The introduction to the American Hockey League can be challenging for young players.
Forward Mikey Eyssimont was not only no exception to that during his rookie campaign, but perhaps even a poster child for the transition. As one of the more highly touted first-year players during the 2018-19 season, the high-scoring collegiate forward Eyssimont posted a 20-point campaign from 61 games played as a rookie, but put in the work over the summer to improve into a contributor entering his second professional season.
“I think it’s inevitable to say that a player can come in, going from playing two games on the weekend, having all week to practice and then you turn pro and you’re playing three or four games a week sometimes, plus you’re traveling,” LA Kings Director of Player Development Glen Murray said. “It’s a tough adjustment, there’s no question about it. I think when we talked to him after his rookie season he understood that. He understood how, after that season, he really needed to up his training to be able to last throughout the season, because practices are harder, you’re practicing every day, you’re in the gym, you might be traveling, there’s sometimes where it may be four games in a week, so it was an adjustment.”
Several people – coaches, management, broadcasters, onlookers – noted the improvements in Eyssimont’s game as he entered this season, and lauded him for putting in the work during the summer to get to where he needed to be.
“I think that I came into this second season with a little bit of a different attitude,” Eyssimont said. “Going through that first season, and some of the struggles I had, there was a lot I took out of it that was actually positive. Coming int [the 2019-20] season, I think I was just able to kind of get past that mental game of it, earn the trust of [the coaching staff], that helps. I think the main thing is that I wasn’t the same skater as I was, I think I look like a totally different skater. I want to continue to improve that, but my speed and strengths were some of the biggest things that helped me improve into my second year.”
During the preseason at the NHL level, Eyssimont got into a handful of NHL games with the Kings, including the Salt Lake Shootout, before he was assigned to Ontario. Eyssimont’s play on a line with Blake Lizotte and Akil Thomas was particularly praised during an early preseason tilt against Vegas.
Despite being amongst the first large group of professional players sent to the AHL, Eyssimont’s name was one that generated some buzz throughout the Kings organization, no small task for a second year player.
“He really deserved everything he got this year,” Murray said. “He worked so hard in the offseason, he came back to training camp and he really took a couple of steps. He got a few preseason games, he earned it, he earned everything he got. People in the organization were talking about him.”
With the Reign, following an up-and-down start to the season, Eyssimont took off from December on. After he was a healthy scratch in a game in Bakersfield in late-November, the St. Cloud State product went on to amass 21 points from his next 29 games played and was a big part of the Reign putting together an impressive run in the middle to backstretch of the shortened AHL season.
A large contributor to Eyssimont’s success came from getting into better areas on the ice than he did in his first season, some of the harder and greasier areas, to score goals and make plays. When watching him on the ice, you felt like he could always create a chance with limited space, which is how several of his goals this season were scored, using his improved strength and speed, along with his craftiness, in the process.
“I think it’s always been a part of my game [dating back to college],” Eyssimont said. “I think it helped, when I started playing that way and going to the net and those hard areas, that opens up the rest of my game, where I can score more goals from a shot from further out from the net. I think that I’ve always played hard, and not been scared to go to the hard areas around the net and my game, all around the ice, will be better.”
As he progressed through his sophomore season, those at higher levels continued to take note.
At the trade deadline, Eyssimont was mentioned by Kings General Manager Rob Blake as being a player having a good season, a sentiment that he followed up on during a media call during the pause in play.
“Mikey Eyssimont really made a step forward with some opportunities to play in different situations,” Blake said.
With his play attracting the attention of the Kings brass, and Blake was not the only member to have taken notice, was a callup potentially in Eyssimont’s future as the Kings approached their final games down the stretch? Indications pointed towards it being a decent possibility, as the Colorado native spoke to.
“I’d like to think so,” he said of a possible callup had the season continued. “I like to think in my head that I would’ve gotten called up and besides some indication from some of the staff, that they’re happy with me and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing to earn that callup, I think that there’s good indication that maybe it would’ve happened. I just tried to stay positive and really just go into every day like it’s a tryout and I’m trying to help the team win.”
Looking ahead, Eyssimont will be a restricted free agent, in search of his second contract with the Kings following the expiration of his two-year, entry-level deal. With the assumption that he returns to the organization, the Kings development team is expecting big things as he looks to take another positive step forward in his career.
“I think his season was just progressively getting better and better,” Murray said. “He’s improved and now he needs to take that next step, and I think he’s one-hundred percent dedicated to improving his game and getting stronger. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s definitely taken a couple strides, which is great to see. He listens, he wants to learn, he wants to get better any way he can, and working with the development staff has been great. I’m looking forward to seeing where his next steps are next season.”