In a season when the Los Angeles Kings were dwelling in the basement for the vast majority of the year, a number of prospects received brief try-outs with the NHL club to gauge their level of development. Seemingly taking the pulse of the farm system, GM Dean Lombardi ushered rookies in and out of the lineup looking to separate the prospect from the suspect. Twelve rookies would don the Kings sweater — some making considerable impressions — while most would not appear in more than ten games each.
Those having the most significant impacts were on the defensive end. Jack Johnson came into the season with only five games of professional experience, but was already hailed as one of the anchors on the blueline, trusted in all game situations and logging over 20 minutes of ice time per game while bringing an intensity and physical aspect that has been lacking on the blueline for the Kings. His offensive game was temporarily put on the back-burner as the coaching staff demanded more attention to defense and making the smart play. His 11 points are not indicative of his importance and progress with the team as he was far and away the most significant rookie of the season for the Kings.
Also seeing a tremendous amount of time on the blueline for Los Angeles was Peter Harrold. Securing a regular roster spot after the trade deadline deal of Jaroslav Modry, Harrold would score five points in 25 games. He is the lead contender to take over a roster position from a defenseman next season, but needs to work on standing up to NHL-caliber opposition if he is to stay in the NHL longer than his rookie season.
The Kings had four goaltenders making their NHL debuts. While three played no more than four games during the regular season, the fourth rapidly became a household name. Erik Ersberg signed out of the Swedish Elite League during the offseason. The 25-year-old was largely recognized as the best goaltender in the SEL prior to his signing was assigned to Manchester to start the year. But as injuries to the goaltender position began to mount, the Kings soon turned to their surprise rookie. In 14 games, Ersberg posted a 2.48 goals-against average, an impressive save percentage of .927 and two shutouts in 14 games. While the team as a whole was lost in the cellar of the standings, Ersberg proved to be the lone bright spot late in the season.
While Ersberg was the talk of the end of the season, Jonathan Bernier was the talk of the beginning of the season. After more than proving himself during training camp, the Kings broke camp in London with Bernier in net opening night. Calm and collected, Bernier backstopped the Kings into a 4-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions. But no sooner did Bernier establish himself in net than the Los Angeles defense broke down in front of him. Following the opening night victory, Bernier lost three straight, giving up four goals or more in each. As quickly as Bernier would storm the NHL, he was mercifully shipped back to Lewiston of the QMJHL to finish out the season.
Jonathan Quick and Daniel Taylor round out the quartet of rookies in net for the Kings. Taylor played only a single period in relief late in the season as a result of injuries to Dan Cloutier and Jason Labarbera. Quick would appear in three games, most notably in an 8-2 victory over Buffalo in his NHL debut. Both Quick and Taylor are still a couple of years away from being full-time options at the NHL level for the Kings.
While the Kings had just as many forward rookies on the roster as defensemen and goaltenders combined, few made much of an impact as Lombardi routinely worked prospects in and out of the lineup to check on their level of development. Even though Brian Boyle only appeared in eight games, he made as much of a name for himself as Johnson did on the defensive side or Ersberg did in net. Scoring four goals in his eight games and looking to be the better option on the second or third line than any veteran currently on the roster, Boyle was inexplicably returned to Manchester of the AHL. The 6’7 center prospect is one of the leading contenders for regular ice time in the forward corps heading into next season.
To a lesser extent, Matt Moulson set himself apart from other prospects heading into training camp next season. In his first taste of NHL action, Moulson provided a limited amount of secondary scoring early in the season before being returned to Manchester for good in February. His .41 points per game average projects out to 34 points in a full season – respectable total for a rookie contributor. However, it remains to be seen what kind of a lasting NHL impact Moulson will have as he is at his best in a scoring role but might not have enough offensive talent to perform regularly. But for now, Moulson was considered a pleasant surprise for the Kings.
None of the remaining four rookie forwards saw action in more than ten games. College free agent signee Ted Purcell received his first taste of action, scoring three points in ten games. Alongside Boyle, it is believed that Purcell will have a great chance of earning a regular roster spot next season. Brady Murray began the season the NHL roster and chipped in his first professional goal in his only four games with Los Angeles. Gabe Gauthier filled in for three games with little to show for it and Lauri Tukonen appeared in only a single game before being sent back to Manchester.
When all was said and done for the Kings 2007-08 season, there was little to be happy about on the NHL roster, but a lot to look forward to in coming seasons. Johnson firmly established himself in the NHL, Ersberg was a pleasant surprise, and Boyle and Bernier showed glimpses of potential starters in a year or two.