LA Kings Insider: At development camp, do you get a sense that what happens off-ice – what the players are experiencing and learning – is as important as what they accomplish and learn on-ice?
Dean Lombardi: I think one of the things that happens, particularly with the job these guys do – I told Mr. Anschutz when he came here, if you invest in development – you see the number of coaches out here. First of all, you see the attention to detail, that if you’re going to play at the highest level that every little thing matters, and you’ve got to keep your pupil-teacher ratio down if you’re going to reinforce that. So I think that is some intangible that you clearly pick up. I don’t know how many times we hear kids when they go back say, ‘Wow.’ But it should be. This is the NHL. So it shouldn’t be anything that you’ve experienced so far. I think the other thing that happens, it’s their first taste of maybe realizing – all these guys are top players, right? So every one of them has been a top junior player, a top college player, a top player somewhere. The first thing that hits them is that ‘Wow, there’s a lot of good players.’ It’s the realization that ‘OK, if I’m going to make it,’ that whole weeding out effect is ‘Wow.’ It happens at every level, but these guys are at the highest level because they’ve succeeded. They’re all top guys at the level prior to turning pro. Now, when you turn pro, that gets weeded out again. I think that’s the other thing that kind of happens. It’s their first experience like, ‘Whoa, OK.’ Let alone what it is to take the NHL, these are all the guys – ‘So I better pay attention.’ And then, obviously, the instruction that they get – the thing about their off-ice training and stuff, too, most of these kids now, even at a younger age, are pretty well-versed. It ain’t like the old days where guys didn’t know how to train. They get that here, but a lot of them, it’s more the issue of ‘what it is’, maybe exactly, versus in fact they’ve got to do it, because most of these kids understand about being in shape. So we just reinforce that.
To me, though, the ultimate thing…if you talk about kids understanding – when they’re in rookie camp, and you’re going through this, but then there’s the hour and a half where Matt Greene, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll are working in the weight room, and you see how hard those guys work, and that these guys are Stanley Cup Champions or whatever, you know what? No words of wisdom are worth as much as that. That’s the thing – I talk about culture and the whole thing when you have that, how that can translate, and I don’t have to say anything. There’s Jarret Stoll. Look at that. See? Figure it out.
LAKI: When you’re seeing players in a Kings logo for the first time, what are some of the first things that you’re watching and evaluating? Is it any different from any of the other players who have been to development camp before?
DL: I don’t evaluate anything. That’s the mantra. I don’t think it does any good to evaluate these players. The obligation of everybody here is ‘Make them better.’ That’s all I’m looking for. Is this kid putting in the effort to be the best he can be? It’s not the time to evaluate them. I’m not looking to trade them. I’m not looking to sign them. I’m not looking for whatever, so why do that? You start doing things like that – and forming judgments – then human nature is that I want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So don’t look in what the player can or can’t do and try and prove yourself right. It’s just ‘Make them every day.’ So I don’t want to hear ‘This guy’s going to be great,’ or ‘this guy’ – it’s no good. That kind of stuff – waste of time. And that’s everybody. Me, everybody out there, these coaches. Make them better every day. Then, when it comes time when you have to do something, then say, ‘OK, well, we’ll see.’
LAKI: How is Maxim Kitsyn improving to the point that he was able to sign an entry level contract?
DL: The only thing that strikes me here is how much more mature he is physically. But as far as him competing and things, I think he’s done fine. But again, I don’t have to evaluate him now. I mean, did he go to Russia and become an NHL player? No. So it’s the same thing. I’m not really interested in evaluating him. Is he getting better? … I know you don’t want to hear it, but it makes no sense to answer those questions. The one thing’s worse than when coaches come in, too, and you know how this business works sometimes…They want to be the first one to say, ‘That guy’s going to be a pro’ or ‘He can’t play,’ and you’re watching a guy for half an hour or something, and it’s like, ‘Why?’ Now you’re kind of on the hook, and you want it to happen.
LAKI: Is there an update on any negotiations with Dustin Penner that you’d be able to provide?
DL: It’s one of those cap things, and I guess it’s safe to say I have a limited amount of cap space left, and there certainly isn’t going to be enough to – I mean his requirements. I talked to him the other day, and I just told him. I talked to his agent a couple days ago and [said] ‘This is where we’re at. I’ve only got X amount left.’