For 26 of Los Angeles’ 41 games this season, the team has used two rookies on the back end. One is Derek Forbort, who has grown into a role in which he’s averaged nearly 20 minutes per game and has earned playing time alongside Drew Doughty, where he’s constantly facing the opposition’s best players.
The other is Kevin Gravel, a defenseman two days younger than his good friend Forbort, and someone who has shown the aptitude to play at an NHL pace and use his skating to work his way out of the little trouble he has found himself in.
Gravel, though, created a little bit of trouble with an errant dish to Nic Dowd during the first period against Detroit one week ago, setting up a breakaway in the other direction that was converted by Andreas Athanasiou.
Since that game, Gravel did not see action in a win over Minnesota and a loss to Dallas, but the 24-year-old left-shot defenseman who is capable of playing both sides may return to the lineup tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Darryl Sutter rarely tips his hand when it comes to lineup decisions, but Gravel was among the players who left the ice with the main game group.
Should Gravel play tonight – or should he return to the lineup against Winnipeg on Saturday, or Tampa Bay on Monday, or San Jose next Wednesday or points beyond – he’s gained some perspective from watching the two most recent games upstairs.
“I think you can learn a lot by watching other guys in this league and when you’re not playing it’s still not a day off,” he said. “You know, you’ve got to get your extra work in after practice or pre-game or whatever it is and then watch the game and watch the game closely. As a younger guy in this league, I’ve said it a bunch of times, I’m still learning. I’m still learning every day. I can learn a lot of from watching guys on both teams, both teams playing that night so that’s why I try to do. Like you said no one really wants to sit out but when you do you try to take as much out of it as you can.”
Sutter has indicated that growth and maturation in younger players comes from becoming more familiar with opponents’ tendencies, more familiar with opposing buildings, officials and by simply adding games to one’s belt. Last week, Associate Coach John Stevens referenced Gravel’s aptitude in using his mobility to move pucks while also saying that additional growth could come with the addition of more “firmness” to his game.
In any situation in which a player sits out for multiple games, there is both a spoken and implied message that reaches the player.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Gravel said. “Obviously there’s some feedback going both ways but you kind of understand what’s going on. Like I said, I’m a younger guy. Still learning. Whether I’m playing or not playing, obviously I want to be playing every game, there’s no doubt about that, but I try to take as much as my can. Johnny stresses it, you know, learn the league, and you can learn by watching and you can learn by playing, so obviously learning by playing is probably the better way to do it but like you said, you can learn by watching guys. We’ve got a lot of guys in here that have been around for a long time, so I can take a lot from these guys.”