There was a moment before the 2013-14 season when Jack Ferreira, the Los Angeles Kings’ Special Assistant to the General Manager, spoke with Manchester Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris about changing the usage of a player that was going to begin his third year in the American Hockey League.
He wanted Nic Deslauriers, a mobile, offensive-minded defenseman selected in the third round of the 2009 draft, to play left wing.
Morris smiled when recalling his response to Ferreira. “We can do that?” he said, conveying his excitement.
The move hasn’t been as much of an experiment as it has been a thoroughly successful transition that “reinvigorated [Deslauriers’] whole career,” according to Morris. Deslauriers scored four goals in the team’s first preseason game, and at the AHL All-Star break ranks second on the club in goals with 15.
“I think every time I have a chance to hit the net, shoot. You’re not going to score if you don’t shoot the puck,” said Deslauriers, whose ability to get shots on net has been praised by members of the club’s development staff. “I think just playing with all the good guys like Wealer (Jordan Weal) and Veysey (Linden Vey), they see you on the ice. It’s all a change of defending and just not crossing the blue line to being down low and trying to make a lot of good plays.”
His play down low and along the boards has also drawn praise from the team’s coaching staff and the Kings’ hockey operations. Listed by the Monarchs at 6’1 and 230 pounds, his upper body strength is apparent when speaking with him, and while he’s still in the process of developing his professional habits and improving his nutrition, this is a player who has already filled out and passes the eye test of someone who wouldn’t be out of place when attempting to withstand the rigors of competing at a higher level.
Outside of his physical characteristics, there’s also a good deal of talent inherent in the power forward.
“He’s probably our best athlete,” Morris said.
In a 3-2 loss to Providence on Saturday night, Deslauriers tied the score at one in the second period by knocking down out of mid-air a soft Bruins clearing attempt. After wristing the puck at Niklas Svedberg from the left circle, he followed his shot and with one hand on the stick tapped in the loose puck that had trickled past Svedberg. The play accounted for two of his game-high six shots on goal. With 185 shots on goal, he has 66 more shots than any other Monarch.
He noted that there was a significant challenge at adapting to the mindset of the forward, especially in the beginning of the season.
“I think the system was kind of hard, but I got it into my head,” Deslauriers said. “I think the wall plays are the critical plays in hockey. I’ve been playing with a couple of top guys, so it helps me a lot. I like the way my season’s going now. I think I just need to build up for the rest of the year and the playoffs.”
As for the playoffs, Manchester will return from the All-Star Break in the middle of a 24-game sprint in which they’ll look to maintain their position atop the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll face a concerted challenge from the Columbus-affiliated Springfield Falcons, who sit two points back of the top-seeded Monarchs with three games in hand. The Ottawa-affiliated Binghamton Senators, ranked third in the conference, is seven points back of Manchester with four games in hand.
The Monarchs have avoided losing streaks altogether in the 2013-14 season, which is shaping up as the finest since the club captured the 2004-05 and 2006-07 Atlantic Division crowns. The team has lost consecutive games only three times and hasn’t lost three in a row to this point.
Though the Monarchs boast an all-time points percentage of .592 and have qualified for the playoffs in 11 of 12 prior seasons, only twice has the club advanced out of the first round, having lost in the Eastern Conference Final in 2007 and 2010.
The players are aware of the opportunity this year, even if it’s not on the front of their minds.
“We didn’t talk about it a lot, but I think all the guys know it,” Deslauriers said. “It’s my third year here and it’s the best year we’ve ever had. I think we just have to keep going. I think when we’re in a slump the boys are smart enough to push up and just not go too deep in a slump and just come back up on the good side of the train.
“We have four lines going every night, six D. Jonesy (Martin Jones) coming back is going to help us again for a couple games.”
As for the games in the past, Deslauriers reflected on how his versatility has softened the transition.
“I think [it took] the first 20 games to adapt being a forward, and now I help the guys on the back end a little bit when there are some guys that get called up, or just playing D,” he said. “I kind of like it up front.”