The Kings’ development camp wrapped up today, with the prospects going through a third day of drills. I should note that while I said, the first day, that Tyler Toffoli didn’t play in the scrimmage, he was otherwise on the ice and was apparently only suffering from some flu symptoms. It’s always tough to say who the “standouts” were, because everyone has his/her own definition of that word, and different standards, but there was good praise for the Manchester defensemen, Hickey and Campbell in particular, and, as you can read below, for the Monarchs’ players in general. Today, I caught up with Nelson Emerson, who heads up the Kings’ player-development efforts, to talk about the camp and what the Kings try to accomplish…
Question: First, can you just discuss the camp in general, why you hold it and what you hope to get out of it with these young prospects?
EMERSON: “Well, we had all the kids we just drafted, plus the kids we drafted last year, and bringing them in early in the summer, it’s basically an introduction to what they need to be doing in order to prepare themselves to get ready for next season. That’s why we feel that we’ve been real successful that way, because we give them an overview of how they need to be training and give them a real education on the fundamentals of what we’re trying to do.”
Question: Does that extend to the on-ice stuff, showing them the way coaches like to do things, like to teach?
EMERSON: “Exactly. We want them to realize that if you’re going to play here, for the Los Angeles Kings, for Dean and for Terry Murray and his staff, there are certain things that you have to make sure that you do, to be prepared from day one.”
Question: What’s the balance between learning and competition? The focus seems to be on instruction, but these guys are also going at it pretty hard. What’s the balance there?
EMERSON: “The main focus of the camp is teaching, so we really try to slow things down. We really try to give them an education on the whole Kings process. Then obviously, because it is hockey, competition ends up happening at the end of the day. In some of the things we do, there is a competition factor. But the main focus is to try to get the kids to realize that we’re trying to teach them, to slow things down, to do things correctly, to do things right, and I’d say that was our No. 1 focus. So our balance would probably be more heavily swayed toward that side.”
Question: Is it an opportunity though — and I’m not asking you to speak for the other coaches — a chance for players to stand out and make themselves known, or do you not put that much stock in it, in terms of evaluating?
EMERSON: “Obviously, flags are going to go up. If you send signals, through good, positive situations, then obviously the feedback from the evaluators is going to be positive. Then if you send negative signals, or send red flags up, based on situations, then obviously that’s going to go in the memory bank of a coach or a management-type person. Those would be negative things. So they’ve got to come in here and be very professional. They’ve got to be very focused and very determined throughout the whole process.”
Question: From what you saw, was there anybody in particular who really caught your attention?
EMERSON: “I don’t know if I’d want to put anybody out there. I don’t think that’s fair for me to do. We’re just trying to put the whole process together. That’s one thing that is difficult. When you’re kind of watching everybody, and in charge of making sure that the next thing runs smoothly, you don’t get a real good time to evaluate. The one thing I can say, in general terms, is that the older kids, from Manchester, those kids are real professionals. They’re still young, but the players who play down there, they are just good, good people. They come in here and they work hard. They have zero attitude about them. They’re focused, and they’re real pros. I think that’s why they had a great season this year. They’re great guys to work with.”
Question: You moved the dates up this year, to have the camp right after the draft. That had to be convenient, with everyone in town. Was that by design, or did it just work out that way?
EMERSON: “Well, L.A. is out here on the West Coast, and all the scouts were going to be out here for the draft. All the management people and everyone was here. So it saves people from having to go home for four or five days and then come back again. We just thought it would work well. Mike O’Connell and Mike Donnelly, they’re raring to go whenever.”
Question: It must have been kind of a whirlwind for the kids, though. They go from being drafted to being on the ice with you guys, in one week…
EMERSON: “Yeah, who knows how many Canada Day or July 4th celebrations they had to cancel. ”
Question: How has the camp evolved over the years? I know you’ve tweaked the format a little from year to year, but do the basics pretty much stay the same?
EMERSON: “You learn from your mistakes. When this started, years back, there were probably a few wrinkles in there, so we try to figure those out as we go, just things like dinners and lunches and things like that, picking guys up at the airport. Our equipment staff is just amazing. Darren Granger and Chris Kingsley, with the amount of guys we have in here, they’re just able to organize everything. You have to all be together in order for this to happen smoothly, so they do great.”
Question: Every year you bring in a couple non-roster invited guys, but it seemed like this year you had a few more than usual. Any particular reason for that, or were those just guys you had your eye on during the draft?
EMERSON: “Yeah, that’s more of the scouts’ deal. They realize how many guys we’re able to bring in here. Maybe there were certain guys who they thought were going to get drafted, and didn’t, and they had their eyes on them, so right away they make calls and try to get them in here with us. They’re players they really like, who slipped through the draft, so we bring them in here and take a look at them.”