When the Los Angeles Kings made their third selection (No. 49 overall) in the 2001 Entry Draft, there was only hope that this player might develop. There was no guarantee associated with this selection.
Now, that selection, University of Michigan forward Michael Cammalleri, is one of the team’s cornerstone players.
Since being drafted, Cammalleri has been selected to the NCAA West First All-American Team (2002); the CCHA Second All-Star Team (2002); and the AHL Second All-Star Team (2005). He also won the Willie Marshall Award for being the top goal-scorer in the AHL (2005) and led the Kings in scoring last season with 80 points in 81 games.
The productivity that produced those college and AHL awards have been evident this season as Cammalleri’s 11 goals trail only Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg (12) and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk (12) for the League lead in goals.
“Mike has been a better player each year in the League,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi said. “There is no question about his work ethic and his desire to score. He wants to be a top player in the League.
“Scouting him when I was with Philadelphia, we noticed he was not as strong at puck protection as he could be,” Lombardi said. “He has had massive improvement on puck protection since we sat down with him and told him this. Mike is committed mentally and dedicated to improve his game.”
Kings coach Marc Crawford is also amazed at the transformation this young player has made.
“Mike is comfortable with his job and is now analyzing and planning his next attack while on the bench,” Crawford said. “He is a step ahead in his thinking and his game is now at an elite level. He is always driven and always loved to score. These aspects of his game will carry him. His improvement as a professional athlete can be seen in his maturity and in his leadership.”
For Cammalleri, the development he has enjoyed comes from his passion for the game.
“I watch a lot of hockey and am a huge fan of the game,” he said. “I like to watch Joe Sakic and his quick shot changing from being idle to a quick release of the puck; how Pavel Bure used to bury his scoring chances; and, of course, Brett Hull, who may be the purest goal scorer in NHL history. These are players I respect and aspire to be like.
“I shot a lot of pucks when I was younger,” Cammalleri said. “Shooting is technique with lots of repetition. Now, I attend goalie schools in the summer and shoot a lot of pucks in that one hour on the ice.”
Cammalleri also learned to study at one of the finest academic schools in the country. Red Berenson, a former NHL star, has built a powerful hockey program at Michigan.
“Michigan is a great place to play hockey and to go to university,” Cammalleri said. “It helped me grow as a person, both on and off the ice. Some of my greatest friends I met there. It was a different experience, but a perfect lifestyle for me. During my time at Michigan, I improved as a person and player in so many intangible ways.”
Being a student while having an incredible teacher can bring you to a new level. Last season, Luc Robitaille, the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history, gave Cammalleri a few tips about scoring. One was to try to get four shots on goal every game. After 13 games, Cammalleri had 55 shots, a 4.2 per game average.
Kings broadcaster Jim Fox, a former player, has been impressed by Cammalleri’s work ethic.
“Mike has always been a good shooter,” Fox said. “He has one of the quickest shot releases in the NHL. But, just as important, he is proving his defensive credibility. Twice (in a recent game) he fought along the boards to get the puck out of the Kings’ defensive zone. These are things you wouldn’t normally expect from a scorer. These are the type of things that are earning him a lot of respect among his teammates and the opposition.”
“Mike is a hungry, determined player,” Kings assistant coach Mike Johnson said. “He is driven to improve and will continue to do so. It’s part of his nature. He has proved to us defensively that he is a good, solid player. He’s a hard backchecker. Mike’s maturity drives him to succeed both as an individual and as a team member.”
Cammalleri’s desire to score, combined with his commitment to the team, makes him an integral part of the Kings’ rebuilding process. But Cammalleri has bigger plans in mind.
“I want to make the NHL playoffs,” he said.
Thanks to Cammalleri, the Kings are in a much better position to do that with him in the lineup.