Hammond's Weekly Feature: Trevor Lewis
In one of those draft-day stories that sounds like something out of a spy novel, the Kings ended up drafting Lewis in the first round of the 2006 NHL Draft.
There have been several starts and stops for Lewis in the ensuing four years, but now he seems to be developing into a regular, reliable player.
After being a healthy scratch for the first four games, and seven of the first eight, Lewis has stepped into a fourth-line center role and, over the past few games, has been one of the Kings' most responsible two-way players, even drawing some penalty-killing responsibilities.
Lewis' story is one of a late bloomer, an intelligent, quiet leader who didn't quite grab hold of his first two opportunities to stick in the NHL but seemed to have found a charm on the third time.
"It's good,'' Lewis said. "Obviously at the beginning of the year, I was in and out of the lineup, but it's good to get a few games in a row here. I think if I can just keep playing and using my speed and playing smart hockey, I think I should be all right.''
Lewis, a 23-year-old rookie who can play all three forward positions, has been on a slow, steady progression for the past five years.
In his first year of junior hockey, with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, Lewis did little to draw attention. He totaled 10 goals and 12 assists in his first season and, as a draft-eligible 18-year-old, went through the entire 2005 Draft without being selected.
Lewis returned to Des Moines, packed almost a dozen pounds onto his 6-foot-1 frame, saw his playing time increased and bumped up his production to 35 goals and 40 assists.
That certainly got Lewis some attention from NHL teams, most notably the Kings.
The Kings had recently hired Dean Lombardi as their new general manager and held the No. 11 overall pick in 2006. The Kings had identified goalie Jonathan Bernier as their clear top target, but also had eyes for Lewis and believed he might be picked somewhere in the range of 15 to 20.
That led Lombardi to chat with Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough, who held pick No. 17.
Risebrough had his eye on a player at No. 17, but reached an agreement with Lombardi. If Lewis was still available at No. 17, and if the player the Wild coveted was off the board, the Kings would trade Pavol Demitra for Minnesota prospect Patrick O'Sullivan and the No. 17 pick.
There was a hitch in the plan.
"Doug said, `How do I know you're not going to change your mind?'' Lombardi said.
So, Lombardi hatched a plan. He wrote Lewis' name on a piece of paper and had Risebrough initial the paper. Risebrough wrote the name of his targeted player on a piece of paper and Lombardi initialed it. The two pieces of paper were then handed to an unaffiliated third party.
"He wanted to be sure that we weren't going to call off the trade, but we didn't want him to know that we were looking at Lewis,'' Lombardi said.
After some tense moments, Lewis remained available at No. 17, the Wild's target was off the boards, the swap went down and Lewis became a King.
Even at that point, Lewis' rise to the NHL was no sure bet. He was, by Lombardi's admission, a late bloomer. A native of Salt Lake City, not exactly a hockey hotbed -- Lewis was only the second Utahan to crack the NHL -- Lewis did not often play highly competitive hockey while growing up.
Before the draft, and even several weeks after, Lewis seemed headed to the University of Michigan, but in mid-July, Lewis called an audible and signed an entry-level contract with the Kings.
Lewis spent one season with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, played one full season with Manchester of the AHL (2007-08), then had brief stints with the Kings in 2008-09 (six games) and 2009-10 (five games) but couldn't stick for the long term.
Consistency was the issue for Lewis, but Lombardi describes Lewis as ``highly coachable'' and the Kings' staff remained optimistic about Lewis' long-term future, even when a serious shoulder injury cost him more than half of the season with the Monachs last season.
Lewis returned for the AHL playoffs and had five goals and four assists in 16 games, then made the Kings' roster out of training camp this year. A press-box spectator early in the season, Lewis now seems like a lineup staple, having earned the trust of coach Terry Murray.
"He was one of our better forwards in the game against Boston, carrying the puck,'' Murray said. ``The thing he's very effective at is, he's got very good hockey sense. He's a good penalty killer. He has awareness, and whenever things get heated up in his own end, he grabs a hold of the puck and he's got such great foot speed and confidence with the puck that he can carry it out of trouble.''
Lewis seemed to develop some quick chemistry with Kevin Westgarth, a Manchester teammate in the past two seasons, and Kyle Clifford, and Lewis also hasn't looked out of place playing alongside more veteran wingers such as Dustin Brown and Brad Richardson.
One big issue, as it is for many young players, is confidence.
"Definitely,'' Lewis said. "I think my confidence is a lot higher. I think my biggest thing is that I know I can play in this league. I've just got to go out there and keep proving that I can. … I was a little nervous too, last year. I think I've been telling myself to just settle down and just play my game. I think that's a big part of it.''
Lewis' current role isn't an easy one. He's averaging less than 10 minutes a game and is asked to do some gritty, hard-nosed work in a fourth-line role.
Then, even when he's been sitting for a while, Lewis can be sent on the ice at a moment's notice for some highly important penalty-kill work. Even if he's not playing a lot, the pressure can still mount.
"I think mainly it's keeping my head in it,'' Lewis said, "even if we get a lot of power plays and [the fourth line] isn't playing a lot, just staying focused, watch guys and then, once you get out there, you've got to get pucks in deep to try to create energy for the team. I think we're doing a pretty good job of that.''
It's difficult to anticipate what Lewis' long-term potential might be. Lewis has never been considered a top-level scorer, so his ability to rise to a top-six forward role might be questionable, but Lewis' versatility -- he's a natural center -- and work ethic bode well for him.
As part of a Kings organization that has strong depth at center -- including Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus, Richardson, Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov, among others -- Lewis might be best positioned for a fourth-line center role, with the potential to rise to the third line.
"Possibly,'' Murray said. "He's definitely going to be a very good checking center iceman, with speed, and a very versatile killer. He contributes big time on the penalty kill and 4-on-4. I have confidence in that situation. He could be a third-line center down the road, yeah.''