When the Los Angeles Kings sent him back to his junior team, the OHL‘s Mississauga Steelheads, from their rookie camp in late September, Jacob Moverare was told to work on both his physical game and his skating.
For a defensive-minded blueliner who stands at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, the former was essential as capitalizing on his size would only make the youngster a more productive defenseman. The latter was essential as well as upon being drafted this past June (4th round, 112th overall), Moverare was notorious for being one of the weaker skaters in said draft.
Since Moverare is now in Montreal with Team Sweden preparing for the upcoming World Juniors, we can look back on the first half that was for the OHL rookie.
In 28 games thus far, Moverare has scored one goal and added 14 assists in addition to amassing a plus-eight rating. Moverare also racked up just six penalty minutes (the latter four coming just over a week ago), so his discipline is certainly noteworthy as well. But, as far as those two areas that needed improvement, the 18-year-old has progressed very well in the two-plus months he’s been with the Steelheads.
Just prior to Friday’s home game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, I had a chance to speak with Steelheads head coach James Richmond, who shared his thoughts on Moverare and on how his performance has been so far this season.
“Mo’s really coming along,” Richmond said. “He’s not here tonight, though. He’s in Montreal with Team Sweden, but he’s got all the best numbers for analytics, especially for a defenseman. So, his numbers are great, his defending’s real good, the team has a real shot when he’s on the ice. So, he’s doing really well on the ice.”
Being that Moverare is still just 18 and given the Kings’ patience when it comes to their prospects, it was unlikely that the Swedish blueliner would crack the big club’s — or even the Reign’s — lineup right away. After all, as talented as he is, his aforementioned weaknesses needed to be addressed, and given the benefit of the organization’s aforementioned patience, the Kings could afford to give Moverare a window of at least a couple of years to let him improve his weaknesses and, at the same time, hone his strengths. Yet, while he has come along quite nicely in both his physical game and his skating thus far, this writer wanted to hear about his progress from the coach’s vantage point. So, I asked Richmond how he saw his young defenseman faring this season in said areas.
“Off the ice, he’s in the gym for extra time every day,” Richmond continued. “And he’s coming in every morning for extra work on his skating with me, and I’m teaching him things I taught as the [Los Angeles] Kings’ skating coach for the last four years and we’ve been working on that. So, he’s really coming along.”
As Richmond mentioned, he was the Kings’ skating coach prior to returning to his hometown to coach the Steelheads. Whether it was careful scouting, coincidence or even fate on the Steelheads’ part, they were able to match a weak skater with a skating coach who helped the Kings achieve championship success. Additionally, Moverare is at even more of an advantage as, being a defensive-minded blueliner, his current coach joined the Steelheads coming off four years of helping develop players with a defensive-minded team in the Kings.
“A lot of what I use I learned from [Kings development staff] Nelson Emerson, Mike Donnelly, Mike O’Connell, [Kings coaches] Darryl Sutter, John Stevens, I got to spend a lot of time with those guys. So, stuff I learned there, I’m able to teach here,” Richmond added.
As for the state of Moverare’s footwork, while his backward skating ability could use some more work, the youngster has gradually made better strides (literally) with each passing game. Additionally, Moverare has become more comfortable positioning himself on the power play, becoming quicker in the neutral zone and has even gotten a bit fancy at times by making the occasional deke to elude his opponents.
Yet, while his skating game is still a work-in-progress, Moverare’s physical game has certainly been something to watch in recent weeks. Going back to Coach Richmond’s comment, spending extra time in the gym has certainly helped add muscle to Moverare’s angular frame, and the youngster has capitalized on that. Moverare’s physical performance on the ice has been much better as the 18-year-old has rapidly become intimidating along the boards, finishing his checks with a vengeance while being methodical enough not to take any penalties or, worse, injure any of his opponents. After all, the defenseman’s hockey IQ is impressive enough but it is especially superb given his still-tender age.
Of course, Moverare’s strengths supersede his weaknesses and, as previously mentioned, the Kings sent him back to Mississauga early this season to hone those strengths as well — one of which being his aggressive defensive style; a style that reminds this writer of former Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi.
As for how the Steelheads benefit when Moverare is on the ice? Just ask Coach Richmond.
“When he’s on the ice, we have the fewest shots against,” Richmond stated. “He’s No. 1 on the [penalty kill] and part of that is he knows how and when to block shots. But, his overall defensive play and being in the right spot, having his body in the right spot and his stick in the right spot, he’s been great.”
With two-plus months under his belt, Jacob Moverare has come a long way in the brief time he’s been with the Steelheads. It has been fun to watch Moverare mature as a player during that time and upon his return from the World Juniors, he will have a few more months to hone his game depending on if the Steelheads make the playoffs and how far they go should they qualify.
Speaking of the playoffs, the 10-15-3 Steelheads sit, as of the end of Friday night’s action, eighth in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, holding a slim one-point lead on the Niagara Ice Dogs. Unfortunately, Moverare’s defensive prowess was missed on Friday as they lost 7-4 to Hamilton. Even fellow Kings prospect Spencer Watson, who was acquired from the Kingston Frontenacs last month, was held pointless after scoring six goals in his previous three games.
As for Moverare, while he is preparing for his first World Junior Championship, the event will mark the fourth time that he has represented his native Sweden. Since 2013-14, Moverare has played for Sweden’s Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 squads. This time around, Moverare will look to use his wealth of international experience to help his country avenge their fourth-place finish at last year’s event.
Here’s to looking back on a great first half for Jacob Moverare and here’s to looking forward to an even better second half — especially with James Richmond leading the way.