Blake evaluates Kings, Reign; discusses next step for young players

INSIDERS. Part II. Evaluations. Observations. Color. Part I of yesterday’s conference call with GM Rob Blake is here. There are more news and news-y offerings there. And once you’re done with this, consider checking out Justin Williams, Jonathan Quick, Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll at 6:30 p.m. PT Thursday evening on Bailey’s Twitch stream.

There’s also a Lizotte-Amadio-Moore conference call tomorrow, so more to come from the player perspective. I’ll have some great stuff from both Matt Roy and Marian Gaborik over the next three-to-five days, as well. Thank you for reading, Insiders.

Rob Blake, on Alex Iafallo’s development and cross-country drive:
The part on that signing wasn’t heavily recruited’ – we’d have conversations and I know that our college guys and our US guys at the time had followed him and had him at a really high level, but there hadn’t really been a recruiting process all year that some other times you go through. He made the decision and he came here. An interesting thing, we laughed the other day – we’re all in self-isolation. I think it kind of suits him. This is what he’s like. He did, he took his vehicle, drove it cross-country, so I’ve been able to learn that he can obviously live on his own there, no problem. We don’t have to worry about that. He knows how to fly the drones and he’s going to take care of his teammates in different situations. But what you’ve been able to see is a little bit of his personality. He’s very outdoorsy, obviously. Just kind of free-spirited, but the fact that since the day we’ve signed him, he’s never spent a minute in the American League. He came in right out of camp, played on a prominent line, and has gotten better and better each year and [has taken] steps in the past few seasons in becoming a leader in a certain way. Not the vocal type where he’s doing that aspect, but the professionalism every single day. He enjoys life, but he enjoys that life around the rink the same way. [Reporter: Did you do it? Did you drive cross-country like that?] I’m not sure I could, not in that little vehicle he had. But there’s been stories that don’t seem to affect him, and I think he actually appreciates those surroundings when he’s doing that.

Blake, on young players that progressed:
Up front, Blake Lizotte. The competitive nature. Didn’t really see much of a dip in the season as you would from typically some college guys in their first-year pro. He had a stretch there maybe 15 or 20 games in where it was a little slow for a few games, but you’ve got to think he’s almost played a full season between exhibition and those games that he would’ve over the last few years, but he seemed to battle through it. He had a little setback with an injury, but his approach to coming back from an injury was very professional. He was an impressive figure around the room every single day in an aspect very similar to Kurtis MacDermid where he wants to get better every day and he’s going to do the things that help you do that and get there. We obviously made the change in goal near the end of the season or near the deadline in bringing in Cal Petersen, who we had watched last year in the NHL and understood what he was capable of. He went down, he played a tremendous number of games early in the season in the American League and was able to step in there. Matt Roy and Sean Walker almost became – I wouldn’t say ‘young players’ anymore. They’ve taken a step now where they’re every day and they’re relied on, trusted by the coaching staff. There are quite a few guys that will fit that mold, and you’ll see it going forward. But those were a few, obviously.

Blake, on the Ontario Reign’s progression (click here for Reign coverage of the call):
Yeah, and I think you saw it early in the season with the Reign. They would win some games and then they would have some really lopsided losses. But, natural progression. There were a lot of guys that were thrown into that lineup and then a projected lineup going further is going to be younger. We supplemented it very well with some veterans. Brett Sutter obviously does a tremendous job not only adapting those kids but showing them what to do every day, and you can’t ask for much better than what we get out of him. The next year’s wave, obviously the injury to Kupari at the World Juniors was a little setback. We expected him as the season went on to really take to that role. Mikey Eyssimont really made a step forward with some opportunities to play in different situations, but now you’re going to add the Fagemos, Thomas, Dudas, Madden, Turcotte and Cole Hults on the back end. I thought the other thing when Cal Petersen came up, Matty Villalta really got more time in the net and really took charge of that. Yeah, we’re excited for the possibility and what these kids can bring, but there will be a really young lineup in Ontario going forward also.

Blake, on an ideal number of reserve players from Ontario in any hypothetical return:
You don’t want too many. Just for travel purposes, [it’s not ideal] going to a neutral site or a stand-alone city and having too many players. You want enough to integrate, whether they keep the same four-recall rule for the remaining regular season. So, would five-to-seven or five-to-eight players be enough? We project all these different [scenarios], whether it’s five, eight, 10, what kind of development plan would you have in place for these guys during the remaining regular season games? So, we’ll adjust. I don’t know if there’s a number we find just perfect, but whatever it is, we’ll work our way through it.

Blake, on the first time he saw Matt Roy in person:
No, never watched him in college. Obviously, a lot in Ontario. Not this season, but the prior season, near the end of the year when we brought him in, we were bringing him in just because he played very steady in the American League and we felt there was an opportunity for him to get games. We were going to bring up Kale Clague, who ended up breaking his foot the night before. So when we brought up Matty, I don’t remember if it was 30 games left or something, but the timing was he was just going to come in, we were going to give him a few games, see how that steadiness transferred to the NHL. And from that point on he never came out of the lineup. We found ourselves after games not even discussing him because there wasn’t any issues that stood out in the wrong way. He took advantage of the opportunity, but he also progressed and carried the same type of game from the American League to the NHL. A lot has been talked about the first two games of the season and he had a talk with Todd, and I think what they did, Todd wasn’t really familiar with him from last year as much as either Billy or Marco might have been, and I think it settled him down and he became a match-up D and we would put different types of defensemen that were coming into the lineup with him because he was a steady influence.

Blake, on the next step in Matt Roy’s development:
I’m not sure there’s another – I wouldn’t say ‘step.’ I think you saw the trusting by the coaching staff. I know Trent Yawney has a lot of good points to talk on – the strength of him, like I said, the match-ups. What they’ll do is they’ll find him some more minutes, whether that’s secondary power play. He’s already contributed to the penalty kill, and like I said, the different match-ups with different teams. Just the overall confidence in his game and the steadiness going forward. He’s much more physical and strong on his feet than we probably would’ve thought at this level. He’s been able to make that adjustment. I would say that the next step for him is not just breaking into the NHL, but moving the trust and the culture of the team going forward.

Blake, on Adrian Kempe building “consistency” in the second half:
Consistency is a big thing for us with Adrian. It’s not so much game-to-game, it’s stretches of games and maintaining that. We did see the adjustment – we would’ve [inaudible] as a centerman. We prepared him that way in the American League based off some of his tools and skating and the way he transported pucks through the neutral zone. But the shift to the wing seemed to open that up a little bit more. He’s one of the few wingers we have that will drive a defenseman deep and curl up and look for the late wave, another stretch of our systems that we’ll build on next season. So a lot of it was designed to get pucks to the net this year, and I thought he did a good job of that. The important factor was also on the power play, and it became very evident that it was a weapon to enter the zones with. The drop-back and allowing him to come with speed, he has the ability to go both sides, kick it out. Traditionally we were a team where Drew would give it to Kopi on his backhand and we’d enter that way, and I think once the veterans saw the importance of the entries and understood it through Todd’s systems is that Adrian could really help that, he has that special ability. There are different aspects of his game that I thought started to stand out as the season went on. A little adjustment early, but he did figure that out and continued to grow.

Blake, on whether he looks forward to playing beach volleyball on The Strand when beaches reopen:
No, the beaches aren’t open yet. I see the lesser restrictions on some of the Southern California beaches hasn’t creeped into Manhattan or Hermosa yet. I think it’s important, the outdoor activities, and the use of the beach, for a mentality of the people around here and getting in the water – as long as it’s safe and they have correct restrictions. But as of now, no, it’s pretty quiet out there.

Blake, on players that remained in town during the pandemic:
We have I think we have eight players here right now. A lot of them are the ones with families. They weren’t sure obviously on the schooling, working on the home-schooling. A lot of the younger guys took off. As far as monitoring Matt Price has system in place where he’ll provide programs, and like I said, it’s built around a very simple home gym makeup just because of the variations of what guys have available to themselves. But the thing is, every team’s in the same boat. All of the players are trying to do what they can. You can see on social media the different types of workouts that they’re doing. They’re very creative in that. It’s monitored weekly. We’re in touch with the players weekly, letting them know the updates. I felt that the league and the union have been tremendous in daily and weekly updates to both players and management just to keep everybody on the same page and keep the focus on trying to find a solution to resume play.

Blake, on re-signing Kurtis MacDermid:
Re-signing Kurtis MacDermid fills a very important role, not only on the ice within the room and in practice, just the details he brings every day, he’s an important player to us. You saw Mikey Anderson, a very short time but very well trusted by the coaching staff, so we fully envision him making that jump to the NHL. We got a little sample of Kale Clague at a different time this year, early in the season, starting on the Buffalo trip, so there’s potential there, and obviously with Tobias Bjornfot. The season he had at that age in the American League and the amount of games he played, minutes wise, with the World Juniors, and he seemed to get better and handle everything. We got to see him in early games in the season and probably understand where he will fit into our lineup shortly.

Blake, on the presence MacDermid brings to the team:
I think what Kurtis also brings, and when we say a presence, there’s many different ways on a team to bring a presence. Whether it’s a Kopitar, Doughty or Quick and the presence they bring, but with Kurtis, it’s an everyday presence on wanting to get better. When you watch him play, the intensity he has, and he obviously has a physical side that not a lot of guys can bring at that level, but also off the ice. Whether it’s at practice, or whether it’s in the gym, he’s real competitive and what it does is it drags people into it, and they gravitate to it and it spreads. Between him, and probably one of the other surprise types of guys like that, with a much different stature, is Blake Lizotte and the work that he brings every day, the competitive level, it really draws and has players attached to it. That importance and that presence in the room, and on the ice, and also opposing teams. When you look over a roster before a game, they do their prep work and their meetings, I’m sure they’re mentioning Kurtis MacDermid, in a way that you have to know he’s on the ice. That whole presence, and the aura about him, definitely helps our team.

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.