EL SEGUNDO, CA — Young prospects of the Los Angeles Kings gathered at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California this week for the Kings’ annual Development Camp where the potentially future Kings received on and off-ice instruction from the Kings coaching staff and worked on their conditioning.
No one can get a valid assessment about a prospect’s potential for making it to the National Hockey League and being a success once there from a summer development camp. But by all accounts, controversial 2007 first-round draft pick defenseman Thomas Hickey was one of the standouts.
Another standout was converted defenseman Brian Boyle, who looked good in the scrimmage on Wednesday night. But clearly, he has a hard time not standing out at 6-7, 250 pounds.
And yes, the Kings are trying to convert him from the center position to defense. So far, Boyle says the transition, while not instantaneous, is coming along.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work, especially for me, learning a new position,” said Boyle. “It’s a lot of information on top of what we learned last month. I’m starting to kind of get the hang of things.”
“I’m just taking it all in right now, trying to figure out where I’m supposed to be at all times,” added Boyle. “But it’s getting more comfortable.”
Indeed, during the scrimmage, Boyle did not appear to be out of position and made the right plays with the puck, except for one risky, backhand clearing pass that would have likely been picked off in an NHL game.
Skating and gap control are the two biggest things Boyle must work on to become a defenseman.
“It’s more or less the gaps,” Boyle explained. “I was a little bit too far from guys earlier in the week, trying to rely on my reach. That’s something the coaches have been working on with me, getting closer with the gaps, not just having the stick there, but the body as well.”
“As you go up levels, there’s less and less time and space,” Boyle added. “I have to be close to guys and keep the gap nice and tight. That has a lot to do with transition skating, forward to backward, backward to forward.”
“That’s something I have to get better at. I think a lot of guys could improve on that at all levels, and I think everyone wants to get better at that, but I have a bit longer way to go.”
Boyle has found the transition from center to defenseman to be a challenge, to say the least.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it has been,” he said. “It’s been a challenge because we’ve been working on a lot of technical things that defensemen in pro hockey really need to be able to do if they want to survive.”
But Boyle is not discouraged by the difficulty.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been encouraging because I feel like I’m getting the hang of some things,” said Boyle. “It’s kind of all new. It’s a lot of stuff—positional work, the way to approach different situations on the ice. Right now, it’s a lot of information.”
“Last month, I was kind of worried going back home, but it’s getting a little bit better,” added Boyle. “As long as are moving up, it’s certainly a good thing.”
After Boyle’s Boston College team lost to Michigan State in the NCAA championship game last April, Boyle played two regular season games and 16 playoff games for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate).
Boyle played at center for the Monarchs, except for “a couple of periods,” he said.
In those 16 playoff games, Boyle scored three goals and added five assists for eight points with 13 penalty minutes. But more importantly, Boyle gained some valuable experience at a higher level.
“That was definitely different, but it was a fortunate thing for me to be able to do,” he said. “That was something that was beneficial for me because the elite level of play in the AHL as opposed to college is a big jump. To get a taste of that, to get acclimated with the pro style game will help me going into camp.”
“It’s all in quick bursts because everyone is in great position,” he added. “The college game is a little bit more chaos—everyone’s flying around. Guys can skate in college, but these guys are in the right position and in the blink of an eye, they’re gone.”
As for his future, like any young prospect, Boyle has hopes of making the big club when the 2007-08 season begins in October. But he knows that winning one of the top six defense spots from the veterans is probably not realistic at this point in his career.
“Whereever I end up, it’s going to be a challenge no matter what,” said Boyle. “I’m not looking at [making the Kings] too much. All I can do is worry about myself. I just have to work hard and get better.”
“I’ve had a lot of good people pushing me over the years. A lot of constructive criticism, a lot of encouragement. I’ve been fortunate that the Kings have stuck with me. It’s been a great ride so far, and there’s a long way to go.”
Another player in the spotlight at the Development Camp was forward Patrick O’Sullivan, who split time last season with the Kings and the Monarchs.
He came to camp to work on his game, but he almost got a lengthy reservation on the Kings’ injured reserve list…or worse.
Late in the first period of the scrimmage game, someone fell on the back of O’Sullivan’s legs, knocking him down. O’Sullivan limped to the bench, and eventually made his way to the dressing room.
As it turned out, a broken skate spared O’Sullivan’s left ankle.
“Someone landed on my leg and it got caught behind me,” O’Sullivan explained. “All the rivets on my skate broke, and it ended up saving my ankle. I got a mild sprain as opposed to a broken ankle. That would have been really disappointing for that to happen in a summer camp. I was very fortunate.”
With all the Kings’ injury problems in recent years, perhaps the Kings’ luck is turning around.
O’Sullivan said that he had to use this opportunity to work on his game.
“It’s an opportunity to work on the things I need to get better at and to improve my conditioning,” said O’Sullivan. “I’ve been to more than a few of these, but it was important for me to come here, get some work in, and get a chance to work with the coaches.”
“I need to get my conditioning better,” added O’Sullivan. “Everyone can work on that, but that’s something you realize that at this level, you really need to step up. On the ice, it’s protecting the puck and being more consistent in making the easy plays like I was doing at the end of the year. I’m trying to take it one step at time, and this is another step towards me getting better.”
Indeed, at the end of last season, O’Sullivan looked like a much- improved player after a stint with the Monarchs.
“I had some confidence at the end of last year,” he said. “I’m just trying to build on that, and coming to this camp has helped me. I think it’s confidence. Not only for myself being out there, but knowing that the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in you.”
“As the second half went on, I started killing penalties and playing in big, important situations,” he added. “That really got to me. I said to myself, ‘I can play at this level. I can make plays and do the things that I’ve been able to do at every other level.’ To realize that is pretty cool. It’s definitely something I’ve tried to build on.”
O’Sullivan is already looking ahead to the coming season.
“We’ve signed some really good forwards. It’s going to give me a chance to play with those guys, and I’m really excited about that.”
Visnovsky, Parse Signed
On July 11, the Kings signed defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to a five-year contract extension. They also signed forward prospect Scott Parse to a two-year, entry-level deal.
Financial terms were not disclosed for either contract, but Frozen Royalty has learned that Visnovsky’s contract is worth $28.25 million, or $5.65 million per season.
Visnovsky, 31, scored 18 goals and added 40 assists for 58 points in 69 games last season, leading Kings defensemen for the second straight season in scoring. He also set new career highs for shots (159), shooting percentage (11.3) and time-on-ice average (24:27), and he finished second in takeaways (37) and third in blocked shots (107).
Visnovsky was named as the Kings’ Outstanding Defenseman last season. He also played in the 2007 National Hockey League All-Star Game.
“I’m very happy that I’ll be staying with this organization for a long time,” said Visnovsky from his off-season home in Slovakia. “I love Los Angeles and I want to play in the playoffs with the Kings.”
Visnovsky is the only defenseman in club history to ever lead his team in scoring for a season after recording a career high 67 points with the Kings in 2005-06, when he was named as the team’s Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Defenseman.
The 5-10, 188-pound native of Topolcany, Slovakia was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Parse, 22, scored 24 goals and added 28 assists for 52 points with 36 penalty minutes in 40 games last season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) Mavericks of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
The 6-1, 185-pound native of Portage, Michigan also played in ten regular season games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL last season, scoring two goals with five assists for seven points. In seven playoff games, Parse scored a goal.
In four seasons with the Mavericks, Parse scored 79 goals and tallied 118 assists for 197 points in 159 games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s best hockey player the past two seasons, and he was named to the CCHA First Time All-Conference Team three times.
Parse was the Most Valuable Player in all four seasons at UNO, and was named the CCHA Player of the Year and was a first team All- American selection in the 2005-06 season, when he led the Mavericks to their first NCAA tournament appearance.
Parse is also UNO’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played.
Although it appeared that the Kings had difficulty signing Parse, he said that the apparent delay and his suiting up with the Griffins had nothing to do with any contract difficulties with the Kings.
“I got hurt at the end of the year,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to play. The Monarchs had their team pretty much all set. I got an opportunity to play in Grand Rapids, close to home. I thought it would be a good experience, and it was. I just got an opportunity to play there.”
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