A terrific afternoon to you, Insiders. Lots of compressed notes for you today. First! Several practice updates:
-The Kings held two practice sessions, one at 9:30 and one at 11:30. The game group that will travel to T-Mobile Arena Tuesday to face the Vegas Golden Knights in their first home preseason game (7:00 p.m. / NHL Network / KABC 790) will be comprised primarily of players from the second group, which aligned as such:
-First off, this collection is obviously lacking several names, which will be filled from today’s first practice group. Also, Marian Gaborik is not yet cleared and should not be expected to participate. It’s also unclear whether Brooks Laich will get into Tuesday’s game. I’ve heard the veteran tweaked something last week – hence his absence from the Anaheim game – but was still able to participate in Monday’s practice. There’s nothing major there, though we’re getting to the final three preseason games, so time isn’t exactly in his favor.
-Early morning groups were Crescenzi-Amadio-Iverson, Herr-Hensick-Watson, Devane-Sutter-Luff and Marcinew-Schmalz. Marcinew, a versatile University of Denver product who totaled 10 goals and 22 points last season, signed an AHL contract with Ontario. Defensive pairings this morning included Falkovsky-Lee and Leslie-Lintuniemi. Chaz Reddekopp also rotated through several partners.
-No longer in camp: Shane Harper and Brandon Prust. Harper, a former West Valley Wolf and California Wave product, was at one point a young, in-house forward at Iceoplex who played on the same team as Paulina Gretzky, while Prust has logged 486 career games. All the best two the two veterans of professional hockey. Matthew Villalta, the 2017 third round draft pick, had also been returned to the Soo Greyhounds and showed well in his Sunday afternoon return to the Essar Centre.
Goaltender Matthew Villalta returned to the Soo Greyhounds on Saturday night after a sting at the training camp of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and proceeded to backstop his Ontario Hockey League club to a 5-1 win Sunday afternoon over the London Knights at the Essar Centre.
“I was a little bit nervous at the start of the game because it was my first game back,” Villalta said. “But overall, after the first period I settled in. The team played great in front of me and I fed off that.”
Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister added that Villalta’s ability to kill plays helped settle the team down during the course of the game.
“Having Matty V in there when we did make some mistakes, he was able to kill the play,” Bannister said. “He was really calm. Anything that went towards him, his rebound control was really good.”
Villalta was beaten once on a breakaway, finishing with 21 saves on 22 shots against. The Greyhounds are 1-1-0 to start the season.
MEANWHILE. We’d seen Andrew Crescenzi move from center to wing earlier in camp, but you too, Nic Dowd? I’ve seen the idea floated about on LAKI and in Twitter replies, and hey, perhaps someone in the front office is posing as @LAKINGS4EVER1214. The idea, of course, is for Dowd to be able to use his ability to make plays along the half wall in the offensive zone. “Yeah, I would say that was one of the things that was emphasized when the switch happened today, was that I’m able to make a lot of plays on the wall, and I see that as a really strong part to the game, and if being on the wing puts me on the wall right away, it’s a pretty easy fit,” he said. “I think I’m going to have to work at my spacing … not being in the middle, and then I think I’ll have to work on my neutral zone as well. I think that’ll be a little bit of a challenge, but nothing that I can’t figure out and that I’m not going to try to figure out.”
Dowd’s reputation as someone who can hold onto pucks for an extra beat preceded him, and perhaps this move will help smooth out what was a sometimes smooth, sometimes uneven (and overwhelmingly unlucky) transition to the NHL. He totaled six goals, 22 points and a minus-15 rating while sharing the third line center role and contributing to an effective second power play unit. More tellingly, his 946 PDO was the fifth lowest in the NHL among players who logged more than 500 5×5 minutes and the lowest PDO among similarly qualified Kings since 2007-08.
He’s happy to help out in any way that can get him into the lineup regularly and help the team win games.
“It doesn’t bother me. Center, wing, whatever,” Dowd said. “Hockey is hockey, and you’ve got to make plays regardless of where you are on the ice, and I think I’ve played long enough where I should be able to figure either position out. I think naturally you have a tendency to want to be in the middle just because I’ve played there for so long and I’ve done so much preparation with this organization as being in the middle because it’s so important. Stuttsy played me at wing in the playoffs last year for his reasons, and it was fine. It’s just another challenge, you know? Hey, I know other guys who’ve done it.”
Players move around frequently, but should he stick at right wing, it would be his most regular shift from the wing since his freshman season at St. Cloud, when, similarly, a number of other options down the middle wedged him into an alternate forward role.
John Stevens said that the team had considered playing Dowd on the wing during the China trip but didn’t because of numbers and “based on who was in and who was out.”
“As you’re seeing in the league now, I think you have to be able to have the options and play more than one position, and I think it’s always good to have more than one centerman on the ice, especially with what’s going on in faceoffs,” Stevens said. “But the strength of Nic’s game is his ability to make plays off the wall and then certainly in the half-court game. We’d never looked at it, we just thought it’d be something we’d like to see.”SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED. Congratulations to Jaret Anderson-Dolan, the first player from the 2017 draft class to sign an entry-level contract. His three-year deal was announced Monday.
Anderson-Dolan is 18 and will be returned to WHL-Spokane later this week. (Players drafted from major junior teams can not play professionally full time until the conclusion of their club season during their 19-year-old year.) But heading back to Eastern Washington with a contract in hand was “definitely” one of the goals he had set for himself.
“You want to work your way up in the organization. That’s kind of the first step,” he said. “Obviously getting drafted is one thing, but then right after that you focus on trying to get the contract. So now that I have it, it’s a lot of hard work paying off, but at the same time, it’s just the beginning. A lot of hard work is still to come if I want to make this team in the future.”
His next order of business isn’t too different from others his age. Get bigger, get stronger, get more prepared to compete.
“Well, it’s just a process for him to go through,” Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers, who coached Anderson-Dolan on Friday in Anaheim, said on Monday. “Part of it is you get drafted and everything’s great and everything’s exciting. And then you get a little bit of indoctrination through development camp, and then you come to rookie camp, and now he’s in the main camp. All that experience is going to make him a better player, but you’ve got to recognize too that he’s just a kid, and it really shows itself when you get in playing against the big boys, right? But you can see there’s some skill, there’s some hockey sense, there’s some talent in that young man. Again, he won’t be rushed through the process, but when you look at your future, and maybe a better comparison would be the rookie games. I thought he played extremely well when he played against his peers, so it’s exciting.”
Anderson-Dolan has a good hockey sense and defensive awareness that will allow him to play well off the puck, another familiar challenge for younger players. That should ultimately ease the transition into the pro game, a graduation that isn’t at the front of the forward’s mind but will be in due time.
“I try to keep an open mind. I take it day-by-day,” he said. “Obviously I have goals and I want to make the team as soon as possible. That’s the same for any guy. But realistically you’ve got to take it day-by-day and just develop and get better every day, because it’s a great team. They’ve got players here, but there are spots in the future, so just keep getting better every day – that’s always been my mindset, and it’s going to stay that way.”
THE ANAHEIM GAME. No one in the organization likes losing to the Ducks, but considering Anaheim had operated a top-six of Cogliano-Rakell-Silfverberg and Ritchie-Vermette-Kase, and the Kings iced a hybrid AHL/PTO/junior lineup that included two teenagers, some concessions were allowed in a 4-2 road defeat Friday at Honda Center.
“Well, I’m not happy with the end result. We don’t like to lose. That’s something we’d like to instill on everybody early,” said Stothers, who coached the team. “But when you evaluate the situation and the task at hand, I was pretty proud of our guys, the way we worked. We showed some structure. We were good. We were inexperienced in comparison to their NHL caliber guys, and I look at it as a one-goal [game]. They scored an empty-netter. Who knows if we’d have gotten a power play on what should have been a penalty. Maybe it’s a different story. But, you know what? All-in-all, you’ve got to look at the big picture, and I thought our guys played extremely hard and played extremely well.”
A big reason for the team’s ability to hang in a game in which they faced a major discrepancy in experience was the play of the goaltenders. Never mind that Anaheim’s goalies had combined to play 827 regular season NHL games compared to Los Angeles’ two. Jack Campbell was on his game.
“I think we were all sincerely really excited [to play a more experienced group],” Campbell said. “We just wanted to show ‘em what we could do, too. Obviously the whole world knows that Silfverberg and Cogliano and those guys can all do, but we just wanted to go out and play our game, and we were just more focused on doing what Stuttsy talked about – just playing hard and controlling what we can control, and we stayed disciplined and didn’t give their power play as many looks as maybe some of the other preseason games. I thought we executed the game plan, and therefore it gave us a chance to win the game.”
It was a good weekend for goalies. Jonathan Quick was sharp in Shanghai, ditto for Darcy Kuemper in Beijing, and Cal Petersen made a spectacular glove save to keep the Kings within striking distance of the Ducks.
— Eric (@Kingsgifs) September 23, 2017
“I think just in the organization itself, there’s no guy nobody doesn’t really like,” Campbell said. “Everybody is really highly regarded for their character within the organization here, so we’re really fortunate that way. We’re competing really hard, Darcy, Jeff and I, but at the same time, we all still chat it up, and we’re just one of the boys and they’re awesome guys. When you get the chance, you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Jack Campbell, on whether he was able to show what he wanted to in Anaheim on Friday:
Personally, it was a good, hard summer, but it was pretty long. I was just eager to get out there and play a real exhibition game, so it was fun. I think all the guys – I can speak on their behalf – we all just enjoyed it. Kind of like we all just raised our game to that competition, and I thought the team played really well. I was really happy to be in there for half the game, and then Cal stepped in and played really well, too.
Campbell, on waiting a long time to get into a preseason game, given last week’s cancellation:
It was definitely disappointing not being able to get that extra game in against Arizona, but just roll with the punches. We had a scrimmage and then a couple practices to get ready for Anaheim. It was fun to play our game at the Honda Center, so that was a good test. We were all just really excited to start.
Campbell, on his goal for the final week of training camp:
I have no idea what the game plan is, I just try to take advantage of practice. If they call my number for the game, then I’m just going to be ready to go and just keep getting better every game.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, on what has come naturally, and what has been challenging in camp:
I think the challenge is just playing against bigger guys. I’m a little bit of a smaller guy, so when you get on the ice with some of those big guys, even though I think I can beat them with my speed, they’re still in a corner battle, they’re harder than it is in junior – harder to get out of the corners and get scoring chances – so that was kind of the thing for me, and also just how little space you have. In the game against Anaheim you’ve got to know what you’re doing with the puck before you even get it, so that was a big thing for me. I think I just play my game and just do the things I know are going to make me successful, and those are the things I’ve been trying to keep my focus on.
-Lead photo via Jeff Vinnick/NHLI