Brandon Kozun, Kyle Clifford trying to make big splash at Kings rookie camp
The Kings have promised they will pass along their roster Monday afternoon for their rookie games Tuesday and Wednesday against the Coyotes at Glendale, Ariz. In the meantime, here are some leftover tidbits from Sunday’s rookie camp practices.
Every coach, scout and hockey operations executive in the Kings’ organization seemed to be watching the two-a-day sessions Saturday and Sunday at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, but they were mum when asked if anyone stood out.
Still, it’s clear that small but speedy winger Brandon Kozun, who was born in Los Angeles but moved to Calgary when he was 10, has caught a few eyes with his extraordinary quickness.
Kozun, listed on the roster as 164 pounds and 5-foot-9 — which might be true when he’s on skates — has been active and alert around the net. He missed the Kings’ development camp in July because of a high ankle sprain, but his wheels have seemed as strong as his determination to carve out a place for himself in a league full of ever-bigger players.
Kozun, a sixth-round pick by the Kings in 2009, led all three Canadian major junior leagues in scoring last season with 107 points, a point short of his 2008-09 total. He added eight goals and 30 points in 23 playoff games as the Calgary Hitmen lost to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Memorial Cup semifinals.
“It was a good year. I had a lot of help in Calgary. We had a real good team,” he said. “It was a fun year and a lot to remember.”
He can go back for one more season. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen at this point,” he said.
Where will he be?
“Hopefully, I’m going to make the L.A. Kings,” he said.
His skills are obvious, but his size will always be an obstacle. To stick around, small players must be able to bring something unique — and be able to take a pounding.
“People have been telling me I’m too small my whole life. Size is just a number to me,” he said. “If you can play the game, you can play the game.”
Kelly Kisio, general manager of Kozun’s junior team, had a more-than-respectable NHL career despite being only about 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. So he can identify with Kozun’s resolve to defy those who doubt him.
“He’s proved everybody wrong at every level that he’s ever played,” Kisio told the Calgary Herald last month. “He’s always been the smallest guy, and he’s proved everybody wrong.
“I don’t see any difference in him going forward. He’ll figure out a way to get it done.”
Kozun thinks so, too. “I think I’m ready to make that jump,” he said, “and hopefully I can show enough to do it.”
Kyle Clifford has been Kozun’s left wing in the practices, with Andrei Loktionov in the middle, and all three are likely to get good, long looks in the regular training camp. General Manager Dean Lombardi brought up Clifford’s name Saturday during a question-and-answer session with fans and hinted Clifford had a chance to win a spot based on his character and ruggedness.
The 6-1, 200-pound winger, who was chosen by the Kings in the second round of the 2009 draft, had 133 penalty minutes and 111 penalty minutes in his last two junior seasons — but he also had 28 goals and 57 points in 58 games his final season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
Clifford was a late cut at last year’s training camp, and he took advantage of every moment he spent with veteran players.
“Being one of the later ones to stick around, I got a lot of one-on-one time with the veterans so I definitely took a lot and learned a lot from them about what they did to take it to the next level,” he said. “I took that into last season going back to junior and really worked on everything. I kind of learned from them and from the coach here.
“I just take it as I can and do what I can and try to bring it on and progress as the year goes on.”
The veteran who helped him most was one he’d like to copy.
“I really focused in on Ryan Smyth. He’s been around the league a long time,” Clifford said. “The way he plays the game in front of the net is something I want to try and pick up in the next couple of years and kind of round my game out and learn from him.”
Finishing last season with the Kings’ Manchester farm team was another step in his development. He played seven playoff games, recording two assists and 12 penalty minutes.
“You could see how the pro game is a lot different from the junior game," he said, "and it got me prepared for what I had to work on this summer after spending the playoffs up there.
“I saw it for myself. I have to work on my skill and my skating so I can keep up and my conditioning. That was a good experience and a good learning curve for me.”
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-- Helene Elliott