[ONTARIO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — Back in the late summer of 2013, a big, burly right wing came out of nowhere to turn heads during the Los Angeles Kings’ rookie camp and rookie tournament. In fact, in a rookie game against the then-Phoenix Coyotes, this player, not known for skating, speed or skill, took a breakout pass in stride, split two Coyotes defenders at the far blue line and went in on a breakaway. He didn’t score—his wrist shot barely missed the top left corner of the net. Nevertheless, he left just about everyone in attendance with jaws agape.
That player was now-23-year-old right wing Scott Sabourin, who was signed to a three-year-entry-level contract by the Kings on October 7. 2013.
The 6-3, 206-pound native of Orleans, Ontario turned heads during the Kings’ 2013 rookie tournament and also made a strong impression during training camp that year. He went on to post decent numbers with the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs during the 2013-14 season, scoring twelve goals and adding 14 assists for 26 points, with a +6 plus/minus rating and 115 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games.
Last season, Sabourin suffered quite the setback, playing in just 51 games with the Monarchs, scoring five goals and contributing six assists for eleven points, with a -7 plus/minus rating and 138 penalty minutes. Most notably, Sabourin did not play at all during the Monarchs run to the 2015 Calder Cup Championship.
This season, Sabourin moved west to the Ontario Reign, now the Kings’ AHL affiliate. In 26 games (the Reign have played 48 this season), he has scored three goals and has tallied two assists for five points, with a +2 plus/minus rating and 52 penalty minutes.
If what you’ve just read is raising a red flag, in terms of Sabourin’s development, not to mention his future, it should.
On February 17, Sabourin was in the lineup for the Reign against the Stockton Heat at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. He did not record a point during his team’s 6-1 blowout win.
“It was nice to get back in the lineup and help the boys get a win,” he said. “I’m just taking it day-to-day, seeing what happens.”
“I’m sure he would like to play a lot more than he has, and I would like to play him a lot more than he has,” said Reign head coach Mike Stothers. “It’s a work-in-progress, but I can tell you one thing. He’s a terrific individual and he’s a hard working guy. Whether he’s in the lineup or not, he’s a great teammate. He does everything he can, and as you saw tonight—he hasn’t played in a month—he went out and played a real good game for us.”
Nevertheless, Three days later, Sabourin found himself on a plane heading east after being assigned to the ECHL Manchester Monarchs.
“The whole understanding of things recently is that the break in [the Reign’s] schedule, we had a lot of practices, and we can only carry one extra forward and one extra defenseman,” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake, who also serves as general manager of the Reign. “He could get five games in with Manchester.”
“He’s got to play, he’s got to get into the lineup regularly, and we have some depth in Ontario,” added Blake. “The coaches are rotating things they way they want to down there. He missed some games, and we wanted him to go down there and play.”
Sabourin indicated that being out of the lineup so much was very difficult, but that he comes to the rink ready to work hard, no matter what.
“I show up to the rink every day and put my work in,” he said. “They slot me in where they feel I fit, so when I get out there, I just do what I can, trying to help the boys win, playing my game and keeping it simple.”
“We’ve got a good group of players here, so it’s very competitive,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of young guys coming in, and we’ve got some older guys who’ve been in the league for awhile. I guess it’s a numbers game, so when I get in, I just try to keep it simple, keep the turnovers down to a minimum, and do what I can to help the guys win.”
After playing three games with the Monarchs, Sabourin returned to the Reign on February 25. But there was more to his being assigned to Manchester than just getting some badly needed ice time. A strong indicator of that came after the win over Stockton on February 17, when yours truly asked Stothers what Sabourin needs to improve upon to earn more ice time.
Stothers stammered, hemmed and hawed, and in the end, avoided answering the question.
“There’s lots of things he needs to continue to work on, which he and I will continue to talk about,” Stothers said, abruptly.
Stothers’ reticence to answer a simple question about a Kings prospect was concerning. In fact, he was visibly uncomfortable while considering his response. But while Stothers avoided the question, his boss did not.
“Part of it is gaining the trust of the coach at that level—[Sabourin] needs to do that,” said Blake. “It’s a little about consistency. He didn’t get into a playoff game last year. It’s the consistency factor, but the biggest thing is gaining the trust of the coach. They want to simplify his game, making it an up-and-down game. He’s got to work on that issue.”
Blake indicated that Sabourin has not met the Kings’ expectations, in terms of his development.
“If he was [meeting expectations], he’d be in the lineup all the time,” Blake emphasized. “I don’t think he’s made the progress that we’ve wanted, but you saw him in that rookie tournament. You saw the abilities that he has. We just need to get that out of him.”
Blake said that consistency is Sabourin’s Achilles’ Heel.
“He’s got to be able to play,” Blake noted. “When he’s in there, turnovers cause issues with the coaches. Simplifying his game, no matter where he’s playing in the lineup, that dictates the way you need to be playing.”
“If you’re near the bottom of the lineup, we want you playing with energy, getting pucks out [of the defensive zone] near the blue line,” Blake added. “He’s got to do that.”
“I don’t think it’s a factor of not working hard enough. He’s been a tremendous teammate with the guys. They all appreciate him. He comes in every day, regardless if he’s in or out of the lineup. He was a tremendous [teammate] during the playoffs last year. But I think the focus part during the game needs to be there.”
Sabourin also discussed some of the things the Kings development staff have been working with him on.
“From day one, it’s been stay athletic, make sure you’re not overworking out there,” he explained. “Play your position. It’s a systematic game nowadays, so if you play your position, you’re better off. The puck will find you that way. Get pucks in, get pucks out and be a north-south guy.”
Despite the tough road he’s been on, Sabourin is working hard to remain patient.
“They have a role for you to fill, so you want to do that to the best of your ability,” he said. “But that day will come, and you’ll get to show what you have. If I were ever to fit into the Kings’ system, I’d be a bottom two-line kind of guy. They want me to perfect that. The rest will come along after.”
“I’ve matured as a player, so a lot of it is the smarts,” he added. “I’ve gotten smarter. I think my positioning is better and I’m not overzealous, trying to jump in there.”
To his credit, Sabourin is keeping up a positive attitude.
“I’m playing hockey for a living, right? So there’s no complaints there,” he stressed. “I show up to the rink every day, and do what I love—play hockey, practice hockey—whatever it is. We’ve got a good group of guys in the room. It’s good camaraderie. It’s not hard to stay positive.”
But noting that he is in the final year of his three-year, entry-level contract, will Sabourin’s chance, if it ever materializes, come while he’s a part of the Kings organization?
To be sure, if he continues to struggle with his development for the rest of the season, it seems likely that Sabourin won’t be re-signed. But that’s not something he can afford to think about now.
“I feel like, over the last three years, I’ve developed,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working towards the bigger goal.”
Frozen Royalty’s Scott Sabourin Coverage
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- Scott Sabourin Took An Unusual Path To Become An NHL Prospect With LA Kings
- Manchester Monarchs Forward Scott Sabourin Has Made Quite The Impression In LA Kings Training Camp
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Scott Sabourin, shown here playing for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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