“He's a young kid playing against men,” said John Marks, who coaches the 20-year-old Quick with the ECHL's Augusta (Ga.) Lynx. “But he's got a great attitude about being here and I think he realizes this league is good for him because he's getting a tremendous amount of ice time.”
Quick received a pro hockey version of baptism by fire after he left the University of Michigan last winter, midway through his freshman year. The Buffalo native played 21 games for the Wolverines, but they were all that stood between a rapid ascension from New England prep school competition to the American Hockey League.
After several weeks of practicing with the Norfolk Admirals, Quick got into 18 games down the stretch for the Lightning's affiliate, recording four assists and a minus-7 rating on a team out of playoff contention. He acquitted himself fairly well but also needed more than his share of ice bags after games.
“He got hammered in the defensive zone by guys licking their chops to put a hit on a small guy like him,” said Norfolk coach Darren Rumble. “He wasn't strong enough to move guys from in front of the net and he was having shoulder problems because of the pounding he was taking.”
Rumble, a former pro defenseman who played only three NHL games in his first four seasons under contract, decided it was best for Quick to play in the ECHL. There, he could concern himself with developing as a player rather than merely surviving.
“I was kind of in over my head,” Quick, 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, said of his AHL time. “You get to a point where you just move the puck as fast as you can and try to avoid as much contact as you can.”
That realization has only come in the past two months, however, for Quick said he was surprised to be cut from Norfolk after playing in three preseason games. Following a summer of expecting to be back with the Admirals, his adjustment to playing in Augusta wasn't as smooth as it might have been.
“I kind of laid back and did things half-hearted,” said Quick, who had a goal, five points and a plus-1 rating in his first 12 Lynx games. “I had some bad games.”
The wake-up call arrived when fellow Lightning prospect Justin Keller arrived from Norfolk and Quick realized the wing was conditioning, practicing and playing with higher intensity. Keller has since returned to the Admirals, but Chris Lawrence and Brent Henley are now down from Norfolk and reinforcing the lesson that progression is directly linked to effort.
“You see those guys are a lot farther along than you are and that's where you need to be,” Quick said. “I hold the puck too long and if I did that in the AHL, I'd be getting killed. I'm trying to work on that.”
He's also back to working out in the gym every day, something he'd gotten away from while alongside ECHL teammates he said “mostly play for fun”. It's true that fewer players at that level have realistic NHL dreams, but Marks noted most are older than Quick and more savvy in positioning and risk assessment.
“Kevin needs to let the puck do the work instead of relying on his skating and stickhandling to get himself out of trouble,” said Marks, a former NHL player. “Let him develop with us and maybe bring him up to Norfolk and look at him come playoff time. Then, next season, allow him to come to AHL camp and earn a job.”
It's tough to ask a young man just out of his teens to accept a long-term view. But Quick seems to have wrapped his mind around the concept that riding a bus throughout the Southeast with the Lynx isn't a waste of his time.
“I would love to be up there in Norfolk tomorrow but I don't expect it to happen anytime soon,” he said. “I've got to do more down here before they take a serious look at calling me back up.”