EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the Los Angeles Kings being set with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter occupying their first and second line center positions, Nic Dowd is expected to remain in the third line center spot. But entering his second full season in the National Hockey League, he is looking for greater responsibility, a bigger role.
Both Dowd and his coaches are looking for improvement in key areas that will allow him to take on the added responsibility that he seeks.
“[His rookie season] was challenging,” he noted. “It’s the best league in the world. As a new guy, it’s challenging to put consistency into your game. That was the hardest thing. You’d have great games, but then, you’d have games where you either made big mistakes, or you couldn’t even be found on the ice.”
“That occurs at each level because you’re playing against better players,” he added. “It’s the ability to find consistency throughout the year that separates players.”
Consistency is critical, but the reality is that over an 82-game season, no player is at the top of their game every single night.
“You’ve got to find ways—if the body isn’t feeling great that day, you’ve got to find ways to contribute, even if it’s not on the score sheet,” he said. “That’s something that falls on me, and no one else.”
Dowd indicated that he needs to be faster and be better in an area the Kings will focus on this season: the middle of the ice.
“I need to find more speed between the tops of the [face-off circles on each end of the ice],” he said. “Through the middle of the ice, I have the ability to make plays, but I need to get myself into position to get the puck more. Last year, I felt comfortable in the defensive zone. But once again, there’s always room for improvement. In the defensive zone, if you work to get the puck back more, you get it back faster, and you have the ability to make more plays.”
“Once I did have the puck in the offensive zone, I was able to maintain possession quite a bit, and make some plays,” he added. “Another thing is that I need to be better on face-offs. I think I was at 48 percent last year. I’d like to be up around 52 or 53 percent. That’ll get you more ice time, allowing you to have more responsibility, and giving you the ability to make more plays and create.”
“Face-offs is an area we want our young guys to get better at, not just Nic,” said head coach John Stevens. “We’re heavily loaded with defensive zone starts with [Carter and Kopitar taking the majority of those face-offs]. We need guys like Nic [and Nick Shore] to help us out there. Having the confidence in themselves and us having the confidence in them—that goes two ways—that they can get more defensive zone starts and create some secondary scoring.”
The focus on the middle of the ice and getting pucks and bodies to the front of the net is already apparent just two days into training camp.
“It’s no secret that most of the goals scored in the NHL are from five or six feet from the net,” said Dowd. “Getting there is difficult because teams are coached to keep you out of there. That’s the ‘house,’ that’s the most dangerous area. That’s why you can find space on the perimeter, but you’re 30 feet away from the net. Goalies in this league aren’t going to give up goals from out there.”
A bit of a surprise was that Dowd saw significant time on the power play last season, despite being a rookie.
“It was a really big privilege [to be on the power play from early in the season],” he said. “I contributed a bit on the power play. I felt comfortable being there, and the older guys sure helped me feel that way.”
“Coming in here, I didn’t anticipate that I would be given that responsibility so early,” he added. “But it really helped my game. It gave me an additional three or four minutes a game. That’s huge, and being on the power play you touch the puck a lot more than you would, five-on-five, because you have more possession and you’re passing the puck around more. All that really helped my game. I’m really thankful that they thought I had the ability to help out on the power play.”
Two days into training camp, Dowd has already noticed some subtle differences from last season’s training camp under former head coach Darryl Sutter.
“Some of the things I’ve noticed, which aren’t better or worse—Johnny is big on giving us the creativity to make plays in the offensive zone,” he observed. “He gives us a little bit of structure, and there’s things that we really want to focus on, and have in our game that we need to do consistently. But once we check those boxes, he gives us the ability to be creative. That helps give us confidence.”
As for Stevens, he’s looking for Dowd, and the rest of his young forwards, to take another step forward.
“Like all of our young guys, we want to get better in a lot of areas,” said Stevens. “We want more production from guys like [Dowd], not just him. You can take our whole bottom six, with the exception of [Trevor Lewis]. Lewie had a career year, in terms of production. He generated a lot of that secondary offense we’re talking about.”
“More speed on the rush, more rush play out of [Dowd]—that should be a strength of his game,” added Stevens. “If we get a higher amount of secondary offense out of a guy like Nic, I think we’d all be happy.”
LEAD PNOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Nic Dowd (right), skating in on goaltender Johathan Quick during a training camp drill. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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