For the two junior-eligible players on the Kings’ roster, it’s been a bit of the “rookie shuffle.” Kyle Clifford played against Carolina while Brayden Schenn sat out. Schenn returned to play against Phoenix and Colorado while Clifford sat. Now they trade places again tonight in Minnesota, as Clifford will play left wing on the fourth line and Schenn will be a healthy scratch.
Part of it, as Terry Murray explains below, is taking time to correct flaws in the games of the young players, but it also could be a matter of maximizing the players’ time at the NHL level. After each player plays his ninth game, the Kings will have to decide whether to send Clifford and/or Schenn back to junior or keep them and burn a contract year. Schenn has played six games and Clifford will play his fourth game tonight. Schenn has two points and Clifford has none, and both have been playing fourth-line roles. After today’s morning skate, Murray talked about the state of Schenn’s game.
MURRAY: “He’s a young guy, 19 years old, who is going to be a real good hockey player. We just need to continually pull him aside and talk to him about his shifts, reviewing the video and putting an emphasis on the checking part of the game. Whenever I talked to him, at the start of the year, we’re talking about point production all the time, and that’s where he’s coming from as a player. To me, it’s not that. Points will come. It’s good to see your name on the score sheet when the game is over, but for Schenn right now, the important thing is understanding the checking part of it. The part of the game that we value greatly is play without the puck, and there are some issues, some areas of the game that he’s breaking down, in our own D-zone coverage, so we’ll go back and talk and do some practice and get him back in again.”
Murray also gave his thoughts on Clifford, who tonight will play opposite Kevin Westgarth and be centered by Andrei Loktionov.
MURRAY: “It’s kind of the same, as talking about Schenn. Young guys are going to learn. It’s a process. They’re not going to be in the lineup every night and it’s important, whenever they’re not, that we give them two or three things to focus in on when they’re watching games, and that we continually talk and practice and review video of their shifts and make those corrections and adjustments to their game, and they’ll grow with it as the season goes along.”
The decision to keep or return Clifford and Schenn is basically in the hands of Dean Lombardi, but he certainly would seek Murray’s input as well. Murray was asked whether he would prefer to keep Schenn or see him develop further at the junior level.
MURRAY: “I want to keep him. That’s the mindset I’ve had right from the very beginning of the season. These young guys are on our team. They made the team out of training camp. They deserve to be here. My plan is to have them contribute as we get into February and March.”