EL SEGUNDO, CA — The 2015-16 season was a bit of a mixed bag for Los Angeles Kings left wing prospect Joel Lowry, who began the season on the shelf after aggravating a back injury he suffered during his senior season at Cornell University that required surgery.
“I tried to come back a little too soon and I had a setback,” said the 24-year-old, 6-2, 185-pound native of Calgary, Alberta. “I had a fragment in the spinal cord that caused the same symptoms as before the surgery, so I just had a lot of rehab to do, and it took a little longer than I expected.”
“I really had to focus on my rehab and take time off to let the disc settle back down,” added Lowry, who was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (140th overall) of the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft. “It took longer than expected and longer than I had hoped, but fortunately, I was able to come back last year and get into some games, which was good.”
“It took a little bit of time,” he noted. “When I first came back, I wasn’t up to game speed, especially because the jump between college and the American Hockey League is a big one. I think, coming in mid-season, having missed training camp, everyone’s in mid-season form, which made the transition even harder.”
“Last year, it was frustrating for him,” said Reign head coach Mike Stothers. “He was here for training camp. Couldn’t really participate in most of the drills, and then even starting the season, he wasn’t 100 percent healthy. The season starts, you kind of get left behind a little bit, and he had to play catch-up for the rest of the year.”
But by the time the end of the regular season and playoffs came around, Lowry had caught up.
“I think once I got my feet under me, especially towards the end of the season, I felt a lot more comfortable and that was reflected in my play,” he observed. “We had a lot of injuries at the end of the year, so there were opportunities for guys to step up. We were all just trying to do our part to try and get wins.”
Lowry definitely made an impression on his coach.
“I thought he had a real strong finish for us,” Stothers noted. “I thought he was really good in the playoffs for us. Real good hockey sense. You can tell the bloodlines are good. He’s got an edge to him, he’s got some nastiness to him. He’s not afraid of the physical play, and he’s got a real nice set of hands. He’s real good at getting that puck upstairs in a hurry, in tight.”
The bloodlines that Stothers mentioned was a reference to Joel’s father, former NHL player Dave Lowry, who played 1,064 regular season games for the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, from 1985-2004.
“He scored some nice goals for us, so we’re excited for Joel to be able to start the season for us fresh, 100 percent healthy, and I think it gives us a really good element that we need,” said Stothers. “[His production] was a little surprising to me because I didn’t know a lot about him coming into it last year. You’re not paying attention to him, and if they can’t participate right away in camp, you just set it aside. You don’t pay close attention to [that player] until he’s 100 percent. But he works hard and he wants to be a complete player.”
“Any time you can chip in, it feels nice,” said Lowry. “Going from college to the AHL was a big jump for me, but in college, I was one of the go-to guys who was expected to score and that wasn’t necessarily my role last year with the Reign. Being able to step up and contribute, especially during the playoffs, I was happy about that.”
Lowry’s biggest asset is the way he thinks the game.
“Joel’s obviously got some great bloodlines,” said Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa. “But having spent some quality time with him in the off-season here, he’s a neat kid in the sense that he’s a student of the game. He’s got that same burn in his eyes that his Dad had when he played, and he’s got a hockey mind that’s special. He’s got an NHL hockey IQ, there’s no question about that.”
“Your hockey mind is an incredible strength when you read the game as naturally well as he does,” added Futa. “There’s certain guys who have to look at the playbook and commit it to memory. ‘Am I in the right spot?’ He’s always in the right spot because he has such a good feel for the game on the defensive side of the puck and the offensive side. But when you’re talking about back surgery, he’s so far behind, from an experience standpoint—it was a bit of a stationary bike race for a little while with him. Now, he’s starting to make some strides, but his body now has to catch up to his mind.”
Indeed, like so many young prospects, Lowry needs to add muscle to his frame.
“He’s got to be bigger,” Futa stressed. “That’s not something we’re straying away from. If you look at the way he plays, he needs to be bigger and he needs to be stronger. When you have that kind of back surgery, you’re behind where you need to be and you have to play catch-up. But he’s putting in all the proper work. It’s just going to take some time.”
“He’s got to continue to get stronger, which will help him get a little bit faster,” Futa added. “If you look at a guy like Trevor Lewis, he’s the same way. He’s so intelligent without the puck that he’s always in the right position. But Trevor Lewis is a much better skater, so that’s an aspect that Joel’s going to have to work on because you can’t teach his hockey sense. You can’t teach his competitive nature. It’s an intangible that’s there, one that we value in all of our prospects. But he’s got it in spades.”
Even though Lowry needs to get stronger, it’s not like he’s getting pushed around on the ice.
“One of my strengths is my physical play—get in on the forecheck, hunt pucks and be physical,” he said. “The style of play is definitely one that I enjoy playing.”
“[I try to be] tenacious on pucks, be physical and finish checks,” he added. “Being hard to play against is something I have to do every night, and that’s one thing I think I was able to bring to the Reign.”
Going back to the jump from college to the AHL, Lowry certainly had his eyes opened last season, and the biggest lesson he learned was that coaches get rather upset when you make a habit of giving the puck away.
“I think you just really have to focus on the details,” he noted. “You can’t turn the puck over because the players are bigger, stronger and faster. You really have to limit your turnovers and the risks you take, especially being a young guy trying to fit into a lineup. That was a big adjustment for me.”
“If you turn the puck over in this league, guys will make you pay,” he added. “That’s something that, especially young players, need to focus on.”
The Kings also want Lowry to work on handling the puck and his shot.
“There’s some tools there, but that’s one of the things our development guys are working on with him,” Futa noted. “He’s got such a good mind, if his hands get a little bit better, if his shot gets a little bit better, all that stuff is going to come easier to him. He’s one of those kids who has to put extra time in that area, and he will.”
“[Lowry] scored some big goals down the stretch for Ontario,” Futa added. “He’s a gamer who will, somehow, find his way to the National Hockey League. But physically, he’s going to need at least a good year of American Hockey League consistency and health to get himself the opportunity.”
Lowry said that although he’d like to play a bigger role with Ontario this season, he’s ready for whatever role they want him to play.
“I’m ready for whatever they give me,” he said. “I’m a fairly versatile player and I think I’m ready for any role, for whatever they need. I just want to be a consistent player who [Stothers] can count on, in all situations.”
“I’m not focused on long-term season goals. I just need to make sure, day in and day out, that I bring the work ethic and that I’m getting better every day.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings left wing prospect Joel Lowry (foreground), shown here during the team’s 2016 Rookie Camp on Septmber 16, 2016 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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