LOS ANGELES—The conversation was short. The news was not good.
Five games into his first NHL foray last fall, Los Angeles Kings forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan sat down with general manager Rob Blake. Weeks earlier, the 19-year-old, who was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, had surprisingly made the team out of training camp.
But after having only one assist in the opening weeks of the season, he was told he’d be sent back to juniors for the rest of the 2018-19 season. A more permanent place in the NHL would have to wait.
Anderson-Dolan didn’t flinch.
The competitor in him, of course, was disappointed. But the sharp, seasoned, serious side of his psyche — the part that has earned him plaudits and pushed him to the cusp of a pro career in the first place — understood.
He long ago decided he would make it in the NHL, the league becoming more of a target to track down than a dream he hoped would come true. Well-practiced in the art of tenacity, he shrugs at the memory of his demotion, writing it off as another lesson from which to learn.
“It was just an exit meeting,” Anderson-Dolan, who turns 20 on Thursday, said. “There’s really not much to it.” He endured plenty more teaching moments over the course of last season: a significant wrist injury, playing for Canada in the junior world championships at less than full strength, then putting together perhaps the best stretch of his junior career with the Spokane Chiefs.
“I learned a lot,” he said of his whirlwind 2018-19. “How to go through some adversity. … I grew more off the ice than anything. Got mentally stronger.”
Anderson-Dolan, who has exhausted his junior hockey eligibility and comes to training camp that starts Friday knowing he will open this season with the Kings or their minor league AHL affiliate, had a mature mind-set to begin with.
His quick shot, strong stride, and two-way style at center and wing drew the attention of scouts. He increased his point totals each of his first three seasons in Spokane, from 26 in 2015-16 to 76 in 2016-17 and to a career-high 91 in 2017-18.
It’s Anderson-Dolan’s attitude, however, that is most often applauded by coaches.
“There’s just a different way he carries himself,” said Mike Stothers, coach of the Kings’ rookie camp and AHL affiliate Ontario Reign. “It’s very professional. It’s not something you usually see out of a kid that’s playing junior.”
Maybe that’s because the Calgary native has been preparing for a professional career since he was 7, when he matter-of-factly told his uncle, Thomas, that he was going to one day play in the NHL. “He was crystal clear,” Thomas Dolan said.
With guidance from his mothers Fran, a former hockey player, and Nancy, a nutrition and wellness expert, Anderson-Dolan learned the power of preparation.
He matured quickly, becoming the type of player who not only got to the rink first but arrived sometimes an hour or more before anyone else.
“He took it seriously from a very young age,” Fran said. “He always talked about playing against Sidney Crosby, all that kind of stuff.”
Thomas Dolan remembers how Jaret would watch online highlight videos of the NHL’s top 100 goals, then try to mimic them in games. Or how, when his nephew, then 11, visited him in Vancouver, he asked to go to the park so they could work out together.
“He was clear that his intention was to play in the NHL,” Dolan said. “He became it in his attitude. He became it in his level of commitment. He became it in his level of devotion to the game.”
A life coach now based in Honolulu, Dolan untangles the desires and motivations of clients for a living. While dissecting his nephew’s ascendant career, he draws a distinction between having “intentions” and setting “goals.” Dolan believes the former is stronger; that in Jaret’s case, it drove him to act like an NHL player long before he became one.
“He continues to use the power of intention,” Dolan said, “to create the things that he has in his life.”
Last year, Anderson-Dolan used it to overcome his first serious on-ice adversity.
Despite his demotion from the NHL, he returned to Spokane in high spirits.
“You never have to worry with him, having a little bit of a downside because he’s disappointed having to come back to juniors or anything,” Spokane general manager Scott Carter said. “I think he always looks at everything as an opportunity to get better.”
In his first game back, however, Anderson-Dolan’s wrist bent awkwardly in a collision. When it was still hurting a game later, he had doctors take a closer look. They determined his wrist was broken. He flew to Los Angeles and had surgery in early November.
“That threw a wrench in things,” Anderson-Dolan said. “That was the first time I’d been hurt in my career.”
He recovered enough to represent Canada in the junior world championships in late December and early January but scored only one goal in five games. When he resumed his season with Spokane, he didn’t look 100%.
Spokane coach Dan Lambert offered Anderson-Dolan time off, but as a team co-captain, he turned it down. He had lost enough of his season already.
“He never let himself get out of shape, both physically and mentally,” said Lambert, now an assistant with the Nashville Predators. “He now had a taste of the NHL, felt in his heart and his mind he could play there.”
Anderson-Dolan rounded back into form by the end of the year. Late in the regular season, he went on a nine-game goal streak. In the playoffs, he had 13 points in 15 games. “He was a man in the second half,” Lambert said. “He drove our team.”
The year’s earlier setbacks behind him, he again displayed the same all-around production that convinced the Kings to keep him around at the start of last season; the type of nonstop drive that Spokane coaches had come to expect during his four seasons of junior hockey and believe will carry him in the pros too.
“Even though he put up big numbers in juniors, he is a guy that will put in the work and be proud to play in the bottom six if he has to, to get an opportunity,” Lambert said. “He can battle with men. He’s battle-ready.”
During last week’s rookie camp, Anderson-Dolan was again a standout. He said his mind-set hasn’t changed from last year. He simply wants to make the Kings roster again. This time, though, he might be better suited to hang around.
“I’ve put on a little bit of weight, I’m stronger,” said Anderson-Dolan, listed at 5 feet 11 and 191 pounds. “My game is a little more well-rounded. … Starting the year here (last season), I learned a lot just from playing in the games, being around the NHL guys. It was awesome for me.”
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No one who knows his past, who has watched him inch toward an objective he has always believed he’d reach, seems to doubt his future.
“That’s where he wants to be, that’s where he wants to play,” Fran said. “It’s his journey.”
Said Nancy: “He doesn’t take anything for granted. He has a single purpose.”
Like a ball of inertia, formed through years of detailed development and hardened through one last junior hockey season of turmoil and triumph, he seems headed back toward an inevitable NHL career.
“Every day, he’s the hardest-working player in practice — that’s never even a question,” Lambert said. “There’s a handful of people that are like that in the world. And they’re usually pretty special.”
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