|Voynov, LA Kings rookie (photo: K. Spatz)|
Drew Doughty hasn't resigned with the LA Kings yet.
After being bombarded with questions about his former Norris trophy candidate during the opening day of camp, coach Terry Murray is now starting to prepare for the possibility of having to fill his spot on the roster - even if it's only temporary.
LA's three leading candidates would be Jake Muzzin, Thomas Hickey and Slava Voynov.
Given that Murray already saw what Muzzin can do in the NHL during his 11-game stint early last season, much of the attention the last few days has been focused on the other two.
"I'm not too sure how it's all going to play out," Murray said early in camp. "But, the opportunity is there for someone to grab a position if Doughty does not show up here by the end of training camp."
And how likely is it that 'someone' will be Voynov?
"He has a little bit of an edge because he's a right handed shot - but, also because he's a very skilled guy and he plays the power play," Murray explained. "That's one of his strengths - to be able to carry the puck, see the ice and make plays. He has a nice shot, good quickness and, instinctively, he's a skill player. The other part is, he's coming off an all-star year (in Manchester). When you pay your dues in the minors the last couple of years like he has, and his game keeps getting better, he's a player that I'm going to keep a very close eye on."
Don't count Hickey out just yet though. He's been flying around the ice during the first few days of camp and Murray has taken notice.
"That’s a big change from what I saw in year one. His overall body strength is much better (too)."
Speed and strength are just part of Hickey's improvements. Murray also likes what he's doing with the puck.
"He's got better jump, he's up in the play better than he was, he's moving the puck more alertly, it's not on his stick as long as it was before," said the Kings coach. "I always felt that Thomas Hickey was one of those guys who was going to look you off, fake you off. At the pro level, that's a very hard thing to do."
He then continued - "The decision you have to make when you hold onto the puck too long is 'this is not working.' The faster you advance the puck in transition, on breakouts, and get it off your stick to the forwards, the better off you’re going to be as a player. Then, there are those opportunities when you need (the puck) on your stick as a power play defenseman. You now need to hold onto the puck, make plays, freeze the top penalty killer, find the open guy and make those kinds of decisions. But, I'm seeing a change in that mindset in his five-on-five play, and that's a good thing."
Murray wasn't done talking about Hickey either. Next, he moved over to the 22-year old's defensive play - where he said things are rounding into form.
"We ran some drills today on d-zone coverage, with the three-on-three, one-on-one, and two-on-two. They get you into those areas that can expose you or you see an improvement. And we're seeing an improvement."
With Murray, there's always time to talk even more defense...
"What it comes down to when you're playing the defensive part of the game, in terms of low coverage - it's not about being 6-foot-5," explained Murray. "There's a lot of players in the league who are smaller defensemen who have had great careers, long careers. But it is about body positioning. It's not getting to the wrong side of the man - it's that two-foot, three-foot positioning where you're eliminating those turn backs, those cut backs that now opens the play underneath you. Then, you’re really exposed, and bad things happen. Plays come to your net, goals against happen and you end up being on the ice, and you’re saying, 'What’s going on? Why me?'"
And how does this apply back to Hickey?
"Now he’s reading it," Murray believes. "His angles are better, his positioning is much better and we definitely see the improvement."
While Hickey surly would have appreciated the praise, he recognizes the pressure he's under right now.
"I want to make this team really bad," the former first round pick said. "There's pressure, there's expectations. I'd say mine are higher or greater than everyone else's."
Later, Murray responded to Hickey's comment.
“To me, that's a good thing," thought Murray. "That kind of feeling is what every player who makes it to the NHL feels at some time - 'It’s time to step up. My contract’s up. I need to do more. I have to be better.' All this is self-talk you go through as an athlete, pushing yourself to the next level."
Murray's parting thoughts could apply to either Hickey or Voynov.
"I believe that when you have a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, now you’re going to listen,” added Murray. “Now you’re going to push yourself. Now you’re going to improve, and that’s a critical step for every player to get to, and, as that decision is made in your own mind. Now there’s a good opportunity, if you have the ability and skill, that you’re going to start to pay the price to play the game the right way - to be a pro player, to live the right way, to do everything that’s possible to lay it on the line and see where it takes you.”
The longer it takes Doughty to sign a deal with the Kings, it could take Hickey or Voynov to Europe - to join the Kings on opening night, not for a reunion with Bud Holloway and Oscar Moller.
Hickey currently ranks ninth on the MayorsManor top ten list of Kings prospects - in part, reflecting what Hickey admitted feeling, it's time for him to take a meaningful step forward.
Voynov ranks sixth on the same list (view the full rankings here).
Hickey was drafted fourth overall in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, he spent last year in Manchester (AHL) - playing 77 games (six goals, 18 assists, plus-9).
Voynov was selected in the second round of the 2008 draft. He's listed at the same height, but nine pounds heavier. Last season, he led all Monarchs defensemen with 51 points and was tops on the team with a plus-21 rating.
Before the AHL playoffs began in April, Hickey stopped by MayorsManor. You can check out that full interview here.
Also, for a different side of Jake Muzzin, click here.