It’s not often that a skilled, 6-7, 227-pound forward in the OHL can be overlooked.
For Kings prospect Kaleb Lawrence, however, that’s exactly what happened. Even foreshadowing, stilts were likely needed. All that said, Lawrence was surprised an NHL team both spotted and had interest in him leading up to 2022 NHL Draft given the way things went for him the previous two and a half seasons.
To get the full scope of who Kaleb Lawrence is, we need to go back to the 2019-20 OHL season.
At 16-years-old, a young yet lengthy Lawrence made his OHL debut for the Owen Sound Attack alongside his elder teammate, current Ontario Reign forward Aidan Dudas. Taking in the experience of what Canada’s highest level of hockey for his age has to offer, Lawrence put up eight points (5-3-8) in 39 games.
“I learned a lot in my first year, it’s a big change and big step in your hockey career going from minor youth hockey to going to the OHL,” Lawrence explained. “I learned how to be a pro hockey player and what it takes to be successful every day at the rink. We had guys like Aidan Dudas on our team that led the way and we’d watch the professionalism of the older guys. I just took those lessons in.”
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Midway into the season, the OHL – like every other league across sports – saw things come to an early halt. Lawrence’s last game of the season took place on March 11th, 2020. Into the pandemic, Canada’s COVID-19 policies and restrictions were strict, causing Lawrence to find unique ways to stay active and in hockey shape.
“It was really weird, I found myself going on a lot more walks than I would’ve liked to and doing homework outside,” he said. “It was the best I could do at that time. Everything was closed. It was definitely tough, but going on walks, going on runs and doing homework outside is what I tried to do until the rinks got back open.”
Off the ice for the longest span of his life, it would be five and a half months before Lawrence could lace his skates back up. He recalled his first time back at the rink being an “ugly session” as he skated with two of his friends for the first time since March.
Unfortunately, as hockey season was set to begin in the OHL, restrictions tightened once again. As a result, the OHL was forced to cancel the 2020-21 season and Lawrence’s next opportunity to impress the scouts was taken away. Fast forward to the summer of 2021, with things more under control, Lawrence received an invite to the Columbus Blue Jackets rookie camp. Heading into a great opportunity full of anxious excitement, adversity struck hard during the camp and Lawrence injured his shoulder.
As a result, he missed the first seven games of the 2021-22 OHL season. Following an intense rehab routine over those first seven games, Lawrence was cleared to return to gameplay, but unfortunately that gameplay was extremely short-lived.
“I played one game and felt good,” he said. “Then, I was having a really good game against the Windsor Spitfires and I took a weird hit to my shoulder that normally doesn’t happen and it just gave out. That was it for me.”
The hit resulted in a 90 percent shoulder labrum tear which required a 6-8 month recovery.
“That was a really long and tough process for me,” he said. “Especially after a full year of [the pandemic] and knowing I’m going to miss two and a half seasons in total. With the situation I was in, I wasn’t expecting to be drafted. I hadn’t played in forever, I was just focused on getting back on the ice and getting reps. I felt that when I was able to play, I would be able to get looks from people.”
Despite the adversity facing Lawrence, focused on his rehab in efforts to get back on the ice before the 2022 NHL Draft.
Little did he realize, being drafted was in fact in his immediate future.
“Having just recently gotten back on the ice, I saw LA come out to a few of my practices leading up to the draft and that really surprised me,” he said. “We talked a bit, but I still didn’t think I’d get drafted.”
Between March 11th, 2020 (Lawrence’s last game before COVID-19) and the 2022 NHL Draft on June 7th, 2022, it had been 818 days. During that span, Lawrence had played just one and a half games.
Come June 8th, 2022, Day 2 of the draft, Lawrence’s mind was elsewhere.
“On the day of the draft, I wasn’t thinking much of it, I was actually on the golf course with a few of my buddies,” he said. “During the round, my dad texted me and told me that the Kings had traded with Boston for the 215th pick in the seventh round and that I should watch. I pulled it up and saw my name. My phone started to blow up and I couldn’t believe it honestly, it was definitely really emotional for me. It was hard for me going through those last two years, especially after having lost a season due to COVID-19 and then missing a whole year after that.”
To acquire Lawrence, the Kings traded their 2023 seventh round pick, moving a future asset to ensure they selected the rights to Lawrence.
Going through the process of rehabbing, Lawrence hadn’t lost his love for the game, but admitted it wasn’t easy getting back to where he wanted to be physically. Learning he was selected in the NHL Draft was a big boost in the process, as he continued his return to the ice.
“Getting drafted by the Kings really helped me keep moving forward and that was a big help in my process getting back into the game,” he added. “Getting drafted gave me so much motivation over that summer in getting back to where I want to be. They believed in me and I’m just working as hard as I can for them to make that draft pick pay off.”
With an added driving passion behind Lawrence’s want to be the healthiest him, the Ontario native has worked his way into game shape for this season. Admittedly though, he has needed some time to work his way into his best form.
“It took about 20 to 25 games to get comfortable with my game again and the pace of play,” he said. “Just now, I feel like I’m slowly getting back to where I need to be. Honestly, I wouldn’t say I’m even 100% right now. I missed so much time, but I’m feeling better every game. It’s a long process. I’m excited where my game is progressing to.”
With 23 points (9-14-23) in his last 27 games, Lawrence is still finding his game for the Owen Sound Attack.
The self-described two-way player brings size and physicality to the ice. Lawrence described himself as a hardworking, two-way player who wants to be relied upon in all situations. He’s starting to produce offensively, but is also someone who brings physicality and will stand up for teammates when needed. All situations, indeed.
Lawrence has helped the Attack post a 25-17-4-1 record as of this writing, good for second in the Midwest Division. As for the rest of the season, Lawrence’s goals are simple………
“The biggest thing for me is to just stay healthy, I want to play these games. As a team, I want to continue helping us win. That would be a pretty successful year back for me.”
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