With a rare extended break coming in the Kings schedule and in the Reign schedule, the Kings development staff made their way down the 10 freeway to Citizen’s Business Bank arena to work with the Ontario Reign skaters in a development day on Tuesday.
Amongst those players was one of the more prominent Kings prospects, and perhaps one of the more NHL ready prospects, center Nic Dowd. Drafted in the 7th round, 198th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry draft, the Huntsville, Alabama native has slowly made his way up the ladder of the Kings system with four strong years at St. Cloud State University and a spirited rookie campaign in the AHL last season. The 25-year old is currently in his second season with the Ontario Reign, but with changes in personnel coming quickly this offseason, he is now the Reign No. 1 center and also dons an ‘A’ on his sweater. With 22 points in 31 games this season, Dowd is currently second on the team in scoring and is on pace to beat his 2014-15 totals. He has definitely caught the eye of many Kings fans who frequent Ontario for some AHL action.
I was able to catch up with Nic after practice to talk about his approach to the game, the structure in place within the organization, and how he has progressed so far.
Q: You seem like a pretty cognitive player, a student of the game, is that also how you see yourself?
A: Yea, I think it’s necessary just to get better and be able to evaluate where you are and where you want to be, and how to stay consistent throughout the year.
Q: Have you always been that way? Even through college and your junior days?
A: I’d definitely say through juniors obviously it’s…ya know you’re a young player, you show up to the rink, you want to play the game, but definitely not as much thought goes into it. I think in college hockey it started probably after my sophomore year, and from there on I started watching film. Once you get into pro hockey it’s all about consistency throughout an 82-game season and I think film doesn’t lie. Ya know, it’s a good measuring stick, it’s a good way to elevate your game and figure out what you’re doing right and fix stuff that you’re doing wrong.
Q: I was actually going to ask that later on, so you are a big film guy then? How much film do you watch of yourself during the year?
A: I’d say I usually try to watch it after every game. Chris Hajt, our assistant coach, usually clips everything and then we go shift by shift and most the time he will pull up stuff that he thinks needs to be reviewed. Not necessarily every shift, but special teams, five on five, whatever it may be.
Q: What has changed from your rookie year to this year?
A: Responsibility. This year I am playing against top lines, whereas last year I would say I was more…ya know there was Nick Shore and Jordan Weal and you don’t want to stick yourself on a specific line but those guys are really good players. I’d just say more responsibility around the ice and throughout the game. Obviously our special teams has to be great, and I think it’s a privilege for everyone to be on it, and individually you have to continue to get better at those aspects because they are such a critical part of the game.
Q: Being a center, you’ve mentioned it yourself in post game a few times, this organization emphasizes running play through the center. Do you like being sort of “that guy” in that position, that starts the breakout or the transition?
A: Yea, it was definitely a change through college, a lot of stuff happens around the boards, like breakouts, chips, rims. Our defensemen do a great job, we have a lot of great puck moving defensemen. They make plays, they don’t just pass their problems on, they actually make plays and get up the ice. Like i’ve said, a lot of our systems run through the center, we want the puck in the middle. After I got used to that, it took a while ya know it wasn’t just one period, I liked having the puck on my stick and I like making plays through the middle. It can open the ice up a lot if you can have a successful centerman that’s good at that.
Q: What kind of communication is there between you and your linemates in order to have success on transition?
A: I talk a lot on the bench and on the ice and I think anyone will tell you it’s necessary to have great communication out there because plays happen so quickly. Ya know, you’d like to say you have your head up the whole game but it’s difficult when guys are bearing down on you and the puck is in your feet. I think Jon (Brodzinski), Kempe, or Augs (Justin Auger) or whoever I’m playing with this year have done a really good job of making plays. They understand that when you play with guys long enough they know where I’m at on the ice without having to look, and I’d like to think that as a centerman I do a good job of staying underneath and giving them an out, talking to them on the wall, and kind of being their eyes.
Q: How difficult is it to get used to tendencies of a new winger on your line and have them adapt to yours?
A: We have a lot of good players on our team, so guys can step in and make those changes right away. I’d say it is probably on the smaller scale. Ya know everyone on our team understands that the center should be underneath and should be there for support, that the bump from the winger to the center is pretty critical, and that I should be within the dots going up the lane. So I’d say everyone knows, everyone does a good job of that, but just small things…like I know, maybe Brodzy likes going to his backhand more or maybe Augs likes pulling to his forehand more and then making a play, so I have to know that and give him an extra second if he is playing left wing and has to pull it to his forehand as opposed to bumping on his backhand. Small things like that, when you get to play with someone more, are good to pick up.
Q: Are there any forechecks that, maybe you don’t struggle with it, but you see it and you’re like “Oh man this again, I hate playing against this”?
A: I think it’s challenging, in general, when any teams are heavy on the forecheck. I guess I wouldn’t use the term “reckless” loosely, but it is difficult when guys get in there and give you no time and space and when their F1’s main job is to get in there and make contact, with F2 and F3 coming in behind. That makes it challenging. A lot of teams do a really good job of staying right over the top of our centermen on breakouts. So you’re receiving that pass and looking over your shoulder and that guy is coming from the other way. Like I said, luckily we have great defensemen who don’t move the puck and put you in a tough position, but you know as a centerman that’s always a possibility soon as you get that puck on your stick. You have to get that puck and learn how to make a play in traffic.
Q: How much does the organization emphasis structure and breakouts on days like today (Development day) or at development camps?
A: You see it down here, we try to play the exact same game as they do so when guys moves up or move down the transition is smooth. The breakout is huge. You only have an opportunity to have the puck on your stick for X amount of seconds and you have to make a play, and then the next guy has to make a play, and then the next guy, and that’s how you score goals and transition from defense to offense. It’s huge. Ya know teams are so good these days at clogging up the middle and having guys over the top of our centermen and wingers and having D pinched down, you have to know your assignments and you have to know what the other team’s tendencies are. I’d say the breakout is one of the biggest things in our organization to get up the ice.
Q: Do you get a chance to see many Kings games and almost anticipate what you might see up there?
A: Yea, ya know I enjoy watching the Kings games on T.V. I like being able to know that we are doing the same thing as they are. When you watch Kopitar and Carter and the other centers on the team, they are just so good up the middle and it’s fun to watch when Kopi gets the puck and he seems to find lanes all the time. Carter, the same way, he can really skate and move it. It’s good to be able to know and anticipate what might happen during the game cause we are running the same systems that they are.
Q: Is there any King player or NHL player in general you model your game after or look up to?
A: I wouldn’t say my game is modeled after him, and I definitely think he is a more offensive powerhouse, but I enjoy watching Carter a lot. I like watching Kopitar a lot. I guess Carter would be a guy I enjoy watching. He can skate, he is smart, he can play every situation, he is relied upon a lot, and I guess kind of from a fan perspective or a younger player perspective he is a good player to learn from.
Q: Last question, kind of a fun one, pick any two wingers all time who you’d like to center
A: Oh man…..(pondering), geez that’s a tough one. I’m trying to think back. It would have to be a shooter since I like to pass.
Hopefully Nic can get back to me at a later date on that one!
I also was able to catch up with the Kings Director of Player Development, Nelson Emerson, and get his thoughts on the progression of Nic Dowd this year.
Q: How do you feel Nic Dowd is progressing at the center ice position this season?
A: Ya know what, he really has been terrific. A lot of nights we come down here and not only will he be the top player for us, but he will be the top player on ice for either team. There is a lot relying on him here, he’s got to be a leader, the No. 1 center, he’s got to play offensively and also be a great player defensively. I think he is doing everything we have wanted so far.
Q: With style and structure in mind, how do you feel Dowd is slotting in in the future with the current system in place?
A: Well, he listens and that’s what is really important. He is a good student and he wants to get better and he is willing to sit down and go over video with you and he is always willing to learn. I think that’s a major step. Things we always talk to our centermen about is being good on faceoffs, being low in your own end and helping out our defense. With young players and college players I think that can be one thing they don’t really concern themselves with, but we’ve noticed that Nick IS concerned with that and we think that’s going to help him move on to the next level.
And what would a good Reign piece be without the wisdom of head coach Mike Stothers? I caught up with him between watching boxing practice sessions of Curt Gogol and Kurtis MacDermid and watching Paul Bissonnette try and collect powerball numbers from his teammates.
Q: We are just about at the halfway point of the year, how do you think Dowd has progressed from last year to this year, and through this year so far?
A: Well, I think he has become a bigger part of our team in the fact that he has stepped to the forefront as a part of our leadership group. Just in general, I mean last year on certain nights he was in the shadow of Jordan Weal, and Shore, and Brian O’Neill, and wasn’t used quite as much as he has been this year. He wasn’t counted on as much to be an offensive catalyst, which he has welcomed that role without losing any of his defensive responsibilities. He has been a huge dominant force for us. He showed it last year in the playoffs. When you needed guys to elevate their game, he did so, he was outstanding for us, and he hasn’t let off. He has built on that playoff success he had, he brought it with him this year, had a great training camp, had a great first half and ya know what? We are going to lean on him and count on him even more here in the second half.
Q: How much do you think his “Student of the game” style approach helps him day to day?
A: I think it helps him a lot. And it also hurts him. He understands the game, he sees the game, and he reads the game really well, but because he does so so well he sometimes can overthink or overanalyze. He is very hard on himself, critiquing his game. On one hand you can say it’s a real positive, but on the other hand his overactive mind can kind of play tricks with him. Ya know what though? It’s not too often you have to prod him to play harder, or play better. There are more times you have to say, “Hey, you’re being a little hard on yourself. You just need to do this and do that.” But he is a perfectionist. He wants to do well, not just for himself, but for his teammates. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and that’s not a bad thing either! That’s what a leader does. He wants to be the best on the ice, he wants to be the best centerman not only on his team, but against those he is matched up against on the opposition team as well. Ya know it’s easier to get someone to be less harsh on themselves than it is to have to continually kick them in the ass to get them to do something. So it makes him a real good guy to work with and it makes him very coachable.
All signs seem to be pretty positive with the young center. For a 7th round pick he is certainly surpassing many expectations and making himself relevant in a stacked Kings system. Nic Dowd and the Reign start a run of three games in three nights starting Friday to close out the first half of the year.
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