Yesterday morning, the Ontario Reign discovered that forward Justin Auger received his first NHL recall and joins the LA Kings ahead of tonight’s match up against Montreal at Staples Center.
The 6-foot-7, 229-pound forward is in his fourth season in the Kings organization and grabbed the attention of the NHL brass with his improvements over the off season and play in preseason action. The gritty right-winger recently celebrated his 200th professional game on October 7 against San Antonio. We chatted with Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers after practice about Auger, a player he has coached since his rookie season back in 2014-15.
ORI: This is a player that you have coached a while and someone we’ve talked about at length over the seasons. What are your thoughts for him as he has had to be a little more patient with the process compared to a LaDue, Brodzinski or Kempe who have had NHL experience in a shorter time period.
Stothers: That’s how it works sometimes. Some guys fast track and some guys take a bit longer. Sometimes it’s warranted by the openings and positions of that player. If you are really deep on defense, it might take you a couple years. Look at Derek Forbort. Now you talk about a guy like Justin Auger. The Kings have been deep up front. A guy like Jordan Nolan is no longer there. A guy like Dwight King is no longer there. He fits the model of the bigger body and power forward and he’s put in the time in the American Hockey League. It’s a great example of patience. Just like you suggested at the start. Patience my good man.
ORI: What changes have you seen in Justin’s game recently that has opened your eyes and makes you say, “He’s ready.”
Stothers: It’s not so much he’s opened my eyes. Have had the luxury of having Augs now going into the fourth year. I see him every day. He did the right thing by opening the eyes of the Kings staff and coaching staff. We, guys like myself and the coaches and development crew, knew what he was capable of. It’s awesome for a guy like him. He’s a really good individual and a good hockey player, but nothing has come easy for him. He’s had to earn it through patience and perseverance.
ORI: On the other side, you have players arriving recently from the Kings in LaDue and Brodzinski. What about their game did you see with the Kings that you are looking forward to working with while with the Reign?
Stothers: It just goes to show that there are now guarantees. Just because you are up there doesn’t mean you are staying. There are some darn good hockey players up there. When you have luxury of not having to clear waivers, you can send them down and play some games and recall them and bring them up. Get them playing and some confidence in their game. It’s not unusual. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli did the same thing. It becomes easier when you go up and down a couple times. You become familiar with what they are asking you to improve upon. I don’t look at it as a setback. You’re only going a few miles down the road. This is a great situation.