Meet Larry the Left Wing, LA's Newest Hotshot Prospect
Defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Yet, part of that statement becomes less relevant with each passing day.
Following his first three years of junior hockey with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, he found himself traded to the Gatineau Olympiques.
Nick, as he was known then, played out his final year of eligibility in the QMJHL (sister-league to the OHL and WHL) and progressively elevated his game to the next level. Despite missing time with a knee injury, he set a career-high with 13 goals and was nearly a point-per-game player. Further, he was one of the league's top offensive defensemen in the playoffs, posting 20 points in 24 post-season games and leading his team to the championship final vs. the Saint John Sea Dogs.
His pro career began shortly after, when he signed a three-year Entry Level Contract with the Kings, who eventually assigned him to Manchester. At first, he struggled, but eventually found his footing midway through his AHL rookie campaign.
"He would get the puck and try to take it coast-to-coast every time and wasn’t using his teammates very effectively," explained Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "We had to settle his game down a little bit and get him to focus on being more of a guy that supported the rush, rather than lead the rush. That took some doing. We realized that he needed a lot of work at tidying up his defensive reads and learning how to defend more effectively, because he was so puck focused."
Tying to instill the importance of defense in Deslauriers was a challenge at times, especially coming out of the wide-open Quebec League, where offense-at-all-costs could be the motto most seasons.
“It was not easy for Nick, and it wasn’t easy for us," Morris continued, through a smile that showed just how happy he is those days are behind him. "There were times when I think that he was ready to tune us out and got pretty frustrated with things because, obviously, when a guy is offensive-minded, and they don’t have the numbers they're accustomed to seeing associated with their name at the end of the game, I think that he had his doubts as to whether he was going to be drinking the Kool-Aid or not."
All of that changed once Morris and his staff implemented an incentive plan of sorts.
"He started getting some power play time and started to be a little more productive," said Morris. "The better he got defensively, the more we gave him on the offensive side of things. He realized that the carrot was out there, and that if he wanted to continue, there was a little bit of give and take. So if he started to slide in his defensive awareness, we would take away power play time.”
Then, late last season, his hockey career took an unexpected left turn.
With an abundance of defenseman, Morris asked him to skate at forward for a few games.
"We still wanted to keep Nick in the lineup," he explained. "We felt like he could really help us there. So he jumped up and he played a little bit and we kind of liked what we saw."
Although Deslauriers served his purpose admirably as a fill-in at forward, the experiment was largely an afterthought within a few weeks. Summer came and the 230-pound happy-go-lucky prospect went about his normal routine of preparing for the 2013-14 season as a defenseman - until everything changed a few months later.
Morris recalls, “Jack Ferreira [special assistant to Kings GM Dean Lombardi] made the comment, 'You know, you should turn that Deslauriers kid into a left winger. My response was 'We can do that.' So, we talked to Dean about it and he seemed okay with it, so we tried him there in training camp."
For his part, Ferreira says it was more than just an off-the-cuff remark.
"No, it was not in jest. Part of [being] a scout, which I've done mostly my whole career, is you have to know what it takes to play in the National Hockey League," said the veteran of more than 40 years in pro hockey. "He has a lot of the tools already. Watching him in practice and having seen him play down in Manchester, he was really more suited to play up front as a forward. He's a big, physical kid. We used to refer to him as 'Baby Huey' because of how strong he really was."
Leading all Monarchs' defenseman in scoring last season certainly didn't hurt his reputation of being offensively gifted. However, the young prospect has a full array of skills in his proverbial toolbox and that's what tends to turn heads when you study him on the ice.
"He's a good skater, he's a hard-nosed player," Ferreira noted. "When he shoots, he hits the net a lot. Our organization, we seek those types of guys - like Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan and Dwight King - that's the type of winger we like."
The change in position isn't the only metamorphosis Deslauriers has gone through this season either.
“He used to be known as 'D-Lo.' Affectionately, I yelled out 'Larry' one time and the boys started to chuckle," said Morris, tinged with a bit of his own laughter. "Since that point in time, he’s become 'Larry the Left Wing.'"
After Deslauriers scored four goals in a September pre-season game - yes, four goals - there was really no turning back.
Filled with encouragement from the organization and now brimming with confidence that he could play the position, Deslauriers has thrived in his new role. He's played in all 29 of Manchester's games thus far this season and is currently tied for the team lead with 10 goals.
"He made the transitions pretty seamlessly," shared linemate Brandon Kozun. "He's adapted well and he's been one of our best forwards. We've worked pretty well together so far [too]. He's always really positive on the bench and it's been a treat to play with him. He's not making a whole lot of mistakes out there and he seems like he's been a forward his whole life."
Deslauriers describes his game in very simple terms, "I can skate. I have a big body. Finish my hits and take shots from everywhere, that’s what I’ve been doing."
Jordan Weal, the regular center on that line, welcomes the extra size and toughness Deslauriers adds. "When you have a big guy that can control the puck down low, it definitely helps us out a lot. It gives us a little more room to read off him and make some plays."
Maintaining a smile in almost every situation has become a Deslauriers trademark too - something that can catch opponents off guard at times.
“He doesn’t by nature go looking for [fights], but boy can he answer the bell," said Morris. "I’ve seen him really unload on some guys and I think that he’s got a lot of respect around the league because he’s taken on some heavyweight customers. It’s just something in his arsenal that’s always going to serve him well. He commands respect because of his ability to play with a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to the aggressive side of the game or the ugly side of the game”
And it's that physical play that Deslauriers thinks gives him an advantage over the competition most nights.
"If I’m forechecking and I hit the [other team's] D, you can see their reaction. They kind of don’t want to go get the puck when I’m coming, so that’s the mindset I want to put in the league. If you’re playing against me, if you’re going to go get the puck, you better be ready to get hit. That’s the point with my size and my speed, I can maybe scare a couple of Ds out there."
He simply enjoys surprising people, especially those who may think he's just a bull in a china shop.
"Maybe I can surprise them with a couple of toe drags. I’ve been practicing those a little bit," he quipped.
Regardless of what his opponents may think of him, Deslauriers remains focused on improving every facet of his game, doing whatever it takes to make it to the NHL.
With his transition to forward, there have been obvious comparisons to Brent Burns, who went through a similar position swap with the San Jose Sharks. Deslauriers more than welcomes the conversation.
"A couple of guys tell me I have a similar game as him," said the Monarchs newly converted left wing. "I watched a couple of his games and you can see he’s scary out there, especially with his size and his speed. So, that's a good player to be compared to."
He's still looking for one thing though, an NHL forward who wears the same number he does.
"I kind of like my four," he said, acknowledging it's a number usually reserved for a defenseman. "I’m trying to find a forward that plays in the NHL with a four. Vinny Lecavalier did, but he's now 40 [in Philadelphia]."
Putting aside any jersey concerns, just how far away is Deslauriers from possibly reaching the NHL?
"I don't think he's far," said Ferreira. "He has the skills. He's about three-quarters of the way there."
In music terms, Larry is number four with a bullet, quickly rising through the Kings' prospect rankings.
"I don’t even know where that comes from," Deslauriers said while laughing. "Mark just keeps calling me Larry, I don’t even know why. The boys are making fun of it, but if he likes it, I’ll take it."