Good afternoon from Toyota Sports Center! Hope was springing eternal for the LA Kings’ prospects who took the Toyota Sports Center ice at 10:00 a.m. and aligned thusly up front:
Comings and goings:
-Apparently there is a hunger for rookie tournament lines and pairings. I’ve seen quite a few groups shared across the NHL Twittersphere on this dawn of a new season. Forgive me if several of the left and right wings shared above are flip-flopped. The first rotation of defensive pairings included Reddekopp-Walker, Clague-Strand and Phillips-Moverare. Michal Ivan was the first to rotate through, but with an odd number of defenders, everyone was essentially playing with everyone.
-Gabriel Vilardi (back) isn’t a rookie camp participant but has progressed in his skating and was watching the morning’s proceedings from ice level. He won’t play in the Vegas tournament but is trending in the right direction in advance of main camp. Daniel Brickley’s grandmother passed away, so he won’t be on the ice at the outset of rookie camp. He’s expected to join the team at some point in Las Vegas. Condolences and warmth to the Brickley family from all of us here at LAKI.
-All Kings games in Vegas will be broadcast online at lakings.com/livestream. The stream won’t be active until the games begin and will be embedded on LA Kings Insider. Daryl Evans and I will be part of the broadcast teams along with broadcasters from Arizona and Anaheim for the games against the Coyotes and Ducks. Vegas will broadcast all of their rookie camp games with their own broadcasters; this will apply for Tuesday’s finale.
-Matt Moulson skated with the Kings after the rookies’ morning session. Should he not make Buffalo this season – Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News shared that he’s not expected to join the Sabres for training camp – arrangements are being made so that he’d rejoin Ontario on a loan.
Longer notebook offerings:
-Defenseman Sean Walker is a player who wasn’t squarely on our radars one year ago at this time, but the Keswick, Ontario native and two-time Bowling Green captain improved steadily as the 2017-18 season progressed and was rewarded for his work with a two-year entry-level contract in July. In his first pro season, Walker totaled seven goals, 28 points and a plus-17 rating in 64 games while serving as a feisty, courageous defenseman who played with a good pace and was plenty comfortable inserting himself into more rugged aspects of engagement and supporting his teammates.
He’s also a pacey right-shot defenseman who stands 5-foot-11 and with “skating off the charts,” as it was described by hockey operations over the off-season, should have a skill set that works in concert with the modern, up-tempo game.
“Defense obviously comes first in my position, so that has been my main focus,” Walker said. “Offense is obviously great when you can contribute, but working lots in the D zone and shutting down plays earlier was something we worked on a lot.”
Though he was on an AHL contract last season, he became close with Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell and Sean O’Donnell of Player Development, and regularly communicates with the two when going over video and reviewing instruction.
He isn’t a realistic candidate to make the team out of camp, given that Daniel Brickley, Kurtis MacDermid, Oscar Fantenberg and Paul LaDue will be vying to earn minutes alongside Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Dion Phaneuf and Derek Forbort, but Walker wouldn’t have been offered an ELC if the team didn’t think he’d be a player who could be called upon to contribute for the parent club.
“It seemed like we’d go watch quote-unquote NHL prospects, and we’d come back from Ontario thinking, ‘Walker looked good,’” O’Donnell said. “He had a good camp last year, and he just continued to get better and better and better to the point where he earned himself an NHL deal. I think he’s a guy that the rule changes and the way the game’s moving has really helped a defenseman like that.”
They certainly helped spark one of the Reign’s more unsung season-long efforts.
“I didn’t expect to have as successful of a season, but the opportunities were there, and I took them when they came and luckily everything worked out,” Walker said.
There’s a bit of an underdog, flying-under-the-radar element with Walker. Whether or not that’s something that motivates him, it’s clear that his approach and competitiveness are going to be beneficial assets capable of catalyzing his entire package.
“Courage isn’t an issue at all,” O’Donnell said. “Sometimes with guys like that, you even want them to pull back a little bit because they’re putting themselves in situations where they can get hit. It’s easier to teach that than get them to go the other way. There’s nothing about Sean that isn’t exciting. Offensively, he can do things that are very difficult to teach. I think it’s just more about the higher level you get, the more discipline you have to do in your positioning, and it’s just like most young guys – just kind of learning the positioning, learning not to do too much. Take your spots instead of trying to create something all the time, and I think as he lets the game come to him more, he’s more and more effective.”
-One player to watch closely this preseason will be Sheldon Rempal. Like Daniel Brickley, Michael Amadio, Jonny Brodzinski and Gabriel Vilardi – should he rejoin the team in game settings – amongst others, he’ll be a player who’ll get regular repetitions in the preseason to gauge where exactly he’ll fall in the hierarchy to begin the year. Given Alex Iafallo’s jump from NCAA hockey to the NHL as a player who opened the season as a 23-year-old, there are some surface-level comparisons to be made with the 23-year-old Rempal, who signed with Los Angeles as a free agent last spring after two years at Clarkson University.
“I definitely look up to Alex. I think he did an awesome job of coming in last year and impressing everybody right away,” Rempal said. “That’s exactly what I want to do coming in this year. I think being a free agent and coming to L.A., it’s a great fit for me. I think I bring a style of play that maybe they haven’t had in the past few years, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and I obviously didn’t want to come out of school after two years and play in the American league. I want to compete for a spot here and play in the NHL.”
There’s no real set of additional data between the day Rempal signed and the day he set foot on the ice for rookie camp, so any projection of where he’ll start the season is purely speculative before exhibition games start. (He doesn’t have to clear waivers; Ontario could be the most likely target.) As a sophomore, the 5-foot-10 Calgary native totaled 23 goals and 46 points in 39 games while earning Second Team East All-American recognition.
But the team is very intrigued by Rempal’s “competitive skill,” as one rookie camp observer described his tenaciousness around the net. This is a player who has shown to be competitive and hardened around the net and in putting himself in good positions on the ice to score.
“I noticed that right away jumping into practice at the end of last year,” he said of facing stronger, more experienced players. “But I don’t think I can change my game. I got to where I am today from being the player that I am. It’s definitely going to be a change. You’re going to have to maneuver your way around a little different and get inside on guys a little faster because they obviously they can push you around a little more. I’ve got to still be that tenacious player I’m used to being.”
After returning to Clarkson to finish his scholastic year after signing with Los Angeles three-quarters of the way through his winter semester, Rempal concluded his studies and returned to the South Bay, where he was regularly seen on the ice and in the Kings’ facilities alongside Michael Amadio and Daniel Brickley.
“I was able to get to know those guys pretty well,” Rempal said. “We’re younger guys, and coming here, there are a lot of vets here as well, so we can just watch them, learn from them and see how hard they train. I think it rubbed off on us.”
“Obviously I would’ve liked to stay and have the experience with the guys in playoffs, but being there for the last eight or nine days of the season was awesome. I learned so much from all these guys. I think it’s an older team, so you can come in and just watch them all day and learn so much.”
-Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers is conducting on-ice sessions at rookie camp and had this to say about highly regarded prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan: “I just think that kid is driven. Like, his intensity level is off the charts. A lot of kids, they’re a little bit more carefree, laid back. Everything he does, there’s a serious purpose to it, and I think because of that, determination. That’s made him the player he is now. I really think that he’s going to be a King before long, and that’s the strong, silent type that you’re looking for, and he’s got some leadership capabilities. And not because he’s a vocal guy, but just because of how he conducts himself and how he approaches practice and games.”
As a 19-year-old drafted out of major junior hockey, Anderson-Dolan can’t play professionally until the end of his club season unless he makes the Kings out of training camp. That’s not expected to happen, and he’ll ultimately rejoin the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, but anyone who has watched in him development and rookie camp or followed his junior games over the past year understands that there’s some real optimism there. Sniffing around this morning, and earlier this summer, it’s clear hockey operations feels the same. More on JAD throughout rookie camp.
-Lead photo, following photos via Juan Ocampo: