Manchester Monarchs 2008-09 season preview

By David A. Rainer

At this time last year, it was fairly well established which prospects would be on the Manchester roster to begin the season. With so many open spots in Los Angeles, there is a great degree of uncertainty where many will be spending most of their time this season. A prospect that makes the Kings to start the season may not be there after nine games while a prospect assigned to Manchester might be starring in Los Angeles by the all-star break. This makes predicting the outcome for the Monarchs extremely difficult.

Forwards

The largest question mark in training camp for the Monarchs revolves around which forwards will actually be on the team to start the season. Top forwards from last season Brian Boyle and Matt Moulson have made the opening night roster for Los Angeles. However, there is a possibility that both of these highly-touted forwards will see Manchester again at some point this season depending upon how they progress. It is best for Manchester not to rely on any either as they are likely to spend the vast majority of their season in Los Angeles and not contribute significantly to the Monarchs’ season.

There are a number of forward prospects that were integral to the Monarchs last season that will be returning to Manchester again this season. Gabe Gauthier was a top scorer last season and will return for third campaign. Gauthier anchored the top line last season and will be relied upon to do the same this year. One of the big questions for the Monarchs early in the season will be whether Gauthier can develop the same kind of chemistry with his line-mates as he enjoyed with Moulson last season. He will be joined to start the year with Ted Purcell again. Assigned to Manchester after a sluggish training camp with Los Angels, Purcell returns as the highest scoring rookie in the AHL last season. Purcell will have something to prove to the Kings front office, hoping that a fast start will force his call-up should Oscar Moller be reassigned to his major junior team after nine games.

Along with Gauthier and Purcell, holdovers from last season also include Trevor Lewis, Brady Murray, Scott Parse, David Meckler, Vladimir Dravecky and Kevin Westgarth. This season may be the most important season in his career for Lewis. He is two years removed from his draft and had trouble finding the back of the net last season. With three of their top five scorers from last season likely gone for the entire season, Lewis will be expected to step up offensively. While he is exciting to watch on the cycle and can beat nearly anyone on his skates, he needs to put points up on the scoresheet or the Monarchs may be hurting offensively with so many talented scorers from last season gone.

Another prospect that will need to step up and step forward with offensive contributions is Brady Murray. Like Lewis, Murray demonstrated that his skating ability was second to none last season, but his offensive output was below what was hoped for from such a skilled forward. He will be relied upon heavily for secondary scoring and is a prospect to keep an eye on to begin the season. Another such prospect to watch closely to begin the season is Scott Parse, who was injured for almost the entire 2007-08 season. He entered last season expecting to be the top left wing on the roster but never really got going with only 14 games played. With such little experience at the professional level, he will need to establish himself again on the roster as an offensive leader and may take Moulson’s place as the best scoring left wing on the team.

David Meckler came on strong in the middle of the 2007-08 season, which directly coincided with the Monarchs’ climb in the standings. While the top line was dominant, the second line stagnated as goals were difficult to come by. Meckler stepped up his game and provided the secondary scoring that was lacking. He will need to do more of the same with the number of question marks on offense for the team. While the top lines try to establish a rapport, Meckler must continue to produce the workman-like goals until the more skilled forwards are settled and producing.

Vladimir Dravecky and Kevin Westgarth will provide physical defensive play for the Monarchs. Westgarth will see some playing time as an enforcer with Manchester this season but may also see some time in Los Angeles as well. Likewise, Richard Clune, Marc-Andre Cliche and John Zeiler are still with Los Angeles but are likely to be assigned to Manchester at some point this season. All three have yet to be assigned to Manchester because each is on the Injured Reserve list for Los Angeles. Clune and Zeiler will join Dravecky and Westgarth as physical high-energy forwards on the bottom lines for Manchester. Cliche is a smooth-skating defensive specialist who will likely play an even larger role this season and contribute some of the missing secondary scoring. Even should Cliche not get going offensively, his prowess on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone cannot be underestimated or undervalued. If he does not add to the scoresheet, he at least keeps the opposition off of it.

Some new faces joining the Monarchs will be Bud Holloway, Justin Azevedo and possibly Wayne Simmonds. Holloway comes to Manchester from Seattle of the WHL where he was one of the most reliable forwards in the WHL. He was a team leader and one of the best goal scorers for the Thunderbirds. As a Monarch, he will be another forward looked towards to pick up the secondary scoring slack. He can also be relied upon as a penalty killer and a two-way forward. Holloway is still eligible to return to major juniors hockey as an overage player, but is more likely to play professional all season, whether in the AHL or the ECHL. Azevedo was recently drafted by Los Angeles as a 20-year-old. He led the OHL in scoring and was named the CHL Player of the Year. He is a smallish yet highly skilled forward. He is one of the more volatile prospects in the league – he can either take the AHL by storm and lead the team in scoring or be regulated to the ECHL this season. Either outcome is a very real possibility.

Simmonds will make the opening night roster with Los Angeles, but may be assigned to Manchester at some point. He also is eligible to return to major juniors as an overage prospect, but it is more probable that he will be splitting time between Los Angeles and Manchester this season. Simmonds is a forward that can both log minutes on the top scoring line and play an extremely tough physical game. If he is assigned to Manchester, he will have a strong chance of filling one of the top scoring line positions left vacant by Moulson and Boyle.

Defensemen

Just as the group of forwards will have a new look with many questions to be answered, so too will there be a large number of defensemen looking to fill the many vacant positions on the blueline. Leading defenseman from last season, Peter Harrold, is graduated to Los Angeles and is expected to spend the entire season with the Kings. Manchester will need to look to new blood to pick up the offensive void created by his departure. Alec Martinez and Vyacheslav Voinov will be two new faces hoping to do just that. Martinez signed an entry-level contract during the offseason and was viewed as someone that can immediately compete for playing time in Los Angeles. But if he is not ready for the NHL, the Monarchs could use his mobility and offensive skills to take the place of the lost Harrold.

Voinov was selected in the 2008 Entry Draft and also signed an entry-level contract during the offseason. After some intrigue in bringing him to North America, Voinov impressed enough in the Kings training camp to assign him to the AHL instead of the major junior hockey club that drafted him in their import draft. He is a raw defenseman and needs some development, but he is skilled and experienced enough to expect significant contributions from him in the AHL this season.

Joining Martinez and Voinov on the blueline will be Davis Drewiske, Joe Piskula and Drew Bagnall. Each is returning to Manchester for his second season, albeit after only a handful of games for Drewiske. Drewiske and Piskula are solid defensive defensemen who will be looked to as the anchor of the defense and on the penalty kill. Bagnall has more offensive upside, but not on the same level as Martinez or Voinov. Bagnall had an up and down 2007-08 and will look to build upon his mistakes to take on more of a leader role for the defensive corps.

Newcomers Andrew Campbell and Josh Kidd will compete with non-prospect invitees Eric Werner and Paul Crosty for the final roster positions. Both Campbell and Kidd are eligible to return to major juniors as overage players should they not make the squad in Manchester. Alternatively, they might see time with the Kings’ ECHL affiliate. Campbell comes to Manchester as a 2008 draftee and Kidd returns after finishing his 2007-08 season with the Monarchs where he impressed in a very limited amount of games played. Each is known for playing a physical style of game and capable of contributing points from time to time.

Goaltending

If there is one question that has been safely answered in training camp, it would be the name of the starting netminder for the Monarchs. Jonathan Bernier joined the team towards the end of the 2007-08 season and immediately took over as starter to end the regular season and during the playoffs. Expect to see more of the same this year. Bernier is a future star for Los Angeles, but needs to earn his opportunity by dominating the AHL first. The Monarchs will lean heavily on Bernier to keep them in games, especially while the forward lines come together and establish themselves in the early season. While the rest of the roster is a series of question marks, Bernier will be the backbone of the team.

If the starting goaltender picture is clear, the backup position is as murky as it can be. Three prospect netminders all have a legitimate chance to secure the position and none appear to have a clear advantage. Daniel Taylor and Jonathan Quick both have experience already as a goaltender for the Monarchs. Jeff Zatkoff comes in as one of the top college hockey netminders from last year. The Monarchs have carried three goaltenders in the past, but only when one of them was a shaky Dan Cloutier. Cloutier is no longer in the system and the position is likely to settle into a two-man rotation. Taylor has always been the odd man out in the system and might be an after-thought by the organization once again. Zatkoff, in his first professional season, might be assigned to Ontario of the ECHL to begin the season as Quick was last year. This leaves Quick as the backup in Manchester and Taylor looking for playing time wherever he can find it.

Summary

The Monarchs have made the playoffs every season in their existence. However, they have made it out of the first round only once in those seven years. If the Monarchs make it back to the playoffs, it may be on the backs of their goaltender. Bernier is one of the most heralded stars ever to come to Manchester and they will look to him early while the many other questions on the roster are answered.

The vast majority of the offense from last season will be gone. Leading scorers Boyle, Purcell, Moulson and Harrold all are likely to spend most if not the entire season with Los Angeles. Even top returning centerman Gauthier has an outside chance of earning a midseason call-up to the Kings. If the Monarchs expect to improve on their standing from last season, they will need to find replacement primary scoring and secondary scoring immediately. Prospects like Lewis and Parse will need to find their production quickly and newcomers like Martinez and possibly Simmonds will need to fill in the gaps left behind by those promoted to the NHL. There are no sure bets in hockey, and this team is more of a wildcard than ever before.

 

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