Ian Clark's On Hockey: Forward thinking
MANCHESTER -- THE MOVE made a lot of sense, but Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris wasn’t sure he had the authority to make it.
Third-year pro Nick Deslauriers is still listed at defense on the roster, but he’s been playing left wing all season, teamed with center Jordan Weal and right wing Brandon Kozun. Deslauriers played a few games at wing last season when injuries added up or to keep certain defensive pairs intact while still keeping him in the lineup.
But the move could be for good now and it has the blessing of the parent club in Los Angeles.
“(Assistant to general manager Dean Lomabardi) Jack Ferreira from the Kings said to me ‘you know, you ought to turn him into a forward,’ and I said ‘we can do that?’” Morris said. “It was music to my ears because it’s something I had recognized as well but I just didn’t know if I had clearance through the proper channels to allow that to become something a little more permanent.”
So far, so good. Deslauriers has three goals and two assists through 10 games for Manchester, which boasts a 6-1-3 record for 15 points, tied for most in the AHL with Grand Rapids. Weal (goal, eight assists) and Kozun (goal, seven assists) have also benefited from the move.
Weal and Kozun clock in at 5 feet 10 inches tall and 5-8 respectively, so having Desluariers’ 6-1, 230-pound frame on the line adds a new dynamic and allows Deslauriers to use his heavy shot to create rebound chances for the other two.
“When he’s running around and being physical and creating room for us, I think that’s when our line is having the most success,” Weal said. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing. He’s got a lot of talent and creativity as well and you don’t see that often in big guys. And he can skate, as well. There’s no problem with him keeping up and he’s leading the play sometimes. That’s exactly what we need, someone who can think on the same creative level.”
Deslauriers said the he does miss playing defense and learning how to defend as a forward has been the biggest adjustment.
“It’s fun. With my skating ability, it gets me to have some freedom and cruise around,” he said. “It’s still an adjustment, especially in the D zone and (knowing) when to help out down low and forecheck. I’m starting to get the forecheck in the neutral zone and O zone, too.”
His energy level has been a big boost, as well. Deslauriers said he came into camp 20 pounds lighter than the two previous seasons.
“It’s easy to play with a guy who works as hard as Nick does,” Kozun said. “He’s got a ton of energy all the time and he’s got a good skill set. He’s a big guy and creates a lot of room for us. He’s done a great job so far.”
Deslauriers hasn’t given up the physical side of his game, leading the team in penalty minutes with 26 and dropping the gloves when needed. He scored four goals in the final preseason game against Portland, and Morris said it was like the birth of a new player — and new nickname.
“His confidence shot through the roof after that outing. All of a sudden, a new player emerges,” Morris said. “We affectionately call him Larry the left wing. Anytime he’s on the ice, periodically you’ll hear somebody on the bench reinforce something good he does by yelling out ‘Larry!’”
Deslauriers and the Monarchs play at Providence (4-2-2) Friday at 7 p.m. before closing the home-and-home against the Bruins Saturday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.