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While much of the veteran core remains, the Los Angeles Kings have had a younger look in recent years. In fact, five of the Kings’ currents players have entered this season with 40 or fewer NHL games under their belts. Blake Lizotte, a native of Lindstrom, Minn., is one of those five Kings that fits said bill.
For a club that placed a great deal of emphasis on size during their championship years, the Kings may not have had much, if any, room for the diminutive Lizotte just a few years ago. But, that was then, and this is now.
Like anything else, things change and teams are forced to evolve, especially in professional sports where development is the lifeblood of any successful franchise. The Kings are no exception to this rule, opening the door for their 5-foot-7, 172 pound centerman to make a name for himself in southern California.
I recently had a chance to speak with the Kings youngster but also with some of his past coaches — in the United States Hockey League and from St. Cloud State — as well as his current roommate, and fellow Kings prospect and Minnesotan, Mikey Anderson.
As for Lizotte, despite his small stature, he has all the confidence he needs to succeed with the silver-and-black.
It’s Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight
“I have never looked at my size as a deficit,” Lizotte said. “I have always looked at it as an advantage with the way I play. Being smaller, I can be a little faster and more agile. I believe my hockey sense also allows me to use my size as an advantage.”
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Someone who can attest to this first-hand is Cary Eades, Lizotte’s coach with the USHL’s Fargo Force from 2015 to 2017.
Early in Lizotte’s two-year tenure with the Force, Eades saw something special that heavily overshadowed his centerman’s size.
“You can measure a player’s height, weight, strength, shooting speed et cetera, but you can’t measure the size of a player’s heart and hockey sense,” Eades stressed. “Those two attributes, along with his unbelievable focus and work ethic have allowed Blake to overcome any obstacles he has faced being a so-called ‘smaller’ player. In fact, Blake uses his lack of height to an advantage. He’s very difficult to contain in the corners because his center of gravity is so low. It’s hard to get a pin on him and he can spin off and escape off of much bigger defenders.”
Mike Gibbons, an assistant coach at Lizotte’s alma mater, St. Cloud State University, also had a front-row view of how Lizotte made up for his lack of size but also his general attitude towards what some may call a disadvantage.
“Blake never would verbalize any negativity. It is a word not in his being,” Gibbons assured me. “Yes, size was a factor in his play. He would sometimes get knocked down but he would get back on his feet faster than he was knocked down. There are many video clips of him getting hit, getting up and scoring a goal or making a play for a goal.”
Mikey Anderson (Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

So, readers, once you’re finished reading this, be sure to visit YouTube — or scroll down — to check out some of Lizotte’s collegiate highlights. With that in mind, it is worth noting that said highlights immediately remind this writer of a young Theoren Fleury, who certainly made up for his 5-foot-6 stature during his playing days.
While moving from Minnesota to southern California may be quite the change, Lizotte definitely take solace knowing that he wasn’t alone, reconnecting with former USHL and collegiate rival, Mikey Anderson.
A native of Roseville, Minn. and a first-year defenseman for the AHL’s Ontario Reign, Anderson shared his own thoughts on Lizotte’s size from the perspective of an opponent — for the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks and the University of Minnesota-Duluth, respectively.
“Starting off for the USHL, he’s always been an undersized guy but he’s always been one of the quicker guys on the ice,” said Anderson of Lizotte. “So, we played him, I think it was six times in junior. So, I played him a lot and he had a couple of linemates who were skilled, too, who could shoot the puck, and he was like a water bug. That carried over into college and you’ve seen it to the start of the year, too [with the Kings], but he’s a guy that’s just always working. I saw a quote from [Kings assistant Trent] Yawney saying that he’s a mosquito in a [dark] tent, but he’s a very skilled player. I think his skill flies a bit under the radar with how hard he works. He does everything the right way and it’s very frustrating to play against him if you’re on the other team.”
Leading and Learning by Example
After playing one game for the silver-and-black last season, Lizotte turned a lot of heads during training camp last month as he made the cut for the Kings’ opening-night roster. Through eight games with the big club thus far, the 21-year-old has two assist thus far to go in hand with a plus-4 rating. With his lack of experience at this juncture, though, the impact of the Kings veterans is significant. Lizotte explained that he’s already learning a lot from one veteran, in particular.
Anze Kopitar (Photo credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

“I’d have to say I’ve learned the most from Anze Kopitar,” a matter-of-fact Lizotte pointed out. “He leads by example with everything he does. I think the best advice I have received is learning to stay in the moment and focus on each detail of the game; also, just to play my game and don’t try and do anything outside of what I do best.”
Lizotte’s leadership qualities, though, were prevalent prior to joining the Kings. His coach from Fargo makes no hesitation in attesting to this.
“Although he was one of the youngest players on the team his first season, Blake was a leader from day one,” said Eades. “His energy and effort in practice was contagious to his teammates. One thing I believe our coaching staff helped Blake with the most was to not be so hard on himself. It’s okay to have high demands and expectations, but you have to be able to put a bad play or a bad shift behind you. No question that Blake is much better in this area of his approach.
“We believed he’d be a two- or three-year captain and after a four-year college career, would have a shot at being a pro. Of course, as he has done with so many scouts and coaches over the years, Blake has exceeded our expectations and is in the NHL after only two years at St. Cloud [State].”
Rising Up in a Sioux State of Mind
In addition to being at the starting point his pro career, Lizotte’s tenure in Los Angeles also represents the first time that he’s really been far away from home.
Cary Eades (Photo credit: Hillary Ehlen, mJoy Photography/Fargo Force and UND Athletics)

Prior to his tenure with the Kings, Lizotte, signed as an undrafted free agent this past April, played collegiately at St. Cloud State and before that, in the North American Hockey League and the USHL, respectively, in neighbouring North Dakota.
Fargo head coach, the aforementioned Cary Eades, witnessed Lizotte’s tremendous progress first-hand. This includes the youngster jumping from 12 goals and 46 points in 2015-16 to 19 goals and 65 points with the Force the following season.
I asked Eades what the biggest factor in Lizotte’s game was that attributed to his increase in production.
“Just an overall maturation in his game,” Eades said. “He worked hard in the off-season to improve his strength and speed. He always had a great work ethic and hockey sense, and was very coachable. We have a saying about being a Force player that goes, ‘Let’s try to get a little bit better everyday’. Blake epitomized that attitude in practice and in the weight room, and that’s why he’s improved so much each season.”
Becoming a Big Man on Campus
Fresh off his tenure in Fargo, Lizotte seemed poised to tackle the collegiate ranks. However, the start of his St. Cloud State career in 2017 was less than ideal as finding the net proved to be an early challenge — something his assistant coach, the aforementioned Mike Gibbons, could attest to.
“He got off to a slow start, not scoring until after Christmas,” Gibbons said. “He did score a hat trick in the exhibition game but then put some pressure on himself and pressed a bit.”
Michael P. Gibbons (Photo credit: St. Cloud State University)

Lizotte, however, was unfazed.
Determined to constantly better himself on the ice, the Lindstrom, Minn. native, showed his coaches and his teammates that he was the epitome of success resulting from hard work.
“Improvement had everything to do with total dedication during the off-season and during the year,” continued Gibbons. “I have coached for 39 years and nobody has worked harder. He also played on a line that began to gel as soon as they were brought together: [California natives] Robby Jackson and Pat Newell.”
The Joys of Coaching Blake
A great player can have all the talent in the world, but if he’s a challenge to coach or, worse, “uncoachable”, that plethora of talent can fall by the wayside while that player would slowly fade into the background.
Photo credit: Unites States Hockey League

Fortunately, this has not been the case for Lizotte. Far from it, in fact.
“Blake was a coach’s dream,” Cary Eades emphasized on Lizotte’s time in Fargo. “He wanted instruction; he wanted to perfect his craft. He looked you in the eye and applied to his game the things you were trying to teach him.
“Although he was one of the youngest players on the team his first season, Blake was a leader from day one. His energy and effort in practice was contagious to his teammates. One thing I believe our coaching staff helped Blake with the most was to not be so hard on himself. It’s okay to have high demands and expectations, but you have to be able to put a bad play or a bad shift behind you. No question that Blake is much better in this area of his approach.”
Gibbons echoed these sentiments, reflecting Lizotte’s collegiate career.
“The kid has a quiet confidence,” Gibbons began. “A bright kid, he was the player answering a question posed to the team by [St. Cloud State head coach] coach [Brett] Larson on what we should be doing in a certain situation; a true competitor who wants team success more than his personal success. That is a strong statement because nobody wanted to get to the NHL more than Blake Lizotte.”
Photo credit: Clint Austin/The Rink Live

Eades, though, did not close our conversation without reflecting on when he first met Lizotte.
“We’ve got lots of good memories of Blake,” Eades told me. “I remember him catching my eye as a young player at the Minnesota State Tournament when he was playing for Chisago Lakes High School. Then, I saw him again at the end of his next season playing for Minot in the NAHL. That was a great year of development for him under their head coach [and former King] Marty Murray, who Blake lived with.
“When I moved from Sioux Falls [South Dakota] to Fargo at the end of that season, I knew he was the type of player that I wanted to build our team around. He was an overachiever that made the most of his talents and he had a motor that wouldn’t quit. Our staff agreed and that’s why we picked him with our first pick, fourth overall in the 2015 USHL Draft. Some scouts at the time questioned us taking him so high. They said he’s so small, not quick enough, et cetera, but as he’s done his entire life, he’s proved his critics wrong. Looking back, he was a key piece to building a culture of success in Fargo, and we still use him as an example to our current Force players on how to act and prepare, how to work and how to improve. He left a lasting impression on our organization.”
Snow Banks to Sunny Beaches
Like many players who take their careers to the Golden State, the transition is significant, especially in regards to weather and lifestyle. For Lizotte, though, it’s been so far, so good.
“The adjustment to California has been great so far,” admitted the Kings rookie. “I am living with defenseman Mikey Anderson, who plays with Ontario, and we both like the lifestyle out here.”
Lizotte’s roommate did not hesitate to agree.
“It’s a lot better out here,” chuckled an enthusiastic Anderson. “I was just joking with my family, saying how you’re able to leave the rink and it’s sunny and you can sit up by the beach. Being in [Waterloo] Iowa and Duluth, Minn. — two little cold, cold beds there. Times there were really fun but obviously more orientated on hockey in those two cities. But coming here, it’s been awesome here so far. The whole area — El Segundo, Manhattan Beach — has been awesome. It’s a [much] different way of life than back in Minnesota, but I like the change so far.”
The Purple-and-Gold Connection
Of course, being a Minnesotan also means, in many cases, a hometown allegiance to your native state teams, which according to Lizotte, may not cause of a conflict in interest in southern California.
Photo credit: Bradley K. Olson

“I am a big Minnesota sports fan,” assured Lizotte. “I always tune into the Twins and Vikings games when I can. Since I’m from Minnesota and now live here, I think I can cheer a little for both [Minnesota and Los Angeles teams].”
For the Vikings, in particular, they may don the purple-and-gold like his new team once did — well, forum-blue-and-gold but no time for semantics — but being a Vikings fan may give Lizotte some familiarity with the Kings as both teams have had long-suffering, but devoted, fanbases. Fortunately for the Kings, their championship drought ended. As for the Vikings, well, we’re still waiting.
For the Twins, fans may recall the 1990 version of the club being one of the worst in Major League Baseball only to win the World Series the very next year — defeating the Atlanta Braves, who, mind you, finished dead-last in ’90. Could the Kings receive a similar fate as the ’91 Twins? It is possible but, please, let’s not bank on it just yet.
As for Mikey Anderson, the Kings’ fourth-round pick in 2017, he admitted that while he would root for the Vikings, he’s a much bigger fan of the Twins, although he was born eight years after their aforementioned (near-)worst-to-first transition.

So, having made the big club’s roster to begin the 2019-2020 campaign, what is Blake Lizotte’s biggest expectation this season?
“I think my biggest expectation for this year is to be able to prove myself and that I can play, and be a difference-maker at the NHL level.”
Photo credit: Getty Images

A simple answer, yes, but one that Blake Lizotte has been able to live up to thus far.
His two assists may not suggest it but Lizotte has wasted little time proving that him making the big club was no fluke — not that many believed that in the first place. Lizotte’s speed and playmaking abilities are second-to-none and have made the Kings exciting to watch again. Lizotte is even proving to be a great complement to linemates Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter, making the latter look like the 2012 version of himself.
His speed makes him entertaining, his faceoff battles make him tough and his playmaking abilities give a purpose for the edge of seats. The NHL season may not yet be a month old but if his beginning at St. Cloud State is any indication, and it should be, Blake Lizotte’s hard work and determination should start yielding results sooner rather than later. Patience and resilience are both key, though. Of course, for the 21-year-old, these are two traits he has never been foreign to, so be sure to stay tuned for more from the diminutive youngster.
The 2019-20 season marks a new look for the Los Angeles Kings and while growing pains are inevitable, fans of the silver-and-black can take consolation knowing that they have a competitor like Blake Lizotte on their side, to earn his keep in every step of his new club’s rebuilding phase.
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