Manchester Monarchs forward Linden Vey finished last season, his first professional season, ranked third on the club in scoring with 43 points (19-24=43) and tied for 17th place in the American Hockey League among rookie scorers. Not a bad season for any rookie forward but Vey did see some growing pains during his first professional season. He enjoyed the highs but also battled through the lows.
“Last year, I was inconsistent,” stated Vey. “I just struggled with my first year as a pro. I had a good month of February and kind of fell down a bit. I think the biggest thing is consistency and I want to make sure to be a player the coaches can rely on game in and game out and to be one of the better players out on the ice every night.”
Vey may be overstating his struggles a little bit but he did show the coaching staff and specifically Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris that he can play at this level and play well.
“I thought he progressed leaps and bounds (throughout the season),” said Morris. “I think as he gained familiarity with the league and gained confidence, we were quick to try and get him as much ice time as we could. He proved to be a real key guy coming down the stretch. I think the growth in his game started in the defensive end. He distributed the puck really well and scored some real timely goals. He has an appreciation for what it is going to take to be a 200-foot player. With him on the ice, he has the creativity to make plays. I am sure he will continue to progress as he gains more experience.”
Forward prospects often catch the eyes of scouts with their offensive numbers and skill. When most prospects, much like Vey, begin their professional careers in the AHL the largest adjustment is usually on defense and in the neutral zone.
“Playing in juniors, for the most part, if you are a good offensive player, you are given a lot of freedom in your own zone and do not have to work so hard in every zone but moving to pro hockey was a bit of a wake up call to learn how to play in every zone,” reflected Vey. “The reason I did not play a lot at the start, Mark (Morris) and the coaching staff had a sit down with me and made sure I knew what it took to play more minutes. As the season went on, I started bearing down in each zone and earned more ice time.”
Vey knew he had to be better in the defensive and neutral zones as the year progressed but what he did not realize is the positive effect it would have in his offensive game.
“The one thing I did notice is that, and the coaching staff stressed this with me all year, if you play better in your own zone and in the neutral zone, you will get more chances offensively,” explained Vey. “I never really looked at it like that but the less you play in the defensive zone the more chances you will get because you are not stuck in the ‘D’ zone all the time.”
The Los Angeles Kings recently held their annual development camp which Vey attended for the third year. Vey is now one of the veterans in camp and enjoyed being back on the ice with some familiar faces.
“Obviously, the more you go to those things, the better you feel,” said Vey. “You are more comfortable around the coaching staff and training staff. I was down there for a few days after as well rehabbing a bit. It was good to be around guys like (Matt) Greene, and (Dustin) Brown and it helps you get a feel for things again.”
Vey also reflected on his “welcome to the big leagues” moment which occurred at in his first development camp.
“The first ever development camp I went to I was kind of out of shape,” recounted Vey. “When I say ‘kind of’, I mean I was out of shape. It was an eye opener for me. I have improved in that and I have realized how important fitness is. It is not just on the ice either. It is an everyday job where you have to work on improving not only your skills on the ice but in the workout room as well.”
Morris has attended each of Vey’s development camps and has noticed a stronger more confident player than from year’s past.
“He has made great strides toward becoming a stronger player,” said Morris. “We saw it in development camp. Each summer, when you have an opportunity to see the incoming players who are going to camp for the first time versus players that have a year or two under their belt, you get to see how much those players that have experience are better than the newcomers. It was pretty evident based on what we saw a couple weeks ago out in Los Angeles (in development camp). Linden is hard on pucks and stronger with the puck on his stick and more sure-handed. His shot is quicker and a better release and I think his confidence is obviously a lot higher than it was before. He will not be in awe and he will not be intimidated knowing what he is up against.”
Morris and his staff started Vey on right wing at the beginning of last season but as he progressed and with openings created through injuries and call-ups to the Kings, he was back to playing his natural position of center by the end of the season.
“I have always played center,” commented Vey. “I feel more comfortable and I think I can distribute the puck that much better (as a center). You have the puck all the time and normally in a better position. Growing up, I always wanted to be the guy that makes the play. For me, making a play and getting an assist is just as good as scoring goals. I always wanted to be that guy that plays in the clutch situation and I want to be the guy making the plays.
Vey finished the 2011-12 season strong and even led the Monarchs in scoring with six points (2-4=6) in four playoff games.
“He sees the ice very well and he also has a desire to be a scorer and wants the puck on his stick,” said Morris. “That is a great asset to have; that type of player that really wants to be in the fray and heat of the battle and take some risks that some other players might not with the puck on his stick. Good players, no matter what age they are, always find a way to get on the scoresheet and I think that was what came to the forefront when things get more intense (in the playoffs). He raised his level of play and that is a sign of a guy that has a very big upside.”
As Vey gains confidence and experience, the sky is the limit for the Kings prospect.