The Los Angeles Kings opened camp, at least first stepped foot on the ice, on this past Wednesday, September 10th. About 75 Kings fans were in attendance. Included in that figure was another Hockey 2000 writer, Donna Sarasin. Donna and I had the opportunity to talk to many people from the Kings front office. It amazed me at how open and accessible they were. I want to focus this article in two areas, one my evaluation of what I observed, and, two, a twenty-minute conversation Donna and I had with Al Murray, Director of Scouting.
The first thing that stuck me about the 97 King is their size. Thirty-five of the 64 players in camp are 6’2 or taller, very impressive. Whether or not that translates into goals time will tell. The Kings were organized into 3 intra squad teams. The first two teams scrimmaged for 2 hours and the third came out later for 2 hours of drills. During the scrimmage again size was the most impressive thing. Of the prospects, Sean Blanchard looked good moving the puck and not afraid to take a hit. Aki Berg was the most impressive defenseman and now has added a feriousous hip checks to his arsenal. Of note was Peter Hogan who has now added 20 pounds and is up to 185, to go along with his 6’3 frame. Al Murray stated that he has put on the weight and not lost a step of quickness. On the forward side, Olli Jokinen played on a line with Luc Robaitlle. Olli looked good not outstanding but will improve with time. I was a little concerned to see Pavel Rosa during a 2 on 1 back checking drill have a hard time keeping up. But he has one of the most accurate shots I have ever seen. The bottom line I liked what I saw and all the publications that have the Kings as cellar dwellers should take a second look.
While standing in line at the snack bar, I noticed Al Murray, Director of Scouting, standing behind us. I took the opportunity to ask some questions. I was curious about this upcoming draft in 98. Al stated that this draft would be much different from 97. In 97, you had a combination of skill and size. In 98, it is an either or proposition. You will get size or skill. Al continued by stating that 99 is looking to be a real good draft with most of the talent coming from Europe. Obviously there are the Swedish twins, but there is a kid from the Czech republic and a kid from Russia that should be the top 4 picks. Regarding this past draft I had a couple of questions for Murray. One, why did we take Matt Zultek with the 15th overall pick versus Ty Jones. The Kings felt that Zultek had more potential offensive up side. He did agree that Zultek’s aggressiveness was an issue but the organization belief is he will mature and learn that aspect of the game. Jones, he described as a big butted kid who is good in the corners but was concern he will be a scorer in the NHL. I also ask Murray if he was surprised that Scott Barney was still available at 29. Murray stated that Barney had a real bad year in juniors and his stock had fallen, so in a nutshell he was not surprised by his availability in the second. He compared the situation to the prior year where the Kings selected Josh Green in the second when he had been rated a 1st rounder. Due to injury, Green was also a steal in the second round.
Al Murray was very kind to give me the time to pick his brain. Not only was he approachable but also was kind enough to let his food get cold while I badgered him.
The bottom line? The Kings organization knows what it is doing and for to all Kings fans be patient, the future looks bright.