able to soak that up and now, execute them.”

“You can teach all the development you want, but until you get into a playoff series, and you know that they’re keying on different guys—every series we went [into]—Portland was a difficult series,” Blake added. “They did the same against Wilkes-Barre, Hartford and Utica. One of the things you really like to see is that he thrived in those moments. But he was also the key player everyone was going after. They were trying to get to him, but they couldn’t. He was able to rise above that. You don’t really ever get to see that in any other setting other than being in those playoff series.”

One of most apparent improvements in Weal’s game last season was that he was no longer holding onto the puck as much, as so many young forwards do. Weal now involves his line mates much more, making his entire line more dangerous and effective.

“He uses his teammates a lot more than when I first got here,” Blake observed. “Through the neutral zone, he’s very good at give-and-go’s, and he gets himself open.”

Looking ahead, Weal is already back in the gym, focused on his off-season training, and the 2015-16 season, one that could be his rookie season in the NHL.

In fact, Weal’s chances of playing with the Kings in the coming season are enhanced by the fact that he must clear waivers before being assigned to Ontario—another NHL team would most certainly claim him.

But Weal is not thinking about that.

“I don’t try and think about that kind of stuff,” he said. “I just worry about myself, where my game is at, and where my body is at. I think that if you worry about the results of things too much then you’ll freak yourself out.”

“You’ve just got to worry about the process—what you’ve got to do to get that result,” he added. “Most of the time, that’ll work the way you want it. That’s the way I’ve always thought, and that’s the way I’m going to continue to think because I feel like it’s been working for me pretty well so far.”

Something else Weal isn’t worried about is what those who remain skeptical about him due to his size, or lack thereof.

“I’m not too worried about that,” he stressed. “I’ve used those things that I’ve heard over the years as motivation when I need it—when it’s the dog days of the season, or the dog days of the summer [when you’re] training.”

“You definitely have some things that fuel you, but there’s doubters for everybody,” he added. “Everyone’s got doubters, even the best players in the league. It’s just something you’ve got to deal with in sports. You can’t think about it too much because you’ll just get yourself wound up, not thinking about the right things.”

Weal indicated that, even though his chances of playing in the NHL are better than ever, he is not at all worried about anything else that might be considered to be a deficiency in his game.

“There’s nothing that I’m worried about at all,” he said. “There’s a lot of great players, and I’ll be playing against great players, but I’ll also be playing with great players at the same time. It looks like a fun, awesome league to play in. It would be pretty special to get that opportunity.”

“That’s a very exciting proposition,” he added. “The days I’m putting in the gym, and on the ice, this summer are going to be preparing for that, and working for that. It’s very exciting, but I’m just using that to push me harder [in his off-season training] to prepare for that.”

In spite of his rise to the top of the AHL, and with a very good chance of making his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season, Weal remains humble—he knows there are no guarantees, and that the Kings aren’t going to gift-wrap a roster spot for him.

“We get to play hockey for a living, and it’s pretty special when you get to do that, because not a lot of people get to,” said Weal. “It’s a lot of fun. You go to the rink, learn new things, play with new players, and hopefully, I can show the coaching staff and management enough to be on the Kings. That would be pretty awesome. They’ve got a great group of guys. They’re a very hard working group, so it would be pretty cool to have a chance to be up there.”

“I’m just going to go into [the Kings’ training] camp, work as hard as I can, and learn as much as I can when I’m there. I’m just looking forward to going into camp, really working hard, and trying to get a spot.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jordan Weal (center, shooting) Photo: Blake Gumprecht, courtesy Manchester Monarchs.

Raw Audio Interviews

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

Jordan Weal (18:20)

Rob Blake (4:48)

Stick tap to NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk for mentioning this story.

Frozen Royalty’s Jordan Weal Coverage

Frozen Royalty’s 2015 Off-Season LA Kings Prospects Coverage

Creative Commons License Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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