Rookie camp for future NHL players used to involve an exhausting amount of drills and repetitive practice time over a few days. Actual game-type situations were an afterthought.
That’s gradually evolved into the inaugural rookie tournament that the Kings and Ducks, with four other NHL organizations, are part of in Las Vegas. It runs through Tuesday.
They are glorified scrimmages, mostly for players who are years away from the NHL, and aren’t played in NHL venues (this year’s tournament is at City National Arena, and next year the Ducks will host the event in Irvine). But it’s still a competitive atmosphere.
“Everyone’s kind of had a long summer and they’re ready for the season to start,” Kings forward prospect Mike Eyssimont said. “This kind of breaks it up nicely for us to go over to Vegas and play three games. It should be fun and definitely more exciting than just practicing.”
The Ducks opened the tournament with an 8-3 win against the Kings in which this year’s top Ducks draft pick, Isac Lundestom, and the Kings’ Jaret Anderson-Dolan each scored twice. The Ducks are 2-0 and the Kings 0-2 going into Tuesday’s finales against the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights, respectively. All games can be livestreamed at lakings.com/livestream.
The scores are ancillary, though, to evaluating prospects against their peers in a game setting.
“We want them comfortable,” said Dallas Eakins, coach of the Ducks’ minor league affiliate San Diego Gulls. “Before you start to run, it’s always good to go for a jog or walk a little bit, rather than being dropped down into an NHL practice.”
The Kings’ last two first-round draft picks, Gabriel Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari, are not participating. Vilardi has a back injury, and Kupari returned to Europe. Defenseman Daniel Brickley is expected to join the Kings on Tuesday.
Overall, the Kings will keep a closer eye on their prospects because their minor league affiliate Ontario Reign will now be based at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo. The minor league team will practice there, aside from logistical conflicts with the Kings, and bus to games.