In the off-season, Kings defenseman Derek Forbort takes full advantage of his 6-foot-4 height to live out his fantasies by playing basketball with friends. A native of Duluth, Minn., and fan of his home-state Timberwolves, he also admires LeBron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
All of which helps explain how Forbort, who made his NHL debut last season and is making a big impact for the injury-depleted Kings this season, got the nickname D-Money. Once his teammates heard it, they gleefully adopted it, too. "It's kind of my NBA baller nickname," Forbort said, seeming slightly embarrassed.
It fits in an ironic way because there's probably no player on the Kings less flashy than Forbort, who has been a solid defense partner for reigning Norris trophy winner Drew Doughty. "He's definitely not. That's probably why it's his nickname, just because it makes no sense," Doughty said with a laugh. "It seems to suit him. Around here, the guys kind of like it. He's awesome. A good player, a good guy."
Forbort's long shot late in the third period was tipped by Dwight King for the go-ahead goal in the Kings' 4-2 victory Wednesday over the New York Islanders at Staples Center. King scored again seconds later.
If good things come to those who wait, maybe very good things can come to those who wait a long time, as Forbort has persevered since he was drafted 15th overall by the Kings in 2010.
Given a chance this season to fill a key role when Brayden McNabb sustained an upper-body injury, Forbort has seized the opportunity. He logged a season-high 23 minutes, 44 seconds' ice time against New Jersey last Saturday and had 23:17 of ice time against the Ducks on Sunday while matching his season-best total of five blocked shots.
Forbort has played at least 20 minutes in six of his last seven games. He has contributed a goal and six points.
Forbort was playing for the US. National Team Development Program when the Kings drafted him, and he went on to play three seasons at the University of North Dakota. With the Kings boasting a strong defense corps at the NHL level — a crucial element of their 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championships — Forbort had to serve a long apprenticeship in the minor leagues. At 24, he has won a regular spot.
"We forget about the growth of the athlete as a professional, no matter what it is, whether it's playing hockey, tiddlywinks or tennis," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "You started to see last year, and certainly this summer, that it was almost a more seriousness about him. I don't know if that's the right word. Focus is probably the better word. He was much more dialed in, like he said, 'OK, I'm going to make it now.' A lot of kids go through that. They realize, hey, there are only 600 people in the world that are going to play in this league. You're not just going to get by on the fact that you're a big, tall kid that's rangy and has a lot of tools."
Forbort credited Mike Stothers, his coach with Ontarioof the American Hockey League, and Mike O'Connell, an advisor to Lombardi and player development executive, with helping him find his identity on the ice. His journey continues under the close watch of Coach Darryl Sutter and associate head coach John Stevens, who works with the Kings' defensemen.
"I knew I had a long ways to go to make the team as far as where my body was at and where I was at as a player. I guess they didn't really think it would take this long but I just had to stay on track and keep working hard," Forbort said. "That was the biggest thing for me, just to stay focused on what my goal was, which was to make this team.
"In college I never had a clear role, and then I got to pro and Mike Stothers did a great job helping me find that. [O'Connell] told me just kind of simple puck movement, hard defensive defenseman, that's my role now, so I know what it is."
Doughty described Forbort as a good shot-blocker and skater who's strong in the corners, passes well, and has a good stick. "And he sees the game well, too," Doughty said. "He really has a lot of strengths. His weaknesses, he's probably got a few, and I can't even name them right now."
Their success helped the Kings stay afloat during the first quarter of the season despite an array of injuries. One of those injured players, center Anze Kopitar (hand/arm injury) returned to action Wednesday after missing five games and got an assist .
"We just do a good job of communicating with each other out there. We both talk a lot on the ice and that just helps me so much," Forbort said of his pairing with Doughty.
"He's always telling me what the right play is and stuff like that. You've got to read off each other and we've gotten more comfortable the more we've played with each other.
"It's been good, and we just have to keep going."