Rich Ricci, while he does speaks highly of new LA Kings prospect Jack Sparkes, admits that the youngster needs more work.
When you look back to their Stanley Cup years, it is evident how large of a factor (pun intended) size played in the LA Kings reaching the top of the NHL mountain. Yet, while the franchise has sacrificed some of its size in recent years, it’s clear that the LA Kings are still willing to have some physical intimidation in their game. This was most evident during this month’s draft when the silver-and-black drafted 6-foot-8 defenseman, Jack Sparkes.
Drafted in the 6th round (180th overall) by the Kings, Sparkes is coming off a solid season. He played for the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League this past season, scoring five goals and seven assists in 37 games.
I recently spoke with the youngster’s coach, Rich Ricci, who discussed what works in Sparke’s game and what doesn’t… yet. We began with Sparke’s aforementioned offensive numbers.
“He needs to improve his offensive numbers by being in a position of more touches and more confidence transporting pucks,” Ricci explained. “He has a very heavy shot but could improve on a quicker release and a concentration on shot placement.”
We would both have been remiss, however, had we not discussed the youngster’s most prevalent trait.
“Jack’s size is obvious,” Ricci said matter-of-factly. “He was widely regarded as the most physically gifted player in the draft. His physicality may not be fully realized until he turns pro. He’s tough as nails. His size also allows a tremendous reach for stick-on-puck defending. He needs to improve here and be highly effective in this area.”
Fortunately for Ricci, Sparkes’ attitude has been second-to-none.
Confident in his strongest areas but cognizant of his weaker ones, Sparkes has taken his growth with a mature approach. It is something that is nothing short of refreshing for the Buzzers’ head coach and GM.
“Jack is very coachable,” Ricci emphasized. “He’s keen to learn and improve. He’s a popular teammate and we see more leadership coming from him.”
" Hey buddy, out of my way!" Goaltender Hardy Westman #1 of the North York Rangers tries to watch the play around Jack Sparkes #5 of the St. Michael's Buzzers. @OJHLOfficial @ojhlimages @stmbuzzers @OJHLRangers #leagueofchoice #followthephotogs pic.twitter.com/053nzRpott
— Ray MacAloney OJHLI P34 (@rmacphotos_14) March 21, 2022
For many coaches, despite getting to know their players on a personal level, no amount of bias interferes with their collective ability to be objective. Rich Ricci is no exception to this. While he knows just how special a talent Jack Sparkes is, Coach Ricci knows that the youngster’s journey to the pros will require a great deal of improvement.
“Jack is a project,” admitted the St. Michael’s bench boss. “Slow and steady wins the race. He has all the tools to have a long career. Jack needs to harness his strengths and plug the deficiency holes as he is a late bloomer. He needs to be patient and refine his game in the next five-year window to be a good pro. I think the Kings got a high pick much later in the sixth round.”
Already committed to play for Michigan State in 2023, it may be some time before we see Jack Sparkes earnestly contend for the NHL. Until then, like many of the Kings’ newer draft choices, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy the ride.
Because of his towering frame, some have mentioned Sparkes in the same breath as future Hall-of-Famer Zdeno Chara. That may be a high compliment but it is imperative to be patient. That comparison may be realistic in due time but as of now, Jack Sparkes has enough to focus on regarding the next steps in his career path. However, no matter how much work he needs to do from here on out, the LA Kings did draft a unique talent in Jack Sparkes. What the youngster provides moving forward will be exciting to see.
So, let us enjoy that ride.