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Kozun Humbled by First Pro Season

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

Feel free to bring on the jokes. Chances are, Brandon Kozun has had them all anyway.

Only 21 years old, Kozun has made a habit of defying expectations. He spent his early childhood in Southern California and became a hockey player. He grew to only 5-foot-8 but excelled in major-junior hockey. He wasn’t drafted by an NHL team until the sixth round, but has put himself in decent position to crack the NHL before long.

With tenacity and some newfound maturity, Kozun is making progress, as he displayed this week at the Kings’ annual summer development camp for prospects.

Kozun participated in his third prospects camp and showed why he is becoming a fan favorite. In addition to his skating and his quick, accurate wrist shot, Kozun now appears to be a more patient player, who who takes fewer risks in his defensive zone.

Entering his second season as a pro -- he will likely start the upcoming season in the American Hockey League -- Kozun still needs to prove that he has enough ability and strength to play in the NHL Kozun is not unrealistic about his learning curve.

"It was different," Kozun said of the 2010-11 season, which he spent with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. "I think it was a humbling experience for me. When I came in, I didn't really know what to expect. I was always playing a ton. I double-shifted all the time in junior and I got all the opportunity in the world. Even if I made a mistake, I'd get thrown right back out there."

"Coming to pro, there are a lot of guys already there, and I kind of had to compete with them. You kind of have to pay your dues first, before you can get those opportunities. I learned to take care of the puck, not force plays and play well in my own zone. After that, the offense came. I've always been an offensive player. As soon as I started playing a well-rounded game, I think everything started to click for me."

After back-to-back 100-point seasons in the junior-level Western Hockey League, Kozun moved to the pro level last season and totaled 23 goals and 25 assists in 73 games with the Monarchs. After a strong start, he went through a prolonged midseason slump before turning in a strong finish to the regular season.

Kozun, not previously known to lack confidence on or off the ice, came to camp this summer with a softer tone in his voice, seeming to have matured and learned and seeming to have a better idea of his strengths and weaknesses on the ice.

"I think I'm a better pro [now]," Kozun said. "That's something that you need to learn. As a rookie, you come in and it's kind of tough. You don't really know what to expect and you kind of get thrown into it. There's a lot of things in pro [hockey] that you learn. I learned a lot this year and I think I'm a better player because of it.

"A lot of the play away from the puck is important. It's taking care of the puck. It's playing in your own end. Defense leads to offense. The biggest thing for me was, I could get away with a few things in junior and I could force some plays and get it by some guys. Before, I could do that. I feel like I went to pro and I paid my dues and I got better at that and I took care of the puck, and at the end of the year, I think you could tell a huge difference."

In non-prospect news, the Kings signed restricted-free-agent forward Brad Richardson to a two-year contract. Richardson totaled seven goals and 12 assists in 68 games last season and is expected to compete for a spot as a third-line winger or a fourth-line center or winger in training camp in September.

That leaves the Kings with 10 unsigned restricted free agents, most notably Drew Doughty. General manager Dean Lombardi said Tuesday that negotiations with Doughty’s agent are continuing, but there’s no indication that a deal is imminent.

The Kings’ prospects, on Tuesday, had their second and final scrimmage of the camp, with the "white" team recording a 1-0 victory over the "black" team.

Nick Shore, a 2011 third-round draft pick, scored the game’s only goal. Shore also scored one of the six goals in Monday’s scrimmage.

Three non-roster-invited goalies combined for the shutout, as Adam Brown played the first 20-minute half before Michael Morrison and Michal Machovsky split the second half. For the black team, goalie Chris Gibson looked sharp in a first-half shutout. Martin Jones allowed Shore’s goal but also made an excellent save in the second half.

The only prospect on the roster who wasn’t able to get on the ice was goalie Jean-Francois Berube, who underwent hip surgery approximately five weeks ago.

Berube called the procedure minor and said he expected to be ready for of training camp in September. Berube was one of the top goalies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and has one year of junior eligibility left. Berube finished last season with a 2.60 goals-against average and a 32-7-8 record for Montreal

"I have to give credit to my team," Berube said. "We had a strong team in Montreal. That was a good year for us. Unfortunately, the playoffs didn't go the way we wanted to, but yeah, that was a good year for me. I learned a lot, playing more, and I gained a lot of confidence."

Watching the prospects’ second practice session Tuesday was Kings winger Dustin Penner, who has been in Southern California during the summer for workouts.

Penner, acquired at last season’s trade deadline from Edmonton, totaled only two goals and four assists in 19 games with the Kings.

After the end of the season, Penner received some public criticism from general manager Dean Lombardi about his conditioning, and Penner said he has been taking workouts seriously this summer.

"These workouts are different than I had encountered before," Penner said. "It's really exciting to be part of something this special with a guy like [strength and conditioning coach] Tim Adams. As far as the culture, Edmonton was really young.

"Here, I think it's more middle of the pack. We have some older guys, but I think we're all around 27, 28, right around there, as the average age. I think we've got the perfect mix of players to do some damage."

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