THE FUTURE IS NOW
With the annual Draft officially now in the rearview mirror, eyes from the revamped Kings Hockey Operations department now shift to the club's annual Development Camp, which will be held July 10-14 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
Featuring first-round draft choices Jonathan Bernier, a goaltender, and Trevor Lewis, a center, Kings brass will soon get to see their new prospects up close and personal. It is a highly anticipated on-ice event indeed.
"We're excited about our kids. We had a real good draft," said Ron Hextall, the Kings' first-year Assistant General Manager who also serves as the General Manager of the American Hockey League (AHL), the Kings' primary affiliate.
"To give them the experience of coming to Los Angeles and to see what we expect from them moving forward as they move closer to potential professional careers is great. This Camp basically shows them our expectations and where they've got to get to realistically have a shot at the NHL."
With Hextall also serving as a key executive with the Monarchs, he has two rosters to help fill out.
"It's important for all of us as a staff just to get to know the players. We're all new and we need to get to know our players. The sooner we get to know them the better. This gives us a real good chance to take a look at our kids and assess where we're at in terms of our future."
At June's Entry Draft in Vancouver, the Kings made eight selections. They also acquired 21-year-old Patrick Sullivan in a trade with Minnesota to further increase a Kings youthful talent pool that also features forwards Anze Kopitar, Brian Boyle and Lauri Tukonen, each of whom were drafted by L.A. in the first-round in recent years.
O'Sullivan should stick out even more in July as he already has one year of pro hockey under his belt – and what a year it was for O'Sullivan who played in 78 games for Houston of the American Hockey League (AHL) this past season and had 93 points (47-46=93) and 64 penalty minutes.
His 47 goals ranked third and his 93 points ranked fourth in the AHL while both totals ranked first among rookies and were Houston rookie records. Also, he was awarded the Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding rookie (as voted by AHL players and the media).
"He has already proven that he can play at a high level in the minors," said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi of O'Sullivan. "His play this year in the minors for an 1985 year-born was pretty special. It's not an easy League to play in and he's already proven that he can do it there. He's a talented kid."
This year's Camp is a bit different than in recent summers as clubs, as part of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, can only bring in players who belong to the organization. The Camp has also been trimmed from two weeks to one, so each shift, each drill becomes that much more important to the players, coaches and staff.
"It will be the first opportunity for me to see many of these guys up close and on the ice. I'm thrilled to see our new prospects. They're new to me though maybe not new to our organization, and I'm really looking forward to that," said Marc Crawford, the Kings' new Head Coach.
With a new coach such as Crawford in place, and a new-look executive front office headed by Lombardi and Hextall, the former standout NHL goalie, time for these young players to impress begins, well, now.
After all, you know what they say about first impressions...
"Hopefully all of these guys realize that every opportunity you have on the ice is an opportunity to impress someone and leave a lasting impression," said Crawford, the former Head Coach of the Canucks and Avalanche. "In Vancouver we didn't have a Development Camp, so even though we only have it for a week here in Los Angeles, it will be great for me to get my first introduction into these Camps. I know that they had a longer camp last time, but this one will still be greatly beneficial."
Daryl Evans, the former Kings forward who serves as the team's color commentator on radio broadcasts, has seen first-hand over the years the benefits of the Camp for the players.
"I think the use of a Development Camp is very beneficial, not only for the players but for the organization as a whole," said Evans from his office at the Toyota Sports Center. "From a player's standpoint I think it gives the young players in particular an opportunity to come and meet the coaching, equipment and training staffs, and to become familiar with them. They also can get used to the facility so that when they do come to a major training camp, it's not as much of a culture shock.
"It also gives the organization a chance to introduce the type of things that they will expect of the individuals and allows those young players to let them know what is expected of them.
"I think it's a win-win for all sides."
In addition to Bernier, Lewis and O'Sullivan, who is also set to attend the Camp, 2006 draft choices Joe Ryan (a defenseman), Jeff Zatkoff (goalie), Bud Holloway (center/right wing), Niclas Andersen (defenseman), David Meckler (center), Martin Nolen (defenseman) and Constantin Braun (left wing) are slated to be in Los Angeles as are a handful or guys who have already made their Kings/NHL debuts, including Konstantin Pushkarev.
Braun, who in June was selected by the Kings in the sixth-round (164th overall), is a native of Germany who played last year with EHC Eisbaren Berlin of the Deutsche Eishockey League. It is one of the three European teams owned by AEG, the Kings' parent company.
"He is a kid with good size," said Kings Pro Scout Rob Laird of the 6-3, 198-pound Braun. "A couple of our European-based scouts, Ari Vuori and Jan Vopat, saw him play and liked him. I have been in touch with his coach, Pierre Page, and his general manager, Peter Lee, in Germany.
"For an 18-year-old kid to have played in the top pro league in Germany, that is pretty comparable to him playing in the American Hockey League. His team also won a Championship and it was a big compliment for him to be a part of that squad."
The entire Kings 2006 Development Camp roster will be announced soon, as will the specific on-ice schedule. All on-ice workouts are open to the public at no charge.
This is the sixth annual event, and the club is expecting some 20 players to participate, including a handful of netminders.
Hextall, the former goaltender, said he does not specifically focus on the goalies while he watches the on-ice activity.
"I step back and look at the big picture. I will be paying attention to the goaltenders but also to the rest of our kids."
Kings forward George Parros, originally selected by the club in the eighth-round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, participated in a couple of those early camps in El Segundo. He played in his first 55 NHL games this past season, and without the benefits of the Camp he knows that might not have ever happened.
"It helped a lot," said Parros of his those times in his young career. "It helped acclimate me to the professional style of game. I played with guys who had played junior hockey and I had not seen them before as I played in college.
"I personally liked the pressure of everyone from the Kings front office watching me and it was a good tune-up for what was to come in the AHL and in the NHL. It helped my game out a lot with the speed and quickness of the game. It allowed me to show my face around the rink and let them know who I was too."
Players such as Parros, Noah Clarke, Matt Ryan, Dustin Brown, Petr Kanko and Richard Petiot all have something in common other than playing in the NHL with the Kings. Each, at one point or another, participated in this Development Camp, something Evans would have loved to have taken part in when he played the game professionally.
"I know that when I played it would have been a great opportunity to be able to do something like this," he said. "I remember the first training camp I went to and it was a little overwhelming. You see some of the 10, 12, 15-year veterans of the NHL skating around or coming into the building and you can feel really intimidated.
"I think this is a great way for some of the younger players to meet those guys or at least have some common ground with the coaching and training staffs. I think that makes the transition a lot easier and allows those athletes to perform better at training camp."
And according to Lombardi, that transition for many of these prospects begins now, though patience is a must.
"The focus now is to get them into the right development program which starts here. We want to start developing them as people as well as hockey players."