At the 2004 NHL Entry draft, the Los Angeles Kings were overjoyed that they had just landed the top Finnish prospect, Lauri Tukonen. With the 110th overall pick, Kings management selected Ned Lukacevic, a skilled yet gritty left wing, from the Spokane Chiefs out of the WHL.
The Kings hosted their annual development camp that July, and in September, sent a squad to the 2004 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament. Lukacevic attended both of them, but he barely raised an eyebrow.
He headed back to play with Spokane for the 2004-05 season. The Chiefs were a bubble team all year long in the U.S. Division and Lukacevic was making the best of a challenging year. Towards the final stretch, Tri-City caught Spokane and final playoff spot for good. That sent the Chiefs into an early summer retreat.
“I think we had too many mental mistakes on the ice as a team,” the left wing explained recently. “I think we had too many little mistakes that would end up costing us 2-1 games or 3-2 games. It wasn’t acceptable and we tried to address that as a team. Unfortunately, it got the best of us and we had an early summer.”
But instead of dwelling on it, he looked ahead.
“I worked out really hard this past summer and started to prepare myself for the future,” Lukacevic explained about his preparation for the upcoming year.
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What a difference a year makes
In mid-July the Kings development camp opened up again this year, time for Lukacevic to show just how much he improved. He had to show management and staff just how serious he was about his hockey career and that he was a player that they could count on in the future.
All he had to do is show he could skate with some other highly touted prospects in Tukonen, Jens Karlsson (2001 – 18th overall), and Kosntantin Pushkarev (2003 – 44th overall), to name a few.
When he took the ice, the first thing that stood out was his skating, showing a bit more dexterity. What was most impressive is that he was able to find another gear in his game. He did all the little things a coach likes to see and most of all he showed everyone he was a gamer. He never took a single second off during camp. Not now. He was well on his way to putting his stamp on the camp.
“My speed is definitely something that has gotten me this close to the NHL level,” he explained. “I work on it all the time and I know that I can always improve with every passing day. I feel I have some good overall skill, I can play well with others, I find my linemates and most of all, and I can find the back of the net.”
Lukacevic outplayed his peers in almost every aspect at the camp. Problem was, it was just camp. After all the drills, the Black and White scrimmage, he still didn’t have a chance to ply his trade in a true game time situation in a Kings uniform.
Regardless, he was happy with what he accomplished.
“This is the first step towards the big year,” Lukacevic said about playing hard from the get-go. ”You want to make a good first impression for the season that lies ahead. I want to have a good year, be a great all-around player and most of all, be a good person. I have to become the complete package.”
Do you know the way to San Jose?
This past week, Lukacevic played with the Kings in the 2005 Rookie Tournament in San Jose, California. He saw action in the first two games of the four games in the tournament.
He was held off the scoring sheet in game 1. He did however do his part in game 2, playing on a line with Pushkarev and Anze Kopitar (2005 – 11th overall). He would score a goal to help down the Coyotes 3-2. It wasn’t anything fancy, but he did he job. He got in low against the defense and made things happen in front of the net.
“It is easy to play with the skilled guys like Kopi and Pushy,” Lukacevic said about lining up with the two future stars. “They seem to find you and find the spots. It’s quick and it’s fun to be on the same line with them.”
Even though he sat the final two games, there is nothing that he should worry about. Lukacevic played his game and did a good job.
As every team reiterated, this was an evaluation period. The Kings management and coaching staff, like the others, were there to assess their young prospects and he was one of many, not to mention the non-roster invitees. They were looking to gauge where their prospects are in their game and how they would fare against competition at or above their current playing level.
“I wanted to be ready for the development camp and the rookie tournament this year,” Lukacevic stated about his approach this summer. “It was very important to me because I also wanted to get an invite to the main camp this year.”
Taking the next step
Lukacevic along with some other of the Kings fresh young talent opened this week with the big club at the Toyota Training Center in El Segundo, California. He’s on the roster and he’s skating with the veterans. He doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, but he realizes either way, he wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world.
In tow, he brought along the same winning attitude that has also helped him get this far.
“I have to keep it simple and be confident in myself,” he said about performing at the main camp. “It’s a different when you have your confidence with you. I’m just going to keep telling myself I’m good enough to skate with these guys and that I belong out here. You can bet I’m going to push myself very hard every single day I’m out there.”
Although he might not reveal some of the understandable amount of built up anxiety, he is still very ready and determined to test his wares against his cohorts.
“Having all the young talent in the Browns, the Frolovs and even a player like Kopi, I’m excited to get a chance to go to camp,” he explained about mixing it up with his peers. “Not only is it is such a privilege and an honor to be a part of the Los Angeles Kings organization, but I’ll have a chance to learn even more these next few weeks.”
Too young to play in the AHL this season, he’ll head back to Spokane, but you better believe that before he goes, he’ll show why his future is going to be a bright one.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.