The Los Angeles Kings’ development camp opened this morning at the Toyota Sports Center with the forwards, defensemen and goaltenders split into separate groups to receive training from coaches and instructors within the Kings’ player development. Because it was the first day of camp, much of the on-ice instruction this morning appeared geared towards building up fundamental aspects of hockey improvement.
Nelson Emerson heads player development and chatted with LA Kings Insider about the methods used to cultivate hockey players within Los Angeles’ system.
LA Kings Insider: It looked like there were a lot of fundamentals being worked on early today. What exactly are you looking for at camp this week?
Nelson Emerson: It’s almost like you’ve got to re-program them because we do things a little differently here now. Ever since Dean’s been in charge, and myself and Mike O’Connell’s started this process, we kind of take that baseball philosophy of how they do their mini-camps and their training, and we’ve kind of taken that to hockey. What I mean by that is we break it down and take ‘em right back to the beginning and start working on fundamentals again. We do it very slowly and very meticulous, and we kind of walk them through things, almost like you would in baseball when you see a batter on a tee, or a second baseman taking groundballs. They do it like that, and we do the same thing here with hockey. You’re right when you say it was slow and a lot of teaching, because we’re teaching them the habits of what an L.A. King needs to be.
LAKI: Is camp geared so that the instruction these players receive this week works in concert with similar teachings that they get from the staffs of their junior or collegiate teams?
NE: I mean, there could be differences, depending on the junior team or the college program that the kid’s at. We do have a couple of Manchester guys here, so they’re obviously familiar with what we’re teaching. The important thing is that we respect all the other coaches that these kids play for, but when they’re here in L.A., we’re trying to teach them the L.A. Kings way, and that’s to be able to play in a playoff series against a team like St. Louis.
LAKI: Is there anything different in regards to how you work with collegiate players as opposed to the junior or minor league-based players?
NE: Yeah, there’s different level that the kids are involved with. I think if you saw the forwards out there, we had a group at one end who were either kids that were just drafted or maybe sophomores in college or freshmen in college versus the kids that were down at this end, were kids who were at a higher level. They might be in level three-type stuff, being able to be more advanced, and that’s your Toffolis and Pearsons and Andreoffs and that group. There’s different stages, for sure.
LAKI: Do you have to get the message to the college kids in a shorter amount of time due to the NCAA limitations that prohibit them from taking part in training camp or joining the team as Black Aces?
NE: The time’s limited, but we also understand the college process where they’ll go back to school, and they’ll be in school for however long it is until they want to come out and graduate. The process is different, and it sometimes makes it more difficult because they’re not a junior kid, or they’re not a kid that you’re going to maybe be hands-on with all the time because of the NCAA restrictions. We won’t change things, but we will try and give them maybe a little extra time if they’d like it.
LAKI: How has Tanner Pearson developed in the full year since his first development camp?
NE: I mean, just think about the education he got last year as a pro. It’s his first year pro. He has a good season going in Manchester on a great line, having a lot of fun. Good group of guys down there, and he’s kind of doing the right things – and then he gets to come up to L.A. at the end. Gets to play a playoff game. Gets to be there around the club and basically in the trenches. He’s coming in here now almost like a leader-type player and should have a ton of confidence, but also should know that there’s a lot in his game still to work on, and that’s why he’s here.
LAKI: Is there any effort to use Toffoli on the left wing at camp this week?
NE: Not in this type of camp. This is all fundamental camp, and we’re just going through the mini-stages of development. We’re working on fundamentals. Ty’s going to be working like the other guys on puck protection and playing like a King. That’s not left wing-right wing stuff. That’ll be Darryl’s call.
LAKI: What were your early impressions of Valentin Zykov?
NE: The nice thing is he’s got a little bit of size to him. Maybe not in height, but in stockiness. It’s exciting to have him here because we’ll be able to watch him a bit. But he’s got to be a solid player…good on his skates and well balanced. Obviously with the way the Kings play, we play a heavy game, and he’s going to need to be strong on the wall and strong on pucks. But from his body and how he looks on his skates, that should play into how we play.
LAKI: Did you see that attitude and positivity from him?
NE: He’s an excited kid. I mean, at the draft he was already talking and yucking it up. I think he’s got a lot of confidence. As this week goes along, we’ll be skating more. Today it’s very early and we’ve been doing things really slowly, but this afternoon we’ll have more pace to our practice. Again, he’s coming in with a lot of confidence, but also he’s got to be looking at some of the other kids here that have been with our program for two or three years, and it’s not easy. Again, he’s a young kid. This is just part of his education process.
LAKI: Did Maxim Kitsyn take the ice this morning?
NE: He’s here, but he’s a kid we’ve had before and we really liked because of his skill, his assets – that way. It’s nice to see him back, and we’ll get reacquainted with him.
LAKI: Is there anything you see from him right now, compared to where he was a year ago? Is there anything that you’ve noticed or that has stuck out about him?
NE: He looks older. I don’t know. It’s too bad that we didn’t have him this past season. We’re going to probably have to re-adjust his thinking on the NHL game and the North American game. He was a kid I know that liked it here when he played for Mississauga. He liked playing in that league. So we’re happy that he’s back, and we need to kind of get the progression going again.