The start of the hockey calendar officially began on Thursday as Los Angeles Kings Rookie Camp opened at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo. Leading the camp is Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, who enters the 2013-14 season on a one-year contract as the winningest coach in club history.
Following Thursday’s skate, Morris discussed methods of development at rookie camp while looking forward to rookie games against Anaheim, offering evaluations of particular players and addressing his own future with the organization.
On whether there has been any particular message to the rookie camp participants:
I think the number one message for our guys is that we want to play as a five-man unit, whether it’s offense or defense. Obviously we want to be hard and physical. That’s a trademark of Kings hockey, and I think that the message from Darryl and Davis and John is pretty clear, that we’re going to work our system. You can’t take any shortcuts. You work hard and the system works great. It won us a Cup, and we’ll continue to preach that with our guys and try and put some detail and structure into their games.
On any fundamental differences between development camp and rookie camp:
I think that in years past when I’ve been around for development camp, it’s been a process, and now we’re at a stage – and I’ve been with three different coaching staffs, so I’ve seen an evolution of the development part of the system – and this is by far the most aggressive checking system. Certain coaches have things that work for them, and Darryl’s systems are obviously very aggressive. It’s something that’s music to my ears, because I think that that’s a game that‘s played by winning teams around the league. When you look at teams that are on you quick, and teams that play good offensively, good defensively, he’s right on the money. It’s really a great learning experience for us as minor league coaches to see it implemented and watch the video so we can impart that with our guys.
On what he wants the players in Manchester to take from the conclusion of last season:
Ramp it up. I think that our guys, they show flashes of some pretty incredible plays and moves, but just watching today, it’s glaring to see the difference between a player that’s been in Manchester for a year and some of the guys that are here for the first time. You realize how much work you did, and not just the players, but coaches, you realize they’re all like a big ball of clay, and you’re just trying to mold something out of a kid where you see all kinds of potential, and obviously the scouts have seen it at other levels, and the development team’s had time with these guys, and now for the first time we’re seeing some of these guys, and hopefully we can bring them along to be players that max out their potential.
On memories of rookie games versus Phoenix in 2011, and the games’ importance:
The thing I remember the most is how much information that you have to impart in such a short amount of time. You’ll be in the middle of a game and say, ‘Oops, we haven’t covered that yet. We really haven’t had enough time to really get into the detail of the game and the structure, but with the video work that John and Davis have done, it’s pretty clear, I think, at least it is to me, and I think our players will pick up a lot of things and hopefully clean up some parts of our game. But nothing can replace a scrimmage or a game-like atmosphere. You can do drills all day long, but until the puck drops and you’re against an outside shirt, you really don’t know what you’ve got. And I’ve seen a lot of guys that are great practice players that get into a game and are a totally different player, or vice versa – practice players that really struggle or fumble pucks, and you put them in a game and all of a sudden they compete their tails off. It varies from player to player.
On how the team will decide line combinations for rookie camp games versus Anaheim:
Well, we kicked it around. I talked to the development guys, I talked to the scouts and I talked to Darryl, and what we ultimately decided was that if we put Vey and Toffoli and Pearson together along with, say, Nic Deslauriers, here are some guys that are familiar with our drills, familiar with what we’re asking. If they’re the first in line, then it’s going to be easier for some of the guys. But if you split them up, then you’ve got a lot of scrambly play. So that’s kind of how we chose that line. And then Andreoff and Kozun and Robbie Czarnik – those are guys that have been around for a little bit, so they’re accustomed to what we’re looking for, and it just brings a little bit better focus for us and expedites the learning process.
On distributing ice time in rookie games:
You know, that one line of Vey, Toffoli and Pearson, they’re a pretty special combination. They think alike. They like playing with each other. Their strengths match up very well. They played against some of the top lines in the American League last year and were very good together, and if it’s working, why try and reinvent the wheel? We wanted to see some other combinations. Andy Andreoff – he can play center. He can play wing, and some guys see him as a wing, some guys see him as a center. I’ve seen him as both. I like him both places. So for now, he’s playing the middle. Brandon Kozun – he’s getting better every year. I think that his game and his maturity has really made the turn for the better. He just seems to be more in step with what we need from him, and in order for his game to grow. Jordan Weal – unbelievable on faceoffs last year. A guy that you can see the difference in strength that he has. Nic Deslauriers – he did a lot of work with Mike O’Connell and deserves a lot of credit for his maturity along the way. He has a real good understanding now as to what it takes to be a pro. All those things add up, and we’re doing our best to try and give these guys the best opportunity to show their potential.
On the scenario of losing Brandon Kozun, who is out of options:
You know what? He’s been a bit of a project for us, there’s no question about it. But that kid’s got some unbelievable skill. We’ve had a lot of long talks, and our relationship is very good…I think we’d be missing a big component this year. I hope he shows well in the main camp. I really do. I hope he turns some heads and scores goals that I know he can score and plays the type of defense he’s capable of. Towards the end of last year we stuck him out there on the penalty kill. He’s grown, and he’s becoming a 200-foot player. He’s getting more pucks deep. He’s less risky. He is a special talent, and we’d miss him if we lost him.
Given his quotes, on whether Kozun has been “a headache” at times:
No, I would say that what makes him the player he is is also the same thing that sometimes there’s an element of stubbornness which has made him a hockey player. He wants to prove people wrong. Size has been something that people have talked about. He doesn’t believe that’s an issue. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but I’ll tell you what, he goes to hard areas and he’ll compete his tail off…and I think that’s wonderful. I think it’s a great quality that he has, but a lot of times because he takes so much pride in what he is as a player, I think sometimes people may read that wrong. He knows what makes him tick.
On his assessment of how Andy Andreoff utilizes instruction in games:
You know what, Andy’s a very coachable kid. He has so many different aspects of his game that make him an intriguing prospect. The element of toughness is something that is always going to serve him well. But he’s a good hockey player. He knows how to play in all three zones. He carries the puck through the neutral zone as good as well as anybody I’ve seen since I’ve been in Manchester. Tough guys around the league respect him. He enjoys that part of the game, but I don’t think that’s the only part of him. I think he’s a good team guy, he’s well spoken, he thinks the game, he wants to be good. He makes other people around him better. He just has that quality. He’s one of those guys that you can utilize him on the penalty kill, power play, shorthanded situations, end-of-the-game situations. If the other team’s wanting to dance, he can do that, too. So he’s a very versatile player for us.
On what Andreoff has to change to make the NHL, or whether he has to change at all:
Time will take care of that. Strength and quickness. I think his recognition of defensive scenarios or his ability to jump into a hole to have more urgency – and those are all natural things for young guys to learn. You’ve just got to do things quicker. You’ve got to do it with more conviction. All the pieces are there. He’s just got to fill in the gaps with quickness, and I think time will make him the player that everybody expects him to be.
On any disappointment that a holdout has kept RFA Martin Jones from taking part:
I don’t even want to think about it. He is such a force for us, and projects to be one of the top goalies in the American League level and a guy that could probably challenge for a backup role here. I’m hopeful things work out for him. This is a business, and you know what, he’s been a great player for us. I don’t know the details. It’s not my position. I just hope that things work out for him. You start in the goal, and you work out from there, and I’ve been really lucky over the course of my eight years – Jason LaBarbera to Quick and Bernier, and Martin Jones. Those guys have all been tremendous. Barry Brust was real good for us. You go down the list, and we’ve always had great goaltending and great goaltending coaches. The work that Billy Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh do with our guys is invaluable.
On rumors that he was close to leaving the organization over the summer:
I guess having been here for eight years, I really appreciate the opportunity that has been afforded to me. I love Manchester. It’s great. I think all coaches want to grow and have opportunities. But there was a point in time, I guess, where you want to know that what you bring is something that is going to lead to something bigger down the road. But for Dean to give me the opportunity to head up the rookie camp I think is a real positive thing for me. We all go through periods of growth, and it’s been a wonderful ride so far, and hopefully it continues. I think this is a business, and there’s a lot of people out there. There’s a lot of crossovers from times that I spent in the college game and my years of experience. I mean, I’ve been around. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I’m learning. I want to continue to learn, and experiences like this are great for me. I think we’re all looking ahead, but at the same time you’ve got to keep your eyes on the job that’s at hand. Right now, that’s to get these guys ready for the Kings.