Hextall on defensemen
Moving on to the defensemen, here’s what Ron Hextall had to say about some of the defensive prospects who played for Manchester this season. Thomas Hickey had one goal and five assists in 19 games. Alec Martinez had seven goals and 23 assists in 55 games. Andrew Campbell had two goals and nine assists in 74 games. Vyacheslav Voynov had 10 goals and 19 assists in 79 games. Jake Muzzin appeared in only one regular-season game, but had one goal and three assists in 13 playoff games. I started off by asking Hextall whether, in a defensive group that seems to have a handful of potential NHL players, any defensemen stood out…
HEXTALL: “They’ve all got work to do in different ways. Hickey was hurt for a long stretch this year, and he had a bit of a rough start to the year. He got hurt for quite a long period of time, but he started playing in Game 3 and he played extremely well. He had a real presence with the puck. He ran our power play and, quite frankly, after he had only played four or five games in 4 1/2 months, he shocked me with the type of poise and confidence that he came in with. In Game 6, he was outstanding. He wanted the puck the whole night against Hershey. He ran our power play and did a real good job, but again, it’s a short period of time. He had his struggles earlier in the year, so I’m not ready to say he’s ready to play, because he’s got to work on his skating a little bit, his strength, and just his overall body and getting stronger.
“Alec Martinez, there’s times where you think he’s ready to play, and then there’s other times where you think he’s just not quite ready. Alec’s got a real nice skill set and everything, but he’s just got to bring more consistent play to the rink every night.
“Campbell, he’s got a real immature body. He’s just a no-nonsense defensive defenseman. He’s got to mature. He’s got to work on his body. Last year, right around Christmas, he had a big drop-off in his energy. He just flat-out ran out of gas. This year, he ran out a little bit toward the end, in the playoffs, but up until then he maintained his energy, so in terms of the kid, he came a long way this year, to last the whole year. But he’s got work to do on the body there. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight.
“Slava Voynov was in and out. He had a little issue going on with his shoulder, so he was in and out. But Slava improved this year, defensively, and played a much more sound defensive game. He’s got to get better at communicating with his teammates. I think the language is part of it. I was a little surprised when I met with him at the end of the year, though, that he talks a lot better than he did a few months ago, even. But it’s the real quick communication on the ice. He’s still got some work to do there. He’s got to get better at that. Offensively, I think he can push his game to another level next year, but again, this is a 19-year-old kid playing in the American league. I wouldn’t say he’s knocking on the door. He’s got a little bit of work to do, just like the rest of them.
“Muzzin was a pleasant surprise. He’s a real mature kid, in terms of his body. He’s a real big, thick kid. He’s got good hockey sense. He’s got a cannon of a shot. For a kid coming out of junior, he played with an awful lot of poise. A lot of poise with the puck, putting the puck in the right areas, puck management, making the right plays and keeping the game simple. He did a real good job. Again, it’s a short window so it’s pretty hard to evaluate a kid over 12 days and say, `We’ve got something there,’ but there’s certainly a lot there to work with, with Muzzin.”
To follow up, I asked Hextall about the message he would give to these young defensemen. Depending upon trades and/or free-agent signings, it would seem as though there’s an opportunity for at least one prospect to step up and join the Kings this season. I wanted to know whether the message to the young defensemen revolved around seizing an opportunity this summer and going into training camp.
HEXTALLL: “Yeah, that’s fair to say. You never know how this is going to shake out, because obviously things can happen with free agency, or maybe a trade comes up that you don’t see, or whatever. But as it is right now, it looks like one of those guys is going to take a run at it. That’s up to them. The summer is going to be big, for them to get stronger and be in the best shape they can be in to put yourself in the best position to play hockey. There’s something out there for them. Again, we never know until we get there, but I think any of these guys, with the right summer, can do it. This six weeks of playoff hockey was invaluable for these kids. They will all have grown a lot from it, and in all likelihood, we’ll have a spot there.”