Since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, Brayden McNabb has missed only two games that weren’t related to a broken collarbone. One was the first game of last season, an absence described by Darryl Sutter as a result of being “out-played in training camp,” and the second was Monday’s matinee against Tampa Bay, a vacancy in the lineup that wasn’t due to injury.
Reading the tea leaves from recent practices and morning skates, it became apparent that Sutter was looking for a more immediate presence to be established by the 25-year-old defender, who missed two months due to a broken collarbone sustained during a game in St. Louis in late October.
“Get up to speed, show some emotion, show some determination, show some physicality, show some quickness,” Sutter said. “We’ve got three defensemen – Forbort, Gravel and McNabb – that are all sort of in the same position in terms of we need to get a lot more out of them if we’re going to be a playoff team.”
The minutes assigned to McNabb since his return from injury tell a story. Though he led the NHL in raw, five-on-five Corsi-for with an on-ice shot attempt percentage of 63.2% prior to the injury, his minutes since his return have been 17:02, 11:54, 9:34, 17:30, 11:54, 16:40, 11:56 and 15:42 prior to Monday’s game. Before his October 29 injury, his lowest TOI total was 18:49 in any game that he finished.
“I’ve just got to be better,” McNabb said. “Yeah, I think with the puck I’ve got to be a lot better. That’s kind of my strong suit is when I have the puck, so I know I’ll be better and keep working at it. When I get a chance I’m going to be better.”
McNabb has been tasked with improving his quickness and footspeed and has worked with former United States Olympic speedskater David Cruikshank in his efforts to raise those aspects of his game. Interestingly, the bread and butter of his rugged skill set – his “determination” and “physicality” – were some of the aspects implied by Sutter earlier today as potentially being deficient since his return.
Neither player nor coach will be the one to reference any sort of a re-acclimation curve afforded to someone who returned after missing 27 games. If they’ve been activated from IR – and McNabb skated for a full month between his first steps on the ice and the day he returned to game action – they’re expected to maximize their skill set to help the team.
“I don’t really like making excuses,” McNabb said when asked whether the absence has affected his game. “You know, I’ve been back long enough to get my feet under me and I should be better, like I said, so I just need to continue to work.”
The left-shot, 6-foot-4, 212-pound defender, who the Kings may have to make a decision about when submitting their player protected list to the league in advance of the June 17 expansion draft, has two goals, a plus-one rating, 13 penalty minutes and a 60.4% Corsi-for rating in 16 games this season.