|Norfolk Admirals forward Chris Lawrence (photo: John Wright) |
Be tougher, be better and be both more often. That's the expectation for the Norfolk Admirals' Chris Lawrence as the AHL team kicks off training camp this week. There are new faces overseeing the parent Tampa Bay Lightning and a new Admirals coach in former assistant Darren Rumble. So what better time for Lawrence to remake himself into a banger?
“I'm a big guy and I'm going to be looked on to play a bigger role this year,” said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lawrence, who's entering his second pro season. “I have to knock smaller guys off the puck and take it to the net. I just have to play the way the coach wants me to play.”
That means Lawrence can't play the way he did as a pro rookie. When he wasn't out with shoulder and ankle injuries, he managed only goals and 16 points in 53 games and was rated a disappointing minus-16. Part of the problem was Lawrence dealt with the adjustments any rookie must handle. But another factor was that he spent too much time on the action's perimeter.
“He needs to be a power forward and he can't be a cute player,” said Rumble, a former Lightning defenseman. “He has to go north-south in straight lines and use his big body to get pucks in deep and get his forecheck going.
“He's a great skater and he can look after himself physically. If he's willing to become that player, he's got a real good chance to make the NHL.”
Pro hockey is all about production and results, and Lawrence's recent output in those departments has been inconsistent. But the number of current NHL players who struggled as rookies only to blossom in their second year is legion and Lawrence certainly has such potential.
“There's a lot to like in terms of hands, ability and attitude,” The Hockey News wrote about him in 2005, the year Tampa Bay made Lawrence a third-round draft pick and the 89th selection overall. Also noted, however, was that Lawrence's stock had fallen in the early months of 2005 and that he needed to become more aggressive. The Lightning’s former management was bullish on Lawrence, indicating they would have been happy taking the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound with the team's first-round pick, the 30th selection overall.
In the wake of that draft, Lawrence experienced peaks and valleys. Several months after being selected, he managed only three goals and 17 points in Sault Ste. Marie's first 29 games of the 2005-06 season. He was traded to Ontario Hockey League rival Mississauga, where he put up 128 points in his last 107 junior games. He arrived in Norfolk last year to expectations he could carry at least some of the offensive load but instead became an afterthought on a poor team.
“I had a rough year,” the 21-year old Toronto native said. “There was definitely a learning curve coming into the pro game and hopefully this year will be better for me.”
If it is, part of the reason is likely to be because Lawrence has toughened up. When Rumble was asked how he thought the big wing responded last year to being hurt, the coach paused for a moment before answering.
“The more you play, you learn that sometimes an ache and a pain isn't an injury,” Rumble said. “You learn that your sore hip is something you have to find a way to play through. It's part of becoming a pro.”
There are so many things to learn and master for a player like Lawrence. The good news is he has the tools for the job. Will he use them to maximum effect? The answer starts to form on Friday, Oct. 10 when the Hershey Bears come to town for an AHL season opener.