Blake on Clague, defensive rotation, more from SOTF; Bouma to camp on PTO

A number of bits learned from Friday’s State of the Franchise forum, as shared by GM Rob Blake and Head Coach Todd McLellan. There will also be a separate quote transcript from Todd’s availability, which immediately followed Rob’s.

–First, a recap from earlier. Gabe Vilardi: back issue, won’t skate at training camp. Derek Forbort: back issue, not looking good for the start of camp. Paul LaDue: aftermath of a knee procedure; he’s skating now but may be limited at the start of camp. Adrian Kempe: they’re not quite there but close. A quote or two and an additional shade of NUANCE is available here.

–Not SOTF-related, but notable: Lance Bouma will attend camp on a PTO, as first reported by Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet 650 Vancouver and confirmed by the team. He’s a physical and competitive winger who suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season in Switzerland’s top league but has provided ample truculence for the Flames and Blackhawks (but mostly Flames), with whom he has 30 goals, 76 points and 210 penalty minutes in 357 career games. He last played in the NHL in 2017-18, when he split time with Chicago and Rockford and posted three goals and nine points in 53 games with the Blackhawks. More here from the wonderful Steve Ewen.

Gerry Thomas/NHLI

— A number of themes touched on The Process, as they say, and the understanding that this is a team in transition.

“We’ve kind of known the direction that we were headed,” Blake said. “Like we said, we want to remain as competitive as possible. Getting in the playoffs that year with 98 points, those guys have been able to do this year-after-year, and I wanted to make sure they had every ability to do that again. That dropped off completely to a point beyond that this year, so we knew we had that process at hand.”

McLellan even acknowledged that there may be times early in the season in which the adjustments and installations won’t quite be as pronounced or discernible. There’s a balance: it’s important that youth be incorporated, but this is still a team driven by stars who hit high marks in 2017-18 prior to last year’s crash, and while the future is by so many indicators bright, there’s still a need to wring production and a greater purpose this season out of the more veteran players.

Essentially, the rotation seen late last season will continue as the team’s farmhands grow and mature alongside the professional game. This isn’t an organization that’s going to shift gears should it get off to a promising start, nor has it recalibrated any sort of expected return towards contention.

“You look at the number of draft picks, the area of the draft picks, you look at the number of new players in the organization, I expect fully that that’s the same process … and then after that it’s going to change a little bit,” Blake said. “Then you get into an aspect where maybe you have too many left wings, you have too many right wings, you need a defensemen. Now you’re able to move some guys around and do some things. We’re not able to do that just yet. We need another year of building that prospect pool.”

— Kale Clague, whose late-season foot injury kept him from making his NHL debut, is among the interesting players vying for a role on this year’s defense. He’s not a favorite to lock down a roster spot out of camp, but it’s clear he’s remained a highly regarded top defensive prospect at the forefront of the battle among those with minimal or no NHL experience.

“Mikey Anderson, Brickley, all these guys are competing for spots,” Blake said. “[Kale] was going to be called up a day later, and he broke his foot that night, unfortunately. A big thing for me was it took a little while for Coach Stothers to buy into Clague, but I think what Kale did is he gained his trust throughout the year, and he really developed under him. He’s a very good player for us.”

Blake acknowledged that waivers will play a factor in how the defense shapes up out of training camp. LaDue, Kurtis MacDermid and Joakim Ryan would have to pass through waivers to be assigned to Ontario, while Sean Walker, Matt Roy, Daniel Brickley, Anderson and Clague are among the waiver-exempt defenders.

“I’ve got to set that roster, and we’re going to look at different things there. I don’t want to be in a position to rush any of these young players, and that might be to kind of the fact that there hasn’t been a lot of moves was that I want to make sure some of these young guys can play, and there’s no need to rush ‘em. The one thing I did learn the past few years here is you have to be prepared enough to be able to step in and play in the NHL, and then you’ve got to be able to win the NHL. But at the same time, that’s part of that whole process, and we’re not going to rush these kids.”

— While Blake said that the three players he’d communicated the most with over the summer were Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, McLellan shared that he’d begun to build his own relationship with Ilya Kovalchuk with what he described as several “great calls” when they’d connected over the phone.

“What can I tell you about them? First of all, Kovy is a very proud player. He’s proud of what he’s done in the past and he’s looking forward to playing hard for the team and playing hard for the Kings,” McLellan said. “I left the conversation kind of open-ended and we’re going to meet and sit down and really create a relationship that way. I think that’s the approach that’s really important between him and I, as coach-player, and then we’ll incorporate him into the team environment, but we expect him to have a very successful year.”

The conversation was “about a fresh start, a new coach, a new approach, a new energy,” McLellan continued.

“[Me] believing in him, him believing in the organization, and when I hung the phone up, I hope he felt the same way I did, it was a great conversation. I truly look forward to taking him out for lunch and really digging in at that point, we’ll get a lot more done that way than we will on the phone.”

— Blake commended Brantt Myhres’ player assistance model and continued to speak about efforts to “build out” a mental health and player wellness department, which is now “in the works.” “I rely on our development guys a lot for that – Sean O’Donnell, Jarret Stoll, Glen, obviously, Craig Johnson – guys that have been around. They’re with our players the minute they’re drafted through that development stage, but they’re not coaches and they’re not management, so I believe they’re a very good bridge,” he said. “But I think we need professionals in a lot of different aspects there to be able to turn to if players have needs – whether it be the psychologist, the mental health, sleep, nutrition, whatever it is – I think we have to have those professionals on call to be [available for our players]. It’s no different than a player hurting his shoulder. He’s going to go see our specialist.”

Rob Blake, on whether he was surprised he was asked about free agent defenseman Ben Hutton:
No, I’ve obviously read some stuff on him. We looked at him, and like I said, if there is a potential fit – but like I said, we have a lot of young defensemen that we want to get some playing time. We’ve got to sort out through our defense, for sure, if we can.

Blake, on Mike Stothers and the similarities between Ontario and Los Angeles’ play:
The biggest thing for us is the compete factor. You can have the skill. Granted, everybody, if they’re competing and they’re good teammates and that, if they’re all the same, then the guy who has the most skill is going to be on the top. But I think what Mike does, he gets them to compete. If you look at the players that have come up, they haven’t been the top picks. We haven’t had the top picks in there, we haven’t had them playing in Ontario. … Some of these guys coming out, Sean Walker and different guys, they learned to compete down there. That’s the foremost thing that will stay in there and everything. As far as game plan and language and all that, there’ll be a little transition period there through Todd. They met this week. Todd was back this week, and Mike’s in town now. I think the other thing, too, bringing in Chris Hajt again … he’s kind of the buffer between Stutts and some of the players, but he’s really into the development part of it, also. Stutts has really opened up to development. It’s taken time over the years, but again, he understands – he’ll install that compete and everything, and we’ll have some guys down there to work on the different skills and that, but that combination will help that player be better.

Blake, on the professional timeline communicated to Cal Petersen when he was signed:
I think that obviously comes in. We love him to battle and everything, but we know we have Quick, and we know we have Campbell, and Cal can still develop at the level by playing a lot of games in the American league, if that’s where he is. He got his taste [with the parent club] last year. Part of it was we wanted to show Cal we believe he will be the future coming in through here, and we wanted to make that commitment to him this summer.

Blake, on expectations for Drew Doughty:
I thought up until probably the deadline Drew was one of our most competitive players. I know the stats and the different things, but when you play a lot of minutes and you play on a tough team, those stats are going to be hard to relate. But, again, Drew, Kopi, Quick, Carter, these guys have got to be better for us, no doubt about it. The year before we got into the playoffs … with 98 points and heavily relied on Kopitar, Quick and Doughty.

Blake, on the players he was in most frequent contact with over the summer:
Brownie, probably. Mainly because Brownie’s a lot, too, but I have a lot of talks with Brownie and Kopitar and Drew, probably. Those are the three that I probably relate the best to, maybe because I played with two of the three and Drew, maybe in the same position and different things, we have a real good relationship. But those are the three I probably go through a lot. … Brownie’s been through this, the whole thing. He came through here in a certain era of his career, he was one of the young kids, and Todd referred to the marathon, but Brownie’s gone through it. I thought he competed very hard last year for us. We hold real high standards, and I thought he was real good in that aspect.

Blake, on Todd McLellan’s autonomy:
I trust a lot of things that Todd does. I think I have a lot different background with him just from playing under him and understanding him and everything. But the one thing, I think our ideas are shared. We have a lot of input with different types of players and what he likes, the style he likes and what we’re looking for in the drafts.

Blake, on Tyler Toffoli’s contract year:
Well, there’s a lot. We’re going to take that obviously day-by-day. I think he’s obviously got to play better than he did last year, but I believe he holds himself accountable to that, too, and a lot of that revolves around scoring and different things. Again, I think some of those things will play out later in the year. As we get to that conversation, let’s just see where we are. See where we’re at come November, December and January.

Blake, on going winless at last year’s rookie tournament, and Anaheim’s experienced roster:
You’ve got to give Anaheim credit. There are certain rules put in place for this – whether it’s entry-level guys, under 100 games – and they’ve got really good players. They’ve got players that have played in the NHL. We want to be at that stage, obviously, a year from now. We hope we get these guys in there. But, no, I think if you look, two years ago we came in, I thought we had a really good training camp, we came out and we had a really good start in the first 10 games. We had a terrible camp last year. Rookie camp, main camp, and it carried over into the season, so, yeah, there are expectations in rookie camp. We know we’ve got a lot of young players, but we’ve got some good young players. They have to go out there and compete.

–Lead photo via Juan Ocampo/NHLI

Rules for Blog Commenting

  • No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other comments, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • Please do not discuss, or post links to websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.