While the established NHL and AHL players took the ice for a season-preparing skate, Mike Stothers joined the assembled media to answer questions surrounding the first day of rookie camp and the outlook for the Ontario Reign in the coming season:
On the first day of rookie camp, and any message for players in their first pro year:
It’s a nerve-wracking time for these young guys. I mean, it’s their first taste of pro camp. They’re excited, and you tell them before you even get on the ice just to relax and pay attention and play. That’s easy to say. For them to actually execute is a little bit harder, but you know what? We start off with an introduction to the Kings’ systems. We take a particular topic, we look at it via video before we go on the ice, and then we try to implement drills that build off of those systems. We’re trying to crunch a lot of things and jam a lot of information into these guys early. We’re already thinking about those two exhibition games against Arizona, and it’s kind of a crash course. Again, some of the guys have been around. They’ve seen it, they’ve heard it. It’s repetition. It’s getting comfortable, and it’s them getting to know me, me getting to know them, and I guess sometimes I’m expressive.
On setting an expectation to win the rookie games in Arizona while balancing the process of improving each time they practice:
We had a meeting the first day we were here, and we made it pretty clear to them that the Kings expect to go 82-0 and the Reign expect to go 68-0. Anything less than that, it’s unacceptable. So, winning – that’s what it’s all about. I mean, we want to win those games whether they’re exhibition or not. We want to set the tone, we want to get that mindset that that’s the expectation here, and we don’t deviate from it. But, along the way, you want to see these kids grow in the week that rookie camp is, see them improve as players. You want to see and evaluate the talent that you have. Maybe there’s somebody that … really opens your eyes, and maybe somebody loses a spot to someone else because of lack of focus or they’re not quite there yet. When you’re dealing with rookie camp, we’re not expecting any guys to walk in and make the [Kings] – they might not be ready yet. But the big part is it’s ‘yet.’ In time, they will be.
On retooling the blue line in Ontario, and whether the process, given a veteran departure, is similar to last season’s:
That’s the beauty of the American Hockey League. We’re hoping we’re going to have some guys graduate to regular duty with the Kings, so right there, you’ve got some changes. We already know a real important piece of our back end was Jeff Schultz, and we know for sure he’s not coming back. Veteran player. So we’re going to be younger. We’re going to be a little greener. There’s going to be maybe a little lack of experience, but you know what? We’ve got a strong leader in LoVerde. MacDermid played every game except for the 12-game suspension that he got. We feel he’s grown and improved. We’re looking for the continued development of Leslie and Lintuniemi. LaDue looks like he’s going to be an exciting young defenseman. And that’s not to say that they’re even going to be with us. I mean, maybe they impress here and maybe they start the year with the Kings, who knows. There’s no limits put on those guys. But it’s a different look than we know, and we’ve kind of gauged ourselves here accordingly to spend a little extra time on D-zone. We want to make sure that we know our assignments, and more importantly, don’t want to be spending too much time in our end, which could happen with a young defense.
On working with Paul LaDue again, and whether he left an impression late last season:
Well, but you know what? He was impressive. He’s very mobile. He’s got a good hockey sense about him. He’s got a good demeanor. It doesn’t appear that he gets rattled. He came into a tough situation at the end of the year – playoffs. That’s a tough situation for any young D, and I thought he handled himself very well. I think throughout the summer the organization’s been in contact with him. I think everybody’s been impressed with his work ethic and the way he approaches the game. A little bit older than the typical rookie, so you can see a maturity level in his game both on and off the ice, and he’s got a good compete, so I’m excited. I think the whole organization is just excited to see what he can do.
On Joel Lowry:
Well, it’s just nice that Lows is able to participate right from the get-go. Last year it was frustrating for him. He was here for training camp. Couldn’;t really participate in most of the drills, and then even starting the season he wasn’t 100% healthy. The season starts, you kind of get left behind a little bit, and he had to play catch-up for the rest of the year, and I thought he had a real strong finish for us. I thought he was really good in the playoffs for us. Really good hockey sense. You can tell the bloodlines are good. He’s got an edge to him, he’s got some nastiness to him. He’s not afraid of the physical play, and he’s got a real nice set of hands. He’s real good at getting that puck upstairs in a hurry in tight. He scored some nice goals for us, so we’re excited for Joel to be able to start the season for us fresh, a hundred percent healthy, and I think it gives us a really good element that we need.