"He’s an interesting kid. He’s young, but yet he carries himself and plays like a veteran," expressed Manchester Monarchs coach Mike Stothers. "It’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that he is so young and inexperienced because he sees the game well and reads the game well."
A product of the University of Denver, the same school where his brother Drew attended before eventually leaving to join the Florida Panthers organization, Shore turned pro after his junior season in 2013. At first glance, it would appear he maintained his consistency from his last two years in college, where he scored 13 and 14 goals, and then into his first AHL campaign, recording 14 goals last season with Manchester. However, his output with the Monarchs came over significantly more games than what he played as a student-athlete.
Getting that first year of pro under his belt is something Blake believes can be a little tougher on college players, as they aren't used to the schedule. And it's a point Shore agrees with.
"I think that's one of the biggest differences, the amount of games you play," stated the Colorado native. "At the same time, like in college, you use that time to your advantage throughout the week to work on certain things before the weekend games. The time you have to do that is a major difference. You're not going to class, don't have to worry about studying or anything like that. From that standpoint, I think that's the biggest change. I loved school, but I was really excited to be a part of the Kings organization; it's an honor to be a part of."
Originally selected in the third round (82nd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Shore is considered one of the top prospects in the Kings organization. He is expected to crack the NHL roster as soon as next season some say.
"He’s far exceeded my expectations on his play away from the puck and understanding the responsibilities on defensive zone coverage and getting the puck back when we don’t have it," Stothers added. "He’s a pretty reliable guy, and again, it’s surprising that he is so adept in that area because usually it takes a while for the younger guys to learn all zones. He’s a good playmaker and he’s a guy that we’ve been able to use in all situations. He’s killing penalties regularly for us, playing on the power play, five-on-five, and four-on-four. At the end of the day when I look at it, I keep playing him as though he’s a veteran and he’s not. Obviously, he’s made a real good impression on all of us coaches and his teammates."
For Shore, he says part of his development should be credited to Dean Lombardi, the man who drafted him.
"I think he's great and I think you can look back to several years ago when he came to the Kings, you really start to see a shift in the organization and the attitude from top to bottom," Shore said, sounding like an NHL veteran - just as his coach promised. "I think a lot of it starts with him and I think it's a testament to his vision."
In years past the buzzword when speaking with many on the development side was "200-foot game." This season, there has been a lot of talk about the importance of faceoffs, but Shore says the message has always been there since he first signed with the team.
"I think they've always put a huge stress on faceoffs, obviously for the centers, but also as a team," he noted. "I think faceoffs are a huge part of the game now, and they're becoming a bigger part of the game. It all starts with getting possession, so I think there's a huge emphasis on that and I think it will keep growing."
Those aren't just words he's spewing; Stothers says Shore backs it up with his play on the ice.
“Nick is very good on faceoffs,” said his coach. “The Kings are an organization that prides itself on having the puck. You start off by winning faceoffs. All zones are important. To have the puck means you have it, they’ve got to take it away from you. You’re the team that’s pushing the pace. You’re the team that’s playing on their toes. You’re the team that’s going north and into the direction that you want to be, which is the offensive zone. You’re putting the onus on the opposition to try and get it back from you. But there are going to be times when you don’t have it and it’s how quickly you can get it back and how hard you have to work to get it back. Another part of Shoresy’s game is his positioning. It makes it difficult for the opposition to keep the puck. He’s got great angles. He’s got great sticks. He takes the ice away.”
If any of this is starting to sound like Anze Kopitar, that’s for good reason. According to Blake, when the team sent Shore back to Manchester at the beginning of the season, they talked with him about studying Kopitar’s overall game. What isn’t known by many, though, is that Shore is perhaps already similar to the Slovenian center in at least one area.
“He’s a quiet individual,” Stothers said of his young player. “Nick doesn’t really like the limelight, he just wants to come in and do his job and without a whole lot of fuss or fanfare.”
Shore chuckled a bit when told of those comments. "Yeah, obviously scoring goals is great and everything but I'm not going to be the one with a huge celebration for all the goals. I definitely agree there,” he remarked. "I wouldn't say I'm super shy, but at the same time I'm definitely not the most vocal guy in the room."
Living with Derek Forbort this season might be a perfect match for Shore then. Lombardi’s No. 1 pick from the 2010 draft is not known for being very Willie Mitchell-esque in the room, but his play on the ice speaks volumes. Once rivals in college, when Forbort was at North Dakota, the two became quite friendly in Manchester last season and it’s a relationship they both hope to continue together in Los Angeles someday.
"I don't think you really worry too much about that right now though,” Shore said. “Your main focus is to come into the rink every day, try to get a little bit better, and work on your game and hopefully progress as it goes."
When the conversation turns to the Monarchs General Manager, Shore brings a different perspective than most of the other Kings prospects.
"Growing up in Colorado, I certainly remember Blake as a player,” he said. “When he came to the Avs, for that stint - and they won the Stanley Cup in '01 - that was definitely a cool time to be in Colorado. Just from being there and watching all those games, I definitely have some memories. Now, it’s great. He's been out on the ice with us, along with some of the other development staff. All those guys, any time you can take something away or ask questions, they have so much info and so much knowledge about the game- it's a huge help."
Later, Stothers admitted that part of his job this year will be to connect more with Shore. If he can accomplish that, only then will he fully be able to teach and pass along the wisdom he’s gained over years as both a player and coach.
“It’s just a matter of continually talking to him and trying to build a relationship, and keep the lines of communication open - try to get together with him regularly to talk about his game, talk about his play, how he’s feeling, stuff like that. You do have to ask a lot of questions. He’s not one of those kids where you just ask one question and he runs with it. His answers are short and to the point and much the way he plays the game.
“He’s just more comfortable performing and doing his job on the ice and letting that speak for him than he is talking about it. He’s had some real good games for us, he’s had some real great goals and it’s almost like he’s embarrassed to talk about it. He’s a pretty humble kid. As we get to know him and he gets to know us we’re seeing more and more of his personality, the humor that he has and just what a good quality individual he is.”
Balanced with the all the praise Stothers reiterated several times regarding Shore, the coach also didn’t shy away from the other side of the coin.
“Shoresy’s certainly made the most of his opportunities, but there are still areas he needs to improve on,” explained the coach. “And that’s in all zones—defensively, knowing the clock, knowing the situation. Basically, it’s a matter of experience and being put into situations where he and the rest of the team can experience that. Hopefully, at the end of the day, when the Kings are looking for somebody to come up and play for them, [he is] going to know how to play and be able to help and contribute to the Kings and the only thing [he will] be lacking up there is the experience from an NHL standpoint.”
Now more confident, as a second-year pro, Shore provided a little insight into how he’s incorporating information like the above comments and, in general, how he is approaching this season. "You want to develop all parts of your game,” he stated. “For me, I've always been a two-way guy, who takes a lot of pride in playing in his own zone, being able to play in all three zones. I definitely want to take more of an offensive role, and I think that's something I've been focusing on here in the early going. I'm not one of those guys who is going to set a number on goals or points though because I think there is a lot more that goes into the game than just the numbers will tell. I think for me, the mindset is just going to every game and really perform the best of your ability and things will take care of themselves.”
Meanwhile, Stothers was still speaking like a guy who was looking beyond the present and offering a possible glimpse into the future.
“He’s just a real solid kid, real likable person. More importantly, for the people who don’t know him, the more you watch him, the more you like what he does.”
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - previously named Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports and the Best Sports Blog by LA Weekly. As a past member of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, Hoven has voted on the top NHL Awards. He has been active over the years on the NHL Radio Network, where he co-hosts the West Coast Bias show, and on Twitter as well (@MayorNHL).