by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Manchester Monarchs rookie center Corey Elkins had his marriage proposal all planned out.
He was going to pop the question to his girlfriend over the Christmas break, at his home in Detroit.
Then real life interrupted. The Los Angeles Kings called him up over the holidays and all of a sudden Elkins had to go to his backup move.
OK. How about this: his girlfriend could join him in L.A. and he could propose there. Yeah. That’d do it. They went for a nice walk along Manhattan Beach, he asked and she said yes.
"I was kind of surprised I got to be a little nervous," he said. "We went for a walk, and we stopped and I asked her. That’s when I got nervous, wondering what I was going to say."
Nice. Oh, and at about the same time Elkins also was making his NHL debut with the Kings, a three-game stretch in which he scored his first NHL goal. Talk about a week to remember.
"December was a pretty special month," said Elkins, 24. "So far in my life, that’s definitely been my most special occasions there."
The way Elkins has been landing on his feet this season, it looks like his roll is just beginning. The undrafted free agent out of Ohio State paces the Atlantic Division-leading Monarchs with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists).
Rookie of the year? Probably not. MVP? You could make a decent case. The newcomer’s consistency has allowed the Monarchs to prosper in a run that has nine regulars out with injuries and three more on recall to the Kings.
"Corey’s been a pleasant surprise for us. He’s been thrust into a very unique situation," Monarchs coach Mark Morris said. "He’s shouldered that responsibility and done big things with it."
Even if you didn’t have a clue what the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Elkins looks like, you could pick him out on the Manchester team bus with one sweep down the aisle. He’ll be the one with his nose buried in "The Odyssey," his current choice of light reading.
"Some guys are like, ‘Cool.’ Some guys are like, ‘What are you reading that for?’" Elkins said. "The Spartan mentality is something I think of on occasion, the amount of pride in everything they took. I try to put everything I have into hockey."
In case you couldn’t guess, Elkins was a history major at Ohio State, with a focus on ancient Greece. When business takes him away from home he’s got the TiVo set on the History Channel. Get him talking about outer space, and the bus trip from one New England city to another passes in a blink.
"I took some astronomy at school. I’m not smart enough, but I enjoyed learning about the physics," he said.
When the Kings took an interest in Elkins as early as last winter, he went from the student to the studied. His offense was there, buried under three injury-plagued seasons. He potted just 9 goals total his first three years as a Buckeye but, improved to 18 goals and 23 assists when finally healthy as a senior in 2008-09.
"I was just trying not to have another year like (his first three)," Elkins said. "I knew I should be able to produce. It was more of a determination thing, I guess."
Morris really did his homework. He grilled the Buckeyes’ assistant coaches. He had an in with the boyfriend of his daughter, who played with Elkins in the USHL.
"It didn’t take long to figure out what we were getting. They said he was a good offensive talent, strong on the puck," Morris said. "I guess what I didn’t realize was he was proficient at the defensive game as well."
Elkins came to the Monarchs with the urgency to show everything he had. He knew his one good college season could be dismissed with a wave after a few bad pro games.
"I thought my developmental process would be a little later. I didn’t know how people would take that, whether they thought it (his senior season) was a fluke year," he said. "Somebody can tell you anything they want to tell you (as encouragement). If you don’t believe it yourself, it’s not going to take you anywhere. Maybe 15-20 games in, I figured I could handle it."
Elkins’ self-scouting report was just about perfect. After going 7-5-12 in his first 23 games, he started figuring out this whole pro thing just when the desperate Monarchs were ready to start suiting up arena maintenance workers. Since the start of December, Elkins has stepped up with nine goals and 14 assists in 23 games.
"I definitely thought I could have a big impact. I don’t know if I saw myself leading in scoring," Elkins said. "When I first got to Manchester, he (Morris) told me to focus on the d-zone, be a penalty killing guy. That’s how it started out. I was just taking baby steps in my career. Few games in, I started to get more comfortable. Before you knew it, I started creeping up."
Elkins has since made his own good fortune in his personal and professional life, and he isn’t taking anyone by surprise these days. That’s a matter of necessity. As much as he’s stood out as a vital Monarchs contributor the past several weeks, he’ll need to be even more noticeable to keep getting the same opportunities once the lineup starts to take on a familiar look again.
"I’m excited for guys to get back. It’s only going to add more elements for our team," he said. "We’re hanging on to first place by a thread. It’s important for me to contribute in any way possible. I’m definitely not satisfied by any means. It’s just the beginning. It’s everything coming together for me a little bit."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.