EL SEGUNDO, CA — After scoring seven goals in a 15-game span, including a four-game goal scoring streak (November 19-25, 2018), Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Matt Luff’s offensive production dried up in mid-December.
Indeed, the 21-year-old, 6-2, 196-pound native of Oakville, Ontario, who was called up by the Kings on November 2, has not scored a goal since December 15 and has not recorded an assist since December 23. The dearth of production is, at least partially, a reason that he was returned to the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League on January 12.
With the Reign this season, Luff has played in twelve games, scoring six goals with six assists for twelve points, with a +5 rating and ten penalty minutes.
Luff was recalled by the Kings on January 29, and has joined the big club on their current road trip which begins on February 2 against the New York Islanders.
Luff spoke exclusively to Frozen Royalty prior to his recall, stating that his confidence needed a boost.
“They just talked to me about getting some confidence back, playing a lot of minutes down here and playing in situations that I probably wouldn’t be [with the Kings] right now,” he said. “Penalty-kill, power play, overtime, 4-on-4.”
“It’s just figuring out my game again, getting my confidence back and getting shots on net,” he added. “Just getting the feel for the puck. I’m also working on getting my feet moving and being good with the puck.”
To be sure, scoring those seven goals with the Kings in short order caught the attention of opposing teams.
“Any time you score seven goals quickly, people see that and they put expectations on the table for you,” said Luff. “I mean, I’d like to score in the majority of the games. But right now, I’m going through a dry spell. I don’t feel like I’m getting the chances I want to get or the touches, so I think puck management is a big thing for me and not giving up a chance to shoot instead of looking for a pass. I think that’s the biggest thing for me—shoot it from any angle. A puck on net is never a bad idea.”
Reign head coach Mike Stothers pointed out that when young, previously unknown players show that they can put the puck in the net, they suddenly draw added attention.
“He was having some success, but once that happens, other teams start adjusting to a guy they didn’t know anything about,” he noted. “Now it’s a little harder for him to find open space or to get the puck as much.”
Stothers also noted that the Kings making a coaching chance earlier in the season put their young players at a greater disadvantage.
“He’s auditioning for new a coaching staff that isn’t very familiar with what his strengths and weaknesses are, and maybe you’re not playing in the situations you were playing in before,” said Stothers. “But it’s all on him. You have to prove that you can play, be consistent and work hard every day.”
“I just think once some guys came back [from injury], lines got mixed around,” Luff observed. “We’ve got good lines and good forwards and I’m not expecting to be ahead of anyone. But I’m not use to being out of the lineup and I hung that over my own head. It wasn’t anyone else. It was a battle to get through that in my own mind. That got into my head. But now, I’m concentrating on showing them why I should stay in the lineup. That’s what I’m looking at now.”
Although Luff had been struggling with the Kings before he was assigned back to the Reign, a little adversity is often a good thing.
“There’s a lot of value to him and I don’t think what he’s going through is uncommon for a young player,” said Stothers. “There’s going to be some hiccups along the way. I’m not really concerned about him not producing right now. That’s part of the process and I think it’s good for him.”
“You don’t want things to come too easily,” added Stothers. “You want them to work hard for it. There are a lot of good things that you can learn from adversity. He’s gone up there and he played well and being around NHL players, he’s become more professional.”
Stothers also noted that more than what might be obvious on the surface with Luff has changed for the better.
“He looks like he’s become a man,” he noted. “He just looks like he’s matured. Maybe it’s just the way he’s carrying himself and he should have more confidence. He’s had some success and has done really well with the Kings. But when you look at him, he looks like a hockey player. He looks like an athlete. He looks like a guy who belongs and the transformation has really been amazing.”
“When he came here, he looked like the kid from Home Alone,” he added, grinning from ear-to-ear. “But now, all of a sudden, he looks like a real NHL player. That’s a credit to him. He’s put in a lot of time and effort into it.”
Of course, Luff’s focus has to be on what he needs to do on the ice.
“I’m sure that I can still play up there,” he said. “I need to give them a reason that when they need a guy, I’ll be one of the guys they’ll call back up. I’ve just got to show them what I can do and execute the plan.”
As reported earlier, Luff has been recalled and is back with the Kings. The question now is when he’ll return to the lineup and once he does, whether or not he can give the Kings coaches that reason he spoke of.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings rookie right wing Matt Luff (number 9, in white), shown here during a recent Ontario Reign practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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