Kings' development camp is all about fundamentals

Kings' development camp is all about fundamentals
The Kings selected Erik Cernak of Slovakia with the 43rd overall pick of the 2015 NHL entry draft. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

The Kings take an interesting approach with their summer development camp, using the week to introduce their prospects to the club's hockey philosophy and reinforce basics rather than to stage formal scrimmages in which someone keeps score.

In other words, they use it for actual development and not to push anyone faster than his talent, age or language skills might warrant. It's a deliberate choice that has served them well and has produced many of the core players on their current roster.


"One thing about this camp is it's not an evaluation camp. We're here to teach, and that's what's so fun about it," Nelson Emerson, the Kings' director of player development, said Tuesday in El Segundo. "You look back at the years that we've been doing it and it's a really rewarding experience. It's so fun to watch the new players that are here that haven't been here before, and you can certainly see the difference in players that have been here in the past."

The camp will continue with morning and afternoon sessions Wednesday and will conclude with morning sessions Thursday and Friday, all open to the public. Several players from Berlin and Hamburg of the German league are participating because those teams are owned by AEG, the Kings' parent company. Former NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp, Berlin's coach, was among the on-ice instructors Tuesday.

The early sessions have focused mostly on skill development with individual groups; Tuesday's afternoon session featured a four-on-four scrimmage that reinforced fundamentals such as puck possession, a principle the Kings cherish.

"We were asking the kids to make plays," Emerson said. "We wanted them to pass the puck well and receive the puck well and not bobble the puck. We show them a lot of video on how important it is to make sure our team is looking after the puck in regards to individually."

The basic concept of passing the puck accurately is another point of emphasis. Mike O'Connell, a senior advisor-development coach, said that's part of instilling good practice habits.

"Practice like a pro, prepare like a pro. Receive a pass like a pro. Make a pass," O'Connell said. "Things that they have to understand that we expect, that a bad pass is unacceptable, just try and get them to work at that. Most of our drills, as any drills, are unopposed, so there's no reason why a pass should not be made unopposed. And instead of getting the puck and do it again, we make them understand that it's unacceptable."

He and Emerson said teaching those concepts now, before players scatter all over the world for the rest of the summer, is more important than identifying a budding superstar. But it was easy to identify the Kings' recent drafting pattern by simply looking around the ice.

"A lot of big boys here. That's nice," said defenseman Alex Lintuniemi, a Finn who was a second-round draft pick in 2014 and played four games last season for Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League. "Hockey is a tough game, so you need big boys."

Lintuniemi, at 6 feet 3, is one of those big boys. Slovakian defenseman Erik Cernak, the Kings' second round pick and 43rd overall in last month's entry draft, is the same height. And although expectations for him might be high, the organization isn't putting pressure on him.

"He's big. He's very fit. Very enthused. Very enthusiastic," O'Connell said. "A young defenseman and it's so early, we really have not done any game situations. We're basically just trying to get their feet underneath them and try to understand where they need to be. Right now we're just trying to get them to understand the Kings' way. He looks like he's a fine prospect."

Cernak, who speaks limited English, said he likes the smaller North American ice surface and likes Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.

"I'm very happy. First time in LA. Very, very nice place," he said.

Although O'Connell and Emerson avoided offering individual assessments, both singled out 20-year-old forward Valentin Zykov for helping younger players. Zykov, who is Russian, learned English before he came to North America and learned French playing for Baie-Comeau and Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, and he's using those skills to explain drills and instructions to those who have trouble comprehending English.

His willingness to take that initiative could be an asset on his path to the NHL.

"He's a great student. He's a great teammate and he takes it very seriously," O'Connell said of Zykov, who sat out the junior world tournament last season while recovering from a hernia. "Everything we do and every rep and everything he does, he tries his hardest every time. He's going to be fine. He's a good player and his work ethic and his attention….He applies himself every time he's on that ice. I doubt it's going to take him a long while."

Emerson agreed that Zykov's acting as a translator of sorts has been a positive development.

"Val has taken a real leadership role in our camp in that regard," Emerson said. "He's actually been kind of a mentor to some of the younger players in that way, and we didn't really have to say anything to him. He did it on his own. And that's kind of a leadership role that we just kind of went, 'Wow, good job Val.' Just did it on his own. That's great."

Zykov said he learned English before arriving in North America because "it was my dream to come here. ... I think it's impossible to play here without English."

He also said he's not sure whether he's ready to play the pro game.

"The only thing I think about is just getting better," he said. "And get closer to NHL."

Which is what a development camp should be about.

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen