Heading into his sixth season as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, Andy Murray is one of, if not the most respected coaches in the league. Not only has he spent countless hours working alongside Kings management to ice a competitive team at the NHL level, but he is just as involved with the Kings development system and its prospects. Murray is currently attending the 2005 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament.
Hockey’s Future sat down with Murray during the tournament, where he commented on the play of some of the Kings prospects, the organization’s developmental system and much more.
HF: What are your impressions here at the 2005 Rookie Tournament?
AM: We have some guys who are very strong skaters. We might be the biggest team in the tournament, but we have used our speed to our advantage, particularly in today’s game.
Overall, I think we’re pleased as an organization. We have some players that are playing better than we expected and we have some that have yet to get up to level we would expect them to be at. It is encouraging.
HF: Not only are you here evaluating the prospects, but you also presided over the development camp back in July. With the prospects that have come to both camps, what kind of picture are you starting to get about the system?
AM: We take a look at our situation with our young players. That also includes the Frolovs, and the Cammalleris because they are still young. You can add in Tim Gleason and Dustin Brown in to name a few more. We expect those players to make our club this season. Then you take a look at this camp. Anze Kopitar who has had a very good camp and a Connor James has been excellent as well. James has been one of our better players in this camp.
We are encouraged by what we have seen here, but we’re also going to have to see this group with the big guys next. I think that will be a real good indication. Every time you put a Kings jersey on, you’re making a statement for yourself and for the organization. We think a couple of players have shown us that they have a future with us if they continue to develop.
HF: You mention Kopitar has had a good camp. In game 3, he was on a line with Ned Lukacevic and Konstantin Pushkarev. In game 1 he played a lot with Pushy and showed a little chemistry. How do you think that Kopitar has done in such a short time?
AM: I think Anze is a very good player. If you take a look at the draft picks we have in the past number of years, we have drafted some Europeans. You just not sure what the situation is going to be language wise, culturally and their overall ability level. Kopitar is a big strong player, who speaks very good English. On top of that, he carries himself very well, and is very professional. When it comes to the game, he’s a bit of a coach’s son. His dad is the head coach back home for Team Slovenia. He has certainly impressed us.
HF: What about Pushkarev?
AM: In comparison to his summer camp, where we would have to say he was probably below average, he has stepped up quite well and played very well in the two games he has seen action in.
HF: And Lukacevic?
AM: Lukacevic is using his speed. Today is the first day all three have played together. We have had Jeff Tambellini in there in past but we tried to shake things up a bit in game 3. Lukacevic has also played well.
HF: Of the invitees, is there anyone that has impressed you or the rest of the staff? Say a player like Brendan Bernakevich or someone else?
AM: Well first off, we know that Bernakevich is very intelligent. He graduated from Harvard. He has shown some strength and he has scored three goals in his first two games. That‘s a pretty good sign. He’s played quite well. Normally, I’m not the type to be praising individuals too much but I certainly think he has had a good camp.
HF: Looking back to last summer and fast-forward to this camp, who has been the most improved player in your eyes?
AM: That’s a real difficult question. Looking over everything, you would have to say Connor James. Now does that improvement mean he can sustain a position with the big club? We’re not quite sure. Connor will more than likely end up with our team in Manchester. If you look at the guy who has come the furthest, then I would definitely go with Connor. He has been the best player on the ice. All the games seem to have been dominated by one player. In game 3, it was Connor all the way.
HF: Looking at the technical side of the game, how do you think the players here are adjusting to the rule changes? Most notably the removal of the red line?
AM: It is really interesting to be honest. I think a lot of people made a big deal about the rule changes, including the removal of the red line. I think it is good, but I don’t think it will change the game that much. Obviously it could help if you got a team that has some speed. But mentioning speed, you have to also make sure that you have the same great grit level. We have to have guys that want to compete. I have often been knocked for not wanting tough guys in the line-up, but I’ve always loved tough guys in the line-up as long as they could carry themselves. The situation with the injuries over the last couple years, I have had to adjust the scoring item. We had to get scoring over four lines. This year for the big club, we think we can put a lot of skill and grit on three lines and have a tough line.
HF: You talked about grit being an overall factor in this system. You have guys like George Parros, Ryan Flinn and you add other younger gritty guys in Eric Neilson and Ryan Murphy. When you put any one of those guys to a roster and seek out the balance you want, how do you make that work?
AM: You look at Eric Neilson. I don’t know if you would necessarily consider him as a heavyweight because of his size. He can get under people’s skin and he knows his job well. He goes after the other teams’ good players, which we like to see.
Ryan Murphy is an outstanding worker. He’s a strong skater and great penalty killer and did a great job at Boston College. If he could just finish the chances he gets because of his speed, he would be that much more effective. He has shown a great amount of improvement.
HF: Over the summer, the organization went out a signed a couple of their highly-touted first round prospects in Tukonen, Kopitar and Tambellini. Why now and what would be the teams blueprint from here on out?
AM: This is a transition year after the lockout and we would like to get our players under contract. We want to get them integrated within our system as much as possible. If we didn’t sign Kopitar for instance, he wouldn’t have been able to join us this summer in the camps. We had to get him even though he will more than likely return to Sweden this year. We might try to convince him otherwise, but I think he has an obligation to go back and he’ll have to go back. With Tambellini and Tukonen, we want to get them working in our system. They’re probably longshots to make the big club in L.A., but we would like to see them play some games there this year. We want them to develop under our coaching philosophy and to play in Manchester.
HF: How important is it to have Manchester in tune with what you and your staff is doing with the Kings?
AM: We want our coaching staff in Manchester to play the aggressive forechecking style that we like to play with the Kings. We want them to be physical team. We bring in all our coaches from all levels to the summer camps so we can build some consistency throughout our entire system.
HF: For the prospects that get invited to the Kings main camp come next week and even for someone that is looking to move up in the system, what is going to be the key for them?
AM: First of all, we’re taking all these players from the tournament and we’re going to camp with them. It is our philosophy that if the players put in the time and commitment to come to our rookie camp, they deserve the chance to come to our main camp. It’s a thrill for a lot of them and to be honest, this is may be the closet they get to the NHL. Again, they have worked hard for us here, so I think it is important out of respect to them, that we take them back and give them a chance against the big guys.
As a player, you have to what you do best. If you’re a scorer, you score. If you’re a playmaker, make plays. If you’re a strong defensive player, make those strong plays. If you’re a physical agitating player that hits, do that. If you’re a fighter, do your job. That is what the players have to do in order to succeed. When you come to training camp, we’re going to put the players in situations to be successful. Every player knows what their own job description is. We have explained that beforehand, so they’re going to have go out and show what they can do.
You have to compete and you have to battle. We have a lot of nice guys in our organization and that is a great situation to be in. You may be a nice guy in the rest of your life, but when you get on that ice, you better be prepared to be a warrior.
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