ALSO: Don’t miss the first Sutter-ism of the 2015-16 season from head coach Darryl Sutter! With photo.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, young players have made their debut in the best hockey league in the world, with varying degrees of success.
To be sure, many young players dream of playing in the NHL, and about what their first NHL game will be like—scoring a goal, playing well, if not standing out as a star, and winning the game, of course.
But many are not fortunate enough to enjoy that kind of success, including Los Angeles Kings forward Jordan Weal, who made his NHL debut on October 9, 2015, in a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In that game, Weal was on the ice for 13 shifts (7:38 time on ice), and earned a -1 plus/minus rating. He was also credited with one hit, one takeaway, and two face-off wins, while playing on a line with left wing Kyle Clifford and right wing Jordan Nolan.
In addition to the loss, Weal’s NHL debut was spoiled by a costly turnover early in the second period that led directly to a goal by Coyotes rookie forward Max Domi.
“I thought it went pretty good,” Weal said about his NHL debut. “I made a little blunder there in the second period, but there’s not much you can do about that now. I thought every other shift I had out there was good. We were creating energy, getting chances, drawing penalties. If we continue to do that, It’s going to keep building and keep getting better.”
Weal indicated that going in, he did not have specific thoughts about what his NHL debut would be like.
“You never really think about that first game,” he said. “It’s just being out there, you know? You dream about plays you make against certain guys you watch all the time on TV. It’s never really that first game that you think about when you’re imagining it. It’s more about being in there, being in the mix, and playing against the best players.”
“I tried to be as calm and as cool as I could,” he added. “When I get a little too excited, I tend to be a bit jittery, so I just tried to play it cool, and remember all the hard work it took, and the people who helped me get there.”
Like many players, Weal sometimes seems uncomfortable talking about himself, and he quickly moved the discussion back to the team.
“You never know what’s going to happen in a hockey game,” said Weal. “It’s such an unpredictable sport—there’s so many bounces, and things like that. You try to control the things you can control, and try to execute within the system. For the most part, I thought our line did that. We created some pretty good shifts.”
Back to that costly turnover…Weal was skating up ice with the puck through the defensive zone when he was cut-off by Coyotes forward Connor Murphy, forcing the turnover that led to Domi’s goal.
“The guy had a good angle on me, and I kinda was surprised at how good the angle was,” he explained. “I was going to try to cut back to the other side and bring it up the other way because they were [in the middle of a line change]. He came right at me, and threw me off. I fumbled it a bit, but stuff like that happens. You’ve just got to forget about it.”
“I [moved] to go back, but [Murphy] wasn’t budging,” he elaborated. “So I was like, gaahh. It was one of those plays. You’ve just got to keep working, and try to get it back.”
When pressed, Weal admitted that he took some time to enjoy the things that usually happen when a player makes his NHL debut.
“I sent a couple of text [messages] to my parents before the game, and I called them after the game,” Weal said, smiling broadly. “They were proud of me, that all the hard work has started to pay off, and I was very thankful for what they’ve done my whole life. Even my friends who were out playing road hockey with me for hours on end while growing up in elementary school—it’s pretty cool that all that led to something like this.”
“[His parents] watched it on TV,” Weal added. “They had all of their friends over. I was Facetime-ing with them last night, and it seemed like they were having a lot of fun, so it was a good night. There were a lot of people watching. It was fun to get that first one under my belt.”
Despite the loss and the rather glaring turnover, Weal indicated that he did not feel out of place when he was on the ice.
“I felt comfortable,” he noted. “That’s the one thing that stood out for me. The game wasn’t going too fast, or anything. I felt like I was creating turnovers, and when I got the puck down low, I was able to hold onto it and make some plays.”
“That’s what I want to do,” he added. “That’s part of my game. I felt that I was up to speed.”
What did take some adjusting was moving from the top line role he played with the 2015 Calder Cup Champion Manchester Monarchs, then of the American Hockey League, to a fourth-line checking/energy role with the Kings, for one game, anyway.
“It’s different,” he observed. “If you’re on the bench for a couple of penalties, you’ve got to keep yourself warm, keep yourself ready and engaged. When you’re playing a lot, you’re always on the ice. You’re always in it.”
“I had to deal with that during my first year in the AHL,” he added. “I wasn’t playing a lot the first half of the season, so I’m trying to bring back what I learned from [that], and use it here.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter, who is, at the best of times, extremely reticent to offer praise for young players, preferring the tear-them-down approach to motivate them, was even more reticent with Weal.
“It was his first NHL game,” said Sutter. “I think there were shifts when he was nervous, and he’d probably like to have some plays back.”
Weal is likely to struggle to get ice time for the foreseeable future, and because it is virtually guaranteed that he would be claimed off of waivers, it is a foregone conclusion that the Kings will be unable to assign him to the Ontario Reign of the AHL, where he would skate on their top line.
In spite of that, Weal does not seem to be discouraged.
“It’s not done yet,” Weal said about the hard work he has already put in. “You’ve got to keep working. [My NHL career is] just starting.”
First Sutter-ism of the New Season
After the Kings practice ended on October 10, on his way back to the team’s dressing room area at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, Sutter stopped to sign autographs for four youth hockey players.
After signing one autograph, Sutter said, “I just ruined this stick.”
When asked how he ruined it, Sutter replied, “I signed it.”
Later, after seeing the above photo, Sutter said, “I signed a pair of skates there.”
“Ruined those, too.”
Frozen Royalty’s Jordan Weal Coverage
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- Frozen Royalty Audio: LA Kings 2012 Development Camp
- Frozen Royalty Audio: 2011 Los Angeles Kings Development Camp – Part 1
- LA Kings Work Young Prospects Hard At 2010 Development Camp
- LA Kings Take Some Risks In 2010 NHL Entry Draft
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