Stevens on China trip, Kopitar, Laich, keeping shifts short - LA Kings Insider

On whether his first day on the ice at training camp felt “official”:
I don’t know if it felt ‘official.’ It felt good to get going. I think training camp for everybody the last week of the summer, it doesn’t matter when training camp begins. Everyone’s ready to go, and everybody’s anxiously awaiting to get going. All the planning’s been done, the players are here, they’re ready to go, they’re getting on the ice just to stay sharp, but you can tell they’d love to just get going. I think for all of us, we’re glad today came.

On the first two days of training camp and making sure players are in shape:
If we’ve got to make sure they’re in shape, we’re all in trouble. I think we expect these guys to come in, and I think [inaudible as LAKI took a picture] … getting their timing back, putting some guys together to see how they look together and instilling some detail in our game. The way we approach training camp, we’re trying to tackle a couple parts of our game every day and instill those habits in practice and try to get ready for the game on Saturday against Vancouver.

On the challenges of an accelerated schedule and preparing for the China trip:
The game Saturday is not that different. We usually play games on the fourth day, and the trip to China, the sense around here, we’re kind of excited about it. It’s a unique opportunity to travel that far to experience the culture where most of us have never been. I think the other thing that’s exciting is an opportunity to grow the game in a country that’s not that familiar with it. From that sense, the guys are excited. It is a big undertaking. There’s been an awful lot of planning that’s gone into China to make sure that all the details are taken care of and we can get some real quality work in over there, and we’re hopeful that that’s been done. There’s been a lot of work that’s been done. But we’re looking forward to it, and hopefully we get some good work over there and get our game further along than it is now.

On whether the China trip is good for team bonding:
Well, for sure. Even guys that have been together, to have that type of experience together, there’s an opportunity to get some team dinners together. There’s a plan for a trip to go to the wall together, so any time you spend time together, you learn something about each other that you might not have known. You get a little closer, and I think the stronger the relationships are with the group, the harder they’re going to play for each other. I’ve always been a believe that trips like this can be useful in building those relationships. [Reporter: Have you been before?] To China? [Reporter: Yeah.] I have not, I have not. … My wife went when she graduated from college. I hate to say it, but that was 30 years ago, so I’m aging myself. [Reporter: Was that a backpacking trip?] Her whole family went. Her and her brother, they both graduated college so it was a whole family affair. At that time, that’s when Hong Kong was turning back to Chinese rule and there was a lot going on, but like I said, that was a long time ago. It was a family trip.

On Michael Cammalleri’s chemistry with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, and what he’d like to see:
I’d love to see him set a career-high in goals. I think we’d all be excited. But I think with Mike, and I’ve said this before, he’s an older player that’s extremely well-trained. He’s had some injuries the last few years, and I think we’re getting a healthy Mike Cammalleri who’s extremely motivated. He’s a guy that’s driven to score. You can see that in his game. He goes down on a rush, he’s trying to score every time and it means something to him, so I think just that mindset with our team is going to be infectious, and he’s a good offensive player. You see him today, he reads off of Kopi well, he reads off of Brownie. He’s got a lot of experience, he’s got some really good offensive intuition, he’s a competitive guy, so I think that should translate into some offensive success.

On how soon he met with Anze Kopitar after being named head coach:
Within a day or two. [Reporter: Called him, or saw him in person?] I called him and then we sat down and we had a coffee and probably spent an hour and a half just talking through everything, to be honest with you. Kopi and I have a really good relationship – I worked with him lots here, but it wasn’t a direct responsibility in terms of some of the areas that I needed to delve into in leadership and all those other things. I did it with every player, but Kopi was high on the list, especially because he was going back home and I didn’t want to do it over the phone, quite honest. I probably would’ve traveled if he was gone. Just really wanted to sit down and talk about what the plan was for the summer, what the plan was moving forward, how he felt about everything, what our expectations were for him, so that happened almost immediately.

On why Kopitar had an “off-season”:
I don’t know if there’s any one reason. I do know that he really tried to focus on his training this summer. I wouldn’t say that he’s a poorly trained guy, but I think as he gets older, I think he wanted to get a little bit lighter, a little bit quicker without losing any power in his game, and I think he’s taken great steps to do that. But we could talk about the World Cup and the trip he had to go home to play in the qualifying round before the World Cup, and then they ended up having great success, so they played to the end. Other people did too. The captaincy, taking over that, new contract, so there are ll these things that we can allude to, but at the end of the day, Kopi wasn’t the player we expect from him. So our plan for Kopi was ‘let’s turn the page here, let’s do the fitness work over the course of the summer, let’s look at your game where we think we can make improvements, and we’re counting in him to be the 200-foot player he always is, but obviously we are counting on him for some offensive production. I think the whole fitness part of it was huge, and dealing with everything last year, I’m hoping it makes him stronger this year because I think he’s in a better place emotionally. It felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders last year with everything, and that anxiety of all the things he was dealing with probably took a lot of energy out of his game as well.

On where Kopitar can improve:
We’ve talked about Kopi the way we’re talking about our team. I want to see him be much more of a guy that penetrates the middle of the ice, about getting off the wall in the zone and on the rush. That’s the part of the game I’d like to see. And also his pace, and the one thing with Kopi – and he plays a lot, plays big minutes in all situations – I want to see his shift length come down, and we’ve talked about that. It’s not that he’s going to play any less, he’s going to play more shifts. I think that’s a trend across the league. We want Kopi on the ice as much as he’s played, but I think if we can get his shift length down alittle bit, we can get his pace up, and I think if his pace comes up a little bit, along with being a little bit lighter and what he’s done over the summer, a little bit of different training, I think he’s going to be a better player. [Reporter: How much are you talking about in terms of shortning his shifts?] I’d like to see everybody in the :40’s. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes it gets skewed with special teams and whatnot, but he’s a guy that trends into the 50’s often, and I’d really like to see him in the mid-40’s. If we could get him in the mid-40’s as an average, I think we’d all be happy.

On when Marian Gaborik might return and what role he would take on:
You know what, until he’s healthy I really can’t tell you. They’re happy with the progress he’s making. He’s been skating, he’s been integrated into some practices non-contact, and they’re moving along. He is getting stronger. He’s not going to China with us. He’s going to stay here and continue his rehab here and keep progressing along. We’re going to meet with Matt Price and John Meyer and Chris Kingsley before we go just to see at what point he can be integrated into practices. We’re hoping that’s a little bit when we’re gone. But we’re going to take it each day. He skated today early by himself. He was on the ice at 7:00 this morning. Hes going to continue to skate, and he’s close to a point where he can get his timing back on top of his hockey conditioning.

On where Brooks Laich might fit in:
That’s a good question, because if you look at his career, he’s a guy that was a bona fide – I want to say top-eight forward – for a good part of his career, and I sat down with him when he got here and just asked him. I think he’d run through some injury problems that came into the lockout and out of the lockout, because he looks like numbers-wise, anyway, he was a different player prior to the lockout and post-lockout. But if you look at him, he’s obviously really well trained. Fitness is important to him. He’s a guy that plays center and wing and he’s got a lot of experience, so I would call him a utility guy. He scored 20 goals several times in the league, but he’s a really good checking player. So depending how he performs in camp, he could clearly be a guy that brings some experience to your team and some secondary scoring if he performs to that level. … You see that a lot, to be honest with you. I just saw Chicago right before they started, and I don’t remember their name, but there were three or four guys they added as PTOs that were guys that had played a significant amount of time in the National Hockey League. Sometimes it’s good to get those guys, you never know. You can look at Cullen in Pittsburgh and how important he was to their team. You just never know, but credit to Brooksie coming in. He’s in really good shape and he still has a lot of passion to play the game, and we’re excited to have him here.

-Lead photo courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI

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