Since he was just drafted by the Los Angeles Kings last year, there isn’t as much urgency for Markus Phillips to crack the big club’s roster this coming fall. Do not, however, lead yourself to believe that the 18-year-old isn’t NHL-ready.
Okay, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves just yet.
Phillips may not be quite ready for the NHL but given his abilities, a viable argument is warranted that the defenseman will get some playing time in Los Angeles sooner than expected. After all, Phillips is known as one of the best skaters in the OHL, if not the entire Canadian Hockey League. Additionally, his quick ability to transition from defense to offense is a quality not to be taken lightly. This, among other skills, will be instrumental in how the Owen Sound Attack fare in the OHL playoffs, which start next week.
I recently spoke with Owen Sound assistant coach, Al Letang, who discussed factors in Phillips’ offensive progression over the past few seasons and which areas he needs to improve on in order prepare for the pros. Letang even touches on what is expected of Phillips entering the postseason should the Attack hope to build on their Conference Final appearance last spring.
Photo credit: Terry Wilson / OHL Images

Stepping Up His 200-Foot Game

As mentioned, Markus Phillips is one of the best skaters in the Ontario Hockey League. Whether it’s joining the offensive attack or rushing back to break up a scoring opportunity, the Toronto native can be relied on to be where his team needs him to be.
“Markus is a pretty smooth skater.,” Letang said. “He moves very well, transitions well from offense to defense, skating forward and skating backward. Just for our team, we want to play fast, so his ability to get back to pucks on the breakout and to get pucks into the neutral zone, to find that open guy or his partner definitely helps.”
However, if the opposing team thinks they have Phillips figured out when they slow him down, or even stop him altogether, they will be, more often than not, mistaken.
“If he does get into a little bit of trouble, he has the ability to skate himself out of that trouble through his mobility,” Letang added. “Also, in turn, [his mobility] helps him jump into the play a little bit more and still come back. So, he’s gaining that confidence year by year and the biggest thing we’re working on right now is just to keep his gap tight so that he can disrupt plays in the neutral zone.”
The Importance of Getting Older & Wiser

For Phillips, it’s been a case of getting better with experience.
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

As a rookie in 2015-16, the Owen Sound blueliner netted three goals and added nine assists in 63 games. Last season, those totals more than tripled to 13 goals and 30 assists (in 66 games). Yet, while this season’s totals of 10 goals and 26 assists are a decrease, to suggest that Markus Phillips has regressed couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the 6-foot, 202-pounder has worked hard in developing his overall game. *For Phillips, frankly, getting older has proven to be a significant part of his progression as a player.
“I think for Markus, for one, [each season], getting older and getting more confident in the things that he does was key,” Letang said. “I know [Markus and I have] talked about being more assertive offensively and a little more selfish shooting the puck.”
After all, there’s more than Markus Phillips brings to the table besides being fluid on his skates.
“He has probably one of the best shots on our team,” Letang noted. “So, he’s got to look for those lanes to get pucks through to the net, especially if he wants to get to the next level. It’s a pretty important skill for defensemen, to get pucks through to the net.
“Just each year, getting older, and that ability to work the blueline and that ability to find that seam to get pucks through.”
Between Here and the Next Level

Wrapping up his third junior season, Markus Phillips has plenty of positives to look back on.
We’ve already covered his defensive game, his neutral-zone game, and even two of his biggest assets: his skating and his shot. Heck, a report like this would translate into someone knocking heavily on the NHL’s door.
Not so fast.
Photo credit: Dennis Pajot/Getty Images North America

While he is well on his way to seriously compete for a roster spot with the Kings in the near future, there are areas in Markus Phillips’s game that need to be addressed before he dips into southern California’s housing market.
Al Letang discussed what Phillips needs to work on before taking his game to the next level.
“His gap control off the rush is critical at the NHL level,” the Owen Sound assistant coach said. “Teams really like to smother rushes through the neutral zone. So, that ability to follow the play up and keep a tight gap.”
Even on the defensive side, as strong as it is, Phillips’s game could still use some tweaking.
“He continues to work on his defensive game,” Letang continued. “He’s got to be able to assert himself. He’s a strong guy but he’s not overly big, so he’s got to find ways in the defensive zone to box out in front of the net, to get pucks in the corner and transition himself. [Markus and I] continue to talk about that.
“Then there’s the offensive side. He needs to be able to read the rush more and when not to jump in. Along the blueline, where’s the seam? Am I going down [the boards] or, on the power play, am I coming across to support? Do I have my shot? So, he’s taking strides every day to improve those things. The biggest thing for us is, going into the playoffs, Markus’s ability to shut the other team’s best players down and we have a lot of confidence in playing him against the other team’s best, and he thrives in that kind of environment.”
A Gold Star For Always Doing Your Homework

He may still be just going on 19, but Markus Phillips is nonetheless a seasoned veteran for the Owen Sound Attack.
Photo credit: Terry Wilson / OHL Images

But, this season has been no different than his previous two campaigns in that Markus Phillips is like a sponge, absorbing everything there is to know about the game of hockey. Additionally, no matter how happy he is with his game, Phillips possesses that unwavering desire to just keep getting better.
Al Letang has had the opportunity to see this side of the young defenseman first hand.
“Markus is a student of the game,” Letang emphasized. “He knows the opponent he’s playing, he knows their stats, he knows everything along that line. He’s the first one at the rink, he’s the last one to leave. He’s always taking care of himself, doing stuff at the gym, fixing his sticks, so he’s a real, real student of the game.”
The Attack assistant coach additionally stressed what he wants to see from Phillips off the ice moving forward.
“I’d like to see him take that next step where he’s a more vocal leader in the room,” Letang added. “He’s a quiet, more lead-by-example type of guy, but that ability to get outside of his comfort zone and have that voice and that presence in the room for us. So, like I said, all in all, he’s a student of the game and he just wants to improve, through criticism and through positive video, and become a pro.”
Photo credit: Dennis Pajot/Getty Images North America

The association between the Los Angeles Kings and Owen Sound Attack has been increasingly evident recently.
In addition to prospect, Jacob Friend continuing to make his mark (with Phillips) in junior, fellow alum Kurtis MacDermid tasted some success during his stint with the Kings this season. Former Attack bruiser Matt Schmalz is also getting his feet wet in the professional ranks, albeit in the ECHL with the Manchester Monarchs. Markus Phillips has only been continuing the strengthen the Kings-Attack relationship.
To suggest that this is the most exciting part of a junior player’s season would be an understatement. The case is no different for Markus Phillips who, along with his aforementioned teammate Jacob Friend, are hungry to bring the J. Ross Robertson Cup to Owen Sound before leaving the Kings’ brass something to think about in the fall.
He is sound defensively, solid offensively and is flat-out dangerous regardless of which part of the ice he’s occupying. Those are just a few of the points that make Markus Phillips so valuable to the future of the Los Angeles Kings.
While he wasn’t drafted until the fourth round (118th overall), Phillips will hope to prove that he was, as Mark Sheig of The Hockey Writers called him, the steal of the 2017 Draft.
Phillips is, as Al Letang described him, a student of the game. If you want to look just a few years down the road, though, don’t be too surprised if you see the student become the teacher in this case.
As I mentioned earlier, though, let us not get too ahead of ourselves just yet. Still, that doesn’t mean fans of the Los Angeles Kings shouldn’t get excited at the thought of seeing Markus Phillips don the silver-and-black.
It may just be a thought now, but it will likely become a reality sooner than we think.
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