EL SEGUNDO, CA — Like it or not, with the Los Angeles Kings having traded veteran defenseman Jake Muzzin, along with veteran forward Nate Thompson and then, defenseman Oscar Fantenberg, in recent weeks, the reality is that the Kings are officially in a rebuilding mode.
For the uninitiated, that means at least a few years of pain while the team acquires, primarily through the draft, young, talented players and then, develops and hones their skills in the minor leagues so that they can play in the National Hockey League.
If their last (which was also their first) rebuild is any indication, this process could take five or six years before they might become a Stanley Cup contender again. Of course, there are no guarantees. A lot could go wrong along the way. Nevertheless, the fact that their first rebuild resulted in them winning two Stanley Cup Championships in three seasons is a reason for hope.
In any case, the focus now is not so much on the current Kings team, although what they will do with their key players this summer is certainly going to be a big story. But unless a miracle happens and they become a contender within the next two or three years (can you say, “pipe dream?”), their current stars are not likely to be around by the time the Kings ascend to the level of Stanley Cup contender once again.
As such, it’s time to start looking at the young players already in their system who could play a key role for them down the road. One such player is 22-year-old left wing Mikey Eyssimont, who was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft.
“I’m happy with my decision to leave college,” he said. “I think I’ve become a better hockey player this year.”
Eyssimont, who has scored seven goals and has added seven assists for 14 points in 45 games, with a —8 plus/minus rating and 35 penalty minutes, joined the Reign late last season, which helped ease him into things.
“It was nice getting those three games at the end of last season, so I kind of had a full summer to know what to expect,” he noted. “The schedule is a lot different. There are a lot more games. But overall, I’ve adapted well. I got used to the speed right off the bat at the start of the year.”
“Going from college, where I was a go-to guy, to coming here and trying to find my role, as a first-year pro, I’m trying to find a different side of my game,” he added. “It’s been fun. I’m becoming a more well-rounded player because of that. That’s part of the development path for me to make it to the next level.”
“It’s been exciting. I’ve learned a lot. As a team, things haven’t gone the way we’ve wanted, so far. Lately, things have been looking up and I’m lucky to be on a team with some veterans who have showed me how to be a pro, on and off the ice.”
But Eyssimont’s first year in the AHL has been anything but easy. Indeed, despite his raw skill and talent, he went 15 games without scoring a goal earlier this season and is currently in the midst of a 12-game goal scoring drought.
“It’s been quite the process for Mikey,” said Reign head coach Mike Stothers. “I don’t think the season has gone the way he’s wanted. It’s been frustrating for him. I think he’s really fighting it. It’s hard to play in the American Hockey League. It’s hard to play professional hockey. It’s hard to get ready every day, whether it’s a practice or a game.”
“He’s coming out of college where he was used to that routine. Now, he’s got to get used to a new routine and ours is a little bit different from the Kings—the mode of travel—it takes a toll on you. But on the ice, I sense some frustration in him because I know he’s looking for more results. He’s looking for more points and they haven’t come easy.”
Often times, especially in the case of young, developing players, not getting on the score sheet often enough leads down a dead end road.
“When you don’t score, sometimes you press and try to do too much,” Stothers explained. “It seems like an easy thing—you haven’t scored, so shoot the puck more. But then they try to over-handle the puck. They over-analyze things. Do I pass here? Do I shoot here? Then, it’s over. Then there’s nothing to show for it and another game goes by and then another.”
Eyssimont indicated that he has been working hard with the Reign coaching staff and the Kings development staff.
“Point production hasn’t been there for me this year,” he said. “But that comes with growth, as a pro, and opportunity. That’s something I’m going to continue to work for.”
“As a young guy, I was given some leeway, early in the year, to see what to expect on the power play, and in different situations, and as the year has gone on, Coach Stothers has tried to be smart, and he understands that I’m developing, as a player,” he added. “He knows that point production isn’t the only sign of a player’s development, so the coaching staff is working hard with me on video with on-ice stuff to help my point production.”
“A lot of it has been skating, but we work on fundamentals—passing and shooting to harder stuff like edges and game situations and we’ve worked on making space for myself and my confidence.”
Stothers went into more detail regarding what they’re focusing on with Eyssimont.
“You try to create environments for him, through video, where you show him how he could have done less, as far as over-analyzing or over-handling the puck,” he noted. “You try to show him areas of the ice to go into where he could have better success.”
“It’s funny,” he added. “Say you don’t stop in front of the net. You just drive by. There was an opportunity that you weren’t there for. Or maybe, instead of getting into the hole where there’s a little bit of traffic, you’re always on the perimeter. You’re not going to get results.”
“You might have been able to get away with that in college or junior, but at the AHL and NHL levels, you’ve got to penetrate into those areas and not just sometimes. You’ve got to do it all that time, and that’s part of the process. They realize, ‘I’m getting beaten up in here. Guys are hitting me and cross-checking me. I’m in a battle.’ Well, do you want to stay in the battle? Or just go into the battle sometimes? If you only go into the battle sometimes, you’re only going to get results sometimes. But it’s coming with Mikey.”
If this all sounds rather discouraging, taken at face value, you’d be right. But under the circumstances, that sentiment is rather premature. After all, Eyssimont is a late-round draft pick and is only in his first full season at the professional level, something Stothers emphasized.
“I’m not discouraged by the lack of production,” he said. “I just think it’s typical of a guy who had some success at a lower level. Again, it doesn’t come easy up here. There’s a price to pay to have success in the American Hockey League and in pro hockey, in general.”
“There have been a lot of guys who’ve come out of junior hockey who had 100-point seasons,” he added. “Maybe they won a scoring title. But when they reach the pros, they can’t play. It takes‘em a little bit. So we’ll be patient with Mikey. He’s tried hard. He needs to improve his skating, but he knows that. He needs to stay on his feet more, too. He falls down a lot and gets knocked down a lot. Maybe that’s part of getting a stronger core, I don’t know. Maybe it’s part of working on his skating. But he does have a sick set of hands and you can’t teach that. He has some legitimate offensive talent. We just haven’t seen it yet and because he has that, you don’t want to write him off. He just needs a little bit more time to adjust.”
“The process is there with Mikey. He’s OK. He’s just not where he’d like to be, right now.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings left wing prospect Mikey Eyssimont (foreground), shown here during the 2018 rookie tournament at City National Arena in Summerlin, Nevada, September 11, 2018. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.