May 28, 2010 9:12 am

Hextall on centers

Yesterday was a big day for interviews, as I was able to sit down with both Ron Hextall and Dean Lombardi. Lombardi talked about a wide range of topics, while I asked Hextall specifically — given his role as GM of the Manchester Monarchs — about some of the AHL prospects. First, Hextall talks about four of the Monarchs’ centers, and gives his thoughts on how they played this season and how they can improve. Andrei Loktionov had nine goals and 15 assists in 29 games. Justin Azevedo had 14 goals and 13 assists in 46 games. Corey Elkins had 21 goals and 22 assists in 73 games. Marc-Andre Cliche had 11 goals and 14 assists in 66 games. Here are Hextall’s thoughts on each player…

HEXTALL: “I think Loktionov had a real good year overall. You ask a 19-year-old kid, especially a kid who’s not real big, to go to the American league and play, and I think he probably met our expectations. He’s a very skilled kid. I think that when the playoffs came, particularly in the third round there, the time and space was gone and his game fell off. It was a great lesson for him — because he’s got a very immature body — as to why you’ve got to get stronger, why you’ve got to spend three months in the weight room. He was a 19-year-old kid playing against men, and it really showed up in the end. His biggest deficiency is his lack of strength. But like I said, overall for a 19-year-old to come into the league and do what he did, obviously he spent three months on the injured list but he had a good year.

“Azevedo improved this year and, I think, right toward the end he started to take some pride in his defensive game. He’s kind of been an offensive player his whole life, so he took some pride in his defensive game and played pretty well. He can score goals. He can set up plays, but his all-around game has to become more well-rounded, and we started to see some of that at the end.

“Corey Elkins, he scored 20 goals and probably exceeded our offensive expectations. I think, on the other hand, his overall game needs a little bit of a brushing up. I think his consistency needs brushing up. He’s a big body and he’s got to use his size a little bit more. For his first year, he probably outdid our offensive expectations.

“Cliche, he had a good year, and his leadership skills kind of came to the forefront. I think, if you look at that team, you had Drew Bagnall and Marc-Andre as our two biggest leaders. So he took that to another level. We had a young team, and he really took it to heart and he really cares. He cares a lot and he plays the game the right way. He’s a good defensive player. That’s his m.o. Offensively, he’s never going to light it up, but in terms of killing penalties, getting into puck lanes, getting his stick on pucks and just taking pride in checking, he does a great job.”

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