Here is today’s full interview with Manchester Monarchs coach Mark Morris. Players are starting to arrive in Manchester for the start of training camp, with the first on-ice sessions scheduled for Saturday. Morris said one of the first players on the scene was Nikolay Prokhorkin, the Kings’ fourth-round pick this year. Morris said they shook hands and that Prokhorkin was smiling, which was the most Morris could say about his first impressions of his new player, given the language barrier. Morris, who is entering his seventh season as the Monarchs’ coach, talked about starting training camp under the unusual circumstances of the NHL lockout, starting with how the lockout gave the Monarchs a chance to consult with Kings assistant coach John Stevens…
MORRIS: “We’ve been very fortunate to have John Stevens here participating in our staff meetings, going over some of the terminology and concepts that have been put in place with some of the changes that the Kings have made, with the arrival of Darryl Sutter and his input. We’re able to work together in terms of what changes have been made and what things are consistent from the past and which things are new. It’s been very informative thus far, and we will meet again tomorrow morning.’’
Question: And will Bill Ranford also join you guys to help out?
MORRIS: “Billy is coming in tomorrow. So, he will have a chance to work with Martin Jones and J-F Berube. Those will be the two guys who will be here for our camp. I know everybody is looking forward to having a peek at all these young guys on the ice here together.’’
Question: Obviously all of the AHL teams and players are in the same boat right now, not having had that extra time in NHL camp because of the lockout. Does it change anything for you, in terms of what you try to accomplish in training camp? Have you had to alter anything, or change any type of preparation?
MORRIS: “Not really. I have a pretty good idea about who is returning. There are a lot of familiar faces, including a couple who are heading back this way after their time in the NHL, and we’re very familiar with who they are, as players and as people. It’s going to be a good thing for the guys who played with them before to now have an opportunity to skate with them again, so they can see the improvements that they’ve made and to learn from the experiences that they had in the NHL.’’
Question: As you said, you’re going to be pretty familiar with your roster. There have been a couple changes there, but for the most part, you know these guys well. Is that something that helps, during a different type of training camp, the fact that you’re so familiar with most of these guys?
MORRIS: “Yeah. I think Bodnarchuk and Prokhorkin and Pearson are the guys that we haven’t seen yet. I’m not sure if (Colin) Miller is coming our way or not. We’re still waiting for confirmation about whether he’s coming to our camp. My understanding was that he was going back to junior. But I don’t know his status. We’ve had all the other new faces at one point or another, for short stints at the end of their seasons. So we’re familiar with some of the newcomers who played here in the playoffs or practiced with us over the last couple years.’’
Question: Does the message change to these guys? I don’t know what your message usually is to them, but obviously a big part of the players’ motivation is to play well enough to get called up to the NHL. Given that there is no season right now, do you address that at all, or do you think that they’re professional enough to adjust?
MORRIS: “I think they will all be professionals. I think all the guys that are here in Manchester all have sincere feelings about wanting to achieve their goal, to get to the National Hockey League. That’s not the case in all American League teams. We still are very young and have guys with great potential and aspirations to move up the ladder and get that opportunity to show what they can do in the NHL. A lot of things that we do will remain consistent, but I think the biggest challenge, for the guys who are returning and the new guys, is to adapt to the philosophy that has been implemented since the (Kings’) coaching change. A lot of those aspects of the game, from the defensive standpoint, are very similar to what they learned in the past. Now we have an opportunity to have a real good handle on the way that the Kings want to go with the style of game that they play. Obviously that was highly effective in the Cup win. Now we have the opportunity to try to implement that and get our guys to follow suit at the American League level. That’s our challenge. We’ve got to get these guys ready, so that they know the terminology and the mindset that is used with the big club.’’
Question: If we could kind of go through the team, position by position, starting with goalies. You have Martin Jones returning, but it looks as though he steps into a bigger role, with Jeff Zatkoff having moved along. What are your thoughts on Jones and your expectations for him?
MORRIS: “He has been very impressive over the last two seasons. He started with a bang and made the All-Star team as a rookie, and then last year he and Zatkoff shared duties throughout much of the season. We’ve been really fortunate, over the time that I’ve been here in Manchester, to have great goaltending. Martin has been able to show that he can be a starter. J-F (Berube) is a newcomer to pro hockey, but we’re hopeful that Martin Jones really starts to mold into a guy who becomes the type of guy you can lean on, and continues to progress toward preparing himself for hockey at the next level. He’s big in the net. He’s very sure-handed. He has a calming demeanor which, in combination with his size, can be very frustrating for the opponents. There’s not much that gets him rattled. Whether you’re up goals or down goals, he brings that consistency to our goaltending position.’’
Question: On defense, Voynov obviously changes the complexion of that unit pretty significantly, but even beyond him, you have a number of guys who have been in the system for a couple years and have experience. Is it fair to say that you expect that unit to be a strength?
MORRIS: “Yeah. When you look at guys like Hickey and Campbell and Muzzin and Kolomatis and Deslauriers, those are all guys who have played on a regular basis over the past few seasons. You add in Bodnarchuk, and there’s another set of sure hands. We feel as though the guys on the back end will be solid defenders and excellent puck-movers, and bring us that type of composure that you need in order to have success. It all starts with the breakouts, and each one of those guys is adept at playing on both sides of the puck.’’
Question: Then, when you look up front, that’s probably the unit that has the most change, the most potential for a new look. Are you excited with the potential there? Is there a little more competition there, and a little less certainty about how things might shake out?
MORRIS: “For sure. The proven commodities, over time, have been guys like Clune and Cliche and Meckler. Those guys are solid contributors in a lot of different facets. Then you sprinkle in a wealth of newcomers who are all noted for their scoring prowess at their previous stops. It makes for a skilled, creative group that should be able to produce for us. When you look at a guy like Nolan coming back, we’re going to welcome his size and tenacity for as long as we will have him. Loktionov is familiar with our style of play and our coaching staff. We’d like to continue to build on the work that we need to do with him. I think that, if he’s here, he can be a great mentor for Prokhorkin. He could benefit from the presence of a fellow countryman, to help him break into the game and learn the nuances of North American hockey and making the adjustments to a social life and the training aspects of our game.’’
Question: You mentioned Loktionov, and he’s been an interesting player to follow. He’s had some chances at the NHL level but hasn’t really made a strong case for himself. What do you think he needs to do in order to take that next step? What have you seen from watching and coaching him?
MORRIS: “Lokti is a very skilled, very talented player. Confidence is such a delicate thing when you’re dealing with skilled players. I think that if he is with the right combinations, and put in positions to have success, his game can flourish. He obviously was faced with a deep roster (at the NHL level last season) and probably not faced with the same opportunities that he will see here. Here’s a beautiful skater. He moves the puck well. He’s unselfish. Sometimes I wish he was a little bit more of a shooter, but you can’t teach what he has. You can only build on some areas, where he gets more pucks to the net or perhaps wins more puck battles and more faceoffs, the little details of the game. That’s a confidence issue right now. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be able to play this game for a long time at its highest level. He’s just got way too much skill to play in the American Hockey League. I think he’s got a real bright future.’’
Question: Finally, one more guy, Toffoli. I know you haven’t had a lot of time with him, but he’s making the full-time jump to pro hockey after an outstanding junior career. That can be a big step, and some guys handle it better than others. What do you see with him, and what are your expectations?
MORRIS: “Based on what I saw this summer in development camp, he has come a long way. He was more sure of himself on his skates. He was stronger on the puck. He’s obviously done a lot of work to get himself ready for this next step. He’s a guy who just has a knack for being around the puck and making intelligent plays. His hockey IQ is very high. Regardless of who he plays with, he’s going to make the others into better hockey players. He sees the ice very well, and he has that innate sense to know how to create and score. The rest of his game will follow suit when he gets a taste of hockey in the American league.’’