Manchester Monarchs 2009-10 preview

By David A. Rainer

The 2008-09 Manchester Monarchs failed to make the playoffs for the first time in their short franchise history. Where most organizations would lean towards adding veteran leadership to the team, the Los Angeles Kings, parent organization to the Monarchs, took the second youngest roster in the AHL and made it even younger. Nearly every roster position is likely to be taken up with a prospect of the Kings, as former prospect Gabe Gauthier will be the “grizzled vet” of the squad with three full seasons of experience with the Monarchs.

Forwards


The forward corps is headlined by Oscar Moller and Andrei Loktionov. Moller spent the majority of last season with the Kings, having impressed the coaching staff into a roster spot out of training camp. But with increased depth in the organization and on the NHL roster, Moller was assigned back to Manchester to skate a regular shift in meaningful situations and provide some much-needed offensive punch.  Coupled with Moller will be Loktionov who, after only a single season of major junior hockey, joins the Monarchs with lofty expectations. He will join a team in search of playmakers as the team is coming off a season in which they were near the bottom of the league in goal scoring. Loktionov will assume one of the two top center positions left vacant by the promotion of Trevor Lewis to Los Angeles.

A large part of the offensive equation for the Monarchs will be Justin Azevedo, who returns to the team after an injury limited him to 36 points in 49 games. A healthy season will be monumental for Azevedo who has the potential to score in bunches and establish himself as the top scoring forward on the roster.

Rounding out the primary scoring for the team are Juraj Mikus and Scott Parse. Having signed with the organization during the offseason, Mikus was one of the top scoring forwards in highest professional league in Slovakia. While he found training camp in Los Angeles too much of a challenge, the Monarchs hope that he can adjust quickly to North America and find the spark that ignited him in 2008-09. Even if he can distribute the puck at a rate half of what he accomplished last season, Mikus will battle for playing time as a top-six forward. Likewise, Parse will be battling for a similar position, but is more of a goal scorer than Mikus. Parse stayed healthy last season and scored 15 goals in 74 games. Improvement in this area will go a long way towards turning the Monarchs’ offensive fortunes around as the team will need several productive lines to keep pace with the rest of the league.

Outside of top offensive forwards, the Monarchs will look for major contributions from a handful of other prospects to create the secondary scoring required to stay at the top of the standings. Marc-Andre Cliche returns after injuries derailed him last season. Primarily used as a defensive-minded forward to date, Cliche can use his speed to open space on the ice and create scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates. David Meckler returns for his third season and can be relied upon for 15-20 goals while playing a strong game around the net.  Likewise, Dwight King is someone who will work hard around the net and generate opportunities simply by digging pucks out and keeping the play alive in the offensive zone. He joins the team after finishing his major junior hockey career with Lethbridge of the WHL. Bud Holloway was used on specialty teams last season for the Monarchs, but can be looked to as a candidate capable of stepping up increased offense. He is the consummate team player who will assume any role asked of him.

Other new faces include Corey Elkins, Michael Pelech and Jordan Nolan.  Elkins joins the team after signing out of Ohio State during the offseason and will provide energy to the line-up. He is one of several forwards who will be competing with the already established members of the team for playing time. Pelech was drafted by the Kings in 2009 as a 20-year-old and will compete for playing time as an energy forward, but more likely will be assigned to the ECHL or possibly returned to his major junior team. Nolan, the son of NHL coach Ted Nolan, is another 2009 draftee as a 20-year-old. He is noted for providing a physical presence to the line-up, but also will be competing just to stay on the roster. Like Pelech, he might be assigned to the ECHL or possibly returned to his major junior team while the depth chart on the Monarchs thins out.

Standing in Nolan’s way on the roster are incumbent strongmen Kevin Westgarth and Richard Clune. Westgarth is on the brink of making the NHL roster as an enforcer, but will begin the season in Manchester. In contrast, Clune will begin the season on the Los Angeles roster due to a training camp injury. While the Kings may keep him in Los Angeles as an enforcer after recovering from his injury, it is more likely that he will be returned to Manchester, giving the team two legitimate NHL enforcer prospects.

Rounding out the forward group is John Zeiler, returned to Manchester after losing his job in Los Angeles to more skilled forwards. Zeiler’s role with Manchester will be to provide energy and physicality from the last line.

Defensemen

Thomas Hickey is the major addition on the blueline for the Monarchs.  After just missing making the opening night roster in Los Angeles as the last defenseman cut, Hickey joins an already established group of defensemen as the best offensive weapon of the bunch. His ability to quarterback the power play and be a leader on the ice will make him a valuable commodity to a team both short on experience and struggling on the power play. 

Joining Hickey as an offensive defenseman is Viatcheslav Voinov, who returns to Manchester after leading their defensemen in scoring during the 2008-09 season as a 19-year-old. Maturation and discipline will go a long way towards Voinov taking the next step in his development and establishing himself as one of the top offensive defensemen in the league. The combination of Hickey and Voinov on the back end will make contribute heavily in the Monarchs turning around their power play from last season.

Although a member of the opening night roster for Los Angeles, Alec Martinez is likely bound for Manchester when veteran Sean O’Donnell returns to the Kings line-up after completing a two-game suspension to begin the season. Martinez is the third offensive defenseman on the roster as the Kings organization pairs offensive defensemen with defensive defensemen throughout their depth chart. Martinez is in his second professional season and provides the Monarchs with potentially the best trio of offensive defensemen in the league. Any points that Martinez can contribute from the third pairing will be an added bonus to increasing the offensive production this season.

While Hickey and Voinov will be pushing the puck up the ice, solid “veterans” Drew Bagnall and Joe Piskula will hold down the fort deep in the defensive zone. Both are returning for their third season with the Monarchs and were greatly relied upon last season to keep the opposition clear of the net. The same can be expected of this duo for the upcoming season and will be the unsung heroes of an improved defensive end for the Monarchs. But that improvement will largely be contingent upon the progress of Andrew Campbell. Slow to adjust, Campbell took some lumps as a rookie for the Monarchs last season. He is a strong and physical defenseman who can really improve the defensive fortunes of the team with a solid showing as he is known for sacrificing himself on the ice for the advancement of team goals.

New faces to the blueline include David Kolomatis and Patrick Muller.  Kolomatis is yet another 2009 draftee as a 20-year-old. Additionally, he has already experienced an AHL playoff run with the Providence Bruins last season. He and college signee Patrick Mullen will be battling the incumbent defensemen for playing time. The odd men out in the competition will likely spend most of their time in the ECHL, barring any injuries to either the Manchester or Los Angeles roster.

Goaltenders

As was the case last season, Jonathan Bernier and Jeff Zatkoff are the hopefuls to start in net for the Monarchs. However, Bernier is the clear favorite and, barring an injury, will start and likely finish the season as the clear top goaltender in Manchester. He led the Monarchs in starts last season after assuming the role full time with the promotion of Jonathan Quick to Los Angeles. Bernier will be the primary call-up to Los Angeles in case of injury, but it is the hopes of the organization that Bernier earns playoff experience and lead the Monarchs to a Calder Cup.

This leaves the question of where is the best fit for Zatkoff. He can either spend a considerable amount of time on the bench in Manchester or he can return to the ECHL for full-time starting duties of his own. Depending upon how much competition the organization wants to create between Bernier and Zatkoff, it is more likely that Zatkoff will begin the season in the ECHL unless Bernier gets off to another cold start for the Monarchs.

Los Angeles Training Camp Update

Prospects Trevor Lewis, Ted Purcell and Davis Drewiske will break training camp with the Los Angeles Kings. Purcell beat out Moller for the last top-six forward position, but is on his last chance to prove to the Kings brass that he belongs in the NHL. Purcell will skate in an offensive role and may be swapped with Moller later in the season if he falters.

Trevor Lewis secured one of the forward positions on the fourth line due to his speed, defensive awareness and ability to forecheck and cycle the puck. Since he will not be looked to for immediate offensive help, Lewis can learn on the job in Los Angeles and wait for his offensive game to come around later in his career.

Keeping the seat warm for future Kings defensemen Hickey, Voinov and/or Martinez, Drewiske secured the final defenseman position for the Kings.  Drewiske adds mobility on the blueline from the third pairing. He does not have the dynamic skills that others in the organization have, but he will grasp the opportunity he has earned and make the best case possible for him to stay in Los Angeles for the long term.