EL SEGUNDO, CA — Only four days remain before the Los Angeles Kings begin the 2015-16 regular season on Wednesday, and as they prepare for their final pre-season game against the Colorado Avalanche in the annual Frozen Fury game tonight in Las Vegas, a big question mark hangs over their heads…
…who will be their third and fourth-line centers?
It seems likely that rugged forward Andy Andreoff will be the fourth-line center, leaving the third-line center spot up for grabs between Nick Shore and Jordan Weal.
Last season, Shore was a late-season call-up, playing in 34 games, scoring a goal and contributing six assists for seven points, with ten penalty minutes, an even plus/minus rating, and a 53.8 percent success rate in the face-off circle.
“There’s certainly a lot of things that are a little bit different when making the jump from the AHL to the NHL,” he said. “What stands out is that there are a lot of good guys in this room and from top to bottom, everyone makes the transition pretty easy, whether guys are in or out of the lineup, or coming up and down [from the AHL]. It’s a really easy environment to come into.”
The 23-year-old native of Denver, Colorado, who was selected by the Kings in the third round (82nd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, said that his overall game must improve for him to crack the Kings roster, but he also identified a few specifics.
“I think [I have to improve on] everything,” he said. “It’s a conscious effort for me. I’ve always liked to play a full, 200-foot game, and be strong at the [face-off] dot. You’ve got to be able to produce and execute on some of your opportunities.”
“I need to be ready for every game, and that starts with the one [on Saturday],” he added. “My game is progressively getting better. I can’t wait for the game [in Las Vegas] tomorrow.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter gave Shore a positive assessment, but holding true to his established pattern of being extremely reticent to praise young players, he offered no specifics.
“I think Shore’s had a good camp, in terms of what we expect of him,” he said. “Again, it goes on as camp goes along. The farther you go in camp, the more you see guys playing against players at this level, and that’s how you evaluate it, for me.”
But has Shore had a good enough training camp to earn a roster spot with the big club?
Under the circumstances, probably not, due to his contract status—Shore does not have to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the minor leagues.
In short, the deck is stacked against him.
“I’m in the same boat as a lot of people [are] coming into camp,” he noted. “There’s a lot of people coming in with the mentality that they’ve got to prove something to make the team. That’s just a conscious effort to get better every day, and then taking the opportunities you’re given and doing something with them.”
“You’ve got to make the most of your opportunities to make this team,” he added. “Everyone knows what the expectations are, and the onus is on the players to go out there and produce.”
“You want to come here and do the best that you can, but wherever you’re playing, you’re working to get better and try to make the team.”
Unlike Shore, Weal’s contract status is likely to be a critical, if not deciding, factor in where he plays this season.
The 23-year-old native of North Vancouver, British Columbia is in his second professional contract, and must clear waivers in order to be assigned to the minor leagues—he is a lock to be claimed by another NHL team.
Perhaps knowing that Weal is, in all likelihood, going to make the Kings opening night roster, Sutter’s evaluation of his training camp was guarded, to say the least.
“I think as it’s gone along, there’s been times where he’s shown he can be productive, and times where he’s shown he can’t,” said Sutter.
If Sutter is concerned about Weal’s attitude, it does not sound like there’s anything to worry about.
“I’m just taking it day by day here, trying to get better every day, working hard, getting accustomed to the systems and to playing again,” he said. “It’s been a couple of months, so I’m just getting the timing back, and getting ready for whatever happens.”
“I’ve been playing well,” he added. “I’ve been working hard. There’s a couple of things that I’ve got to get a little more comfortable with, I think. That’ll just create more opportunities for myself, and the guys who I’m out there with.”
Weal, who was named as the AHL’s Most Valuable Player in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, leading the Manchester Monarchs to the 2015 Calder Cup Championship, described those “couple of things” that he’s working on.
“Just timing, spacing, getting back in the groove of things,” said Weal. “When that comes around, you get into the flow of the season, the flow of games. Then you feel like you’re at the top of your game.”
“It’s just watching video to improve on little details,” added Weal. “Other than that, nothing much. Just working hard with whomever I’m with that day, trying to show what I’ve got.”
“It’s just a process, you know? Sometimes, it doesn’t come right away, like you want it. But if you keep working at it, and keep getting better, it’ll eventually come.”
What if the opportunity comes in the next five days?
“That would be pretty awesome, definitely a dream come true, getting to play in this league,” he beamed. “That’s what you grow up wanting to do.”
“If I get the opportunity and privilege to play on this team, the work doesn’t stop,” he added. “You want to be able to get into this league, and then make yourself a staple in it—let everyone else know that you belong, and can really contribute to a team for a long time. That’s the goal, and that’s what I’m trying to work for.”
Both Shore and Weal are focused on their play, not on their contract situations and their implications. But unlike Shore, Weal’s situation could determine where he plays this season.
“It’s tough,” he noted. “I just try and put it aside, but sometimes, it creeps up in the back of your head. It’s human nature, but you’ve just got to keep putting your head down and go to work. If you worry about the process and not the result, things are usually going to turn out the way you want.”
Whether it’s Weal or Shore, or both (with some roster tinkering), Sutter issued a challenge to whomever ends up being the third-line center.
“That number, it’s not a name,” he stressed. “That box right there has to be a number, meaning production, if you’re just basing it on that. It has to be a number. Who in that group is going to be able to saw off—I’ve said this before—with guys they line up against, and who’s going to be able to neutralize that part of the game, in terms of the checking part, who’s going to be good on face-offs, who’s going to help you, maybe on penalty-kill, maybe power play? What is that box? What’s that production in the league? What’s he got to do? So, who can do that?”
“Last year, that box did not fill that number. It produced at the box-down number [fourth-line center]. So that dramatically affected—think about it—two points.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center prospect Nick Shore. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.</p
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