Kings AHL/ECHL prospects 2009-10 review

By Josh Deitell

AHL – Manchester Monarchs

In a year that saw both the Kings and the Monarchs secure playoff berths, many prospects in the organization had standout campaigns. In particular, Jonathan Bernier had a dominant year for the Monarchs in which he not only won the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award, presented to the best goaltender in the AHL during the regular season, but has also carried the team into the third round of the playoffs and performed head and shoulders above his competing netminders. Considering the injury struggles that plagued the Monarchs throughout the season, his performance is that much more impressive. And with some key prospects sitting on the sidelines with casts and crutches, some unlikely heroes emerged from depth roles to become important contributors and propel the team into the postseason.

Forwards

Justin Azevedo, C
5’7, 180 lbs
Acquired: 6th round (153rd overall), 2008
b. April 1, 1988

After a prolific rookie year, Azevedo entered the 2009-10 campaign with the expectation that he would be a major offensive contributor. He started off the season strong, but fell victim to the injury bug. After missing 30 games, Azevedo returned in February with a bang, scoring five points in his first five games back. He parlayed that tear into a successful streak of play that has continued into the playoffs. Over the entire season, Azevedo had 27 points in 46 games, which despite his limited action is good for eighth on the team. In the playoffs, Azevedo has eight points in 10 games, second to only Bud Holloway.

With his slight stature and primarily one-way game, Azevedo has much adversity to overcome before he’ll get a crack at an NHL roster. He will have to prove that he can be a dominant player at the AHL level, and considering he’s suffered long-term injuries in both of his first AHL seasons, he’ll need to improve his durability as well.

Marc-Andre Cliche, C/RW
6’1, 189 lbs
Acquired: Trade with New York Rangers, 2007
b. March 23, 1987

Though Cliche has yet to find the scoresheet consistently at the AHL level, his defensive ability makes him a valuable depth player, regardless of whether he’s putting points on the board. This season, although Cliche was limited to 11 goals and 14 assists in 66 AHL games, his refined penalty-killing and forechecking ability earned him with a one-game taste of NHL action.

Cliche’s defensive game is already NHL-quality. He looks like he’ll be a useful supporting piece for the Kings, though he’s likely still one more solid AHL season away from being given an opportunity to earn a regular NHL spot.

Richard Clune, LW
5’11, 195 lbs
Acquired: Trade with Dallas, 2008
b. April 25, 1987

A fearless winger who is not shy to drop the gloves, Clune is an energy player who hurts and intimidates. He’ll never be depended on for offense, but his 14 points in 44 AHL games are respectable for a grinder. He first found his way to the Kings roster in February for a two-game cup of coffee, but found a permanent place on the fourth line at the beginning of March, where he remained through the end of the season and playoffs, providing the team with a physical presence that was sorely needed. His four fights in his first 14 NHL games are a promising sign of what he can bring to the Kings, and the fact that he only took three minor penalties over that span illustrates that he can keep his physicality under control. It appears that Clune’s time in minor hockey is over.

Corey Elkins, C
6’3, 216 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2009
b. February 23, 1985

Signed to a contract as a college free agent in the offseason after a breakout year playing college hockey for Ohio State, Elkins was brought in to provide depth for the Monarchs. He ended up being a key player for the team and one of the most consistent contributors at both ends of the ice. In 73 games this year, Elkins potted 21 goals, best on the Monarchs, and he added 22 assists for 43 points. Elkins also made his NHL debut for the Kings, suiting up in three games and scoring his first NHL goal. He still needs some more refinement at the AHL level before he can be considered a surefire NHL prospect, but Elkins’ versatility makes him good call-up fodder, as he can perform capably in nearly any role. He should see more action for the Kings next year if he can maintain his high level of play for the Monarchs.

Bud Holloway, C/W
6’1, 200 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round (86th overall), 2006
b. March 1, 1988

After splitting the 2008-09 season with the Monarchs and the ECHL Ontario Reign, Holloway not only secured a spot with Manchester for the entire 2009-10 campaign, but also established himself as a clutch player with great two-way ability. With 47 points in 75 games, Holloway was the top scorer on the Monarchs this year. In addition to his solid regular season, Holloway has impressed further in the playoffs, scoring six goals in 10 games thus far, all of which were game-winners, and adding five assists.

Holloway’s ability to perform in high-pressure situations is an intangible that cannot be taught, and combined with his capability to play in any situation, he has the potential to be a valuable character player at the NHL level. He’ll likely need to have another great season for the Monarchs next year to be considered a legitimate NHL prospect, but Holloway’s definitely turning some heads.

Dwight King, LW
6’3, 220 lbs
Acquired: 4th round (109th overall), 2007
b. July 5th, 1989

Rapidly developing into an imposing front-of-the-net presence, King has impressed in his transition to professional hockey, being relied on by the Monarchs for secondary scoring and defensively responsible, physical play. His 10 goals and 16 assists in 52 are promising numbers for a rookie, and he’s elevated his game in the playoffs, posting six points in 10 games.

King’s physical stature combined with his fearlessness in front of the net make him an appealing prospect. He’ll likely never be a top offensive contributor, but he has more hockey sense than the typical grinder and more grittiness than the typical goal scorer. Though he’s still got a lot to prove at the AHL level, if he learns to better utilize his large frame and continues to improve his game at both ends of the rink, King could be an imposing presence on the Kings bottom lines.

Trevor Lewis, C/W
6’1, 192 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (17th overall), 2006
b. Jan. 8, 1987

Lewis was one of the few Kings youngsters who survived training camp cuts to start the year on the NHL roster. While he did not look in over his head, Lewis was not able to secure major ice time, and after going pointless in five games, he was sent down to play key minutes for the Monarchs. He struggled in the AHL upon his return before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but he managed to return to the lineup to finish out the season. As a whole, Lewis had five goals and two assists in 23 games on the year.

In the postseason, Lewis has stepped his game up a notch. His five goals and two assists in 10 playoff games match his numbers from the entire regular season, and he’s been a great fit on the Monarchs top line. Lewis will likely be given another opportunity to stick with the big club next year, and could secure a permanent spot on the bottom lines.

Andrei Loktionov, C
5’11, 187 lbs
Acquired: 5th round (123rd overall), 2008
b. May 30, 1990

Loktionov was one of the most productive offensive contributors for the Monarchs this year when he did suit up, but thanks to a dislocated shoulder that he suffered during his first NHL game during a November call-up, the crafty Russian was sidelined for most of the regular season. He returned late in the year, just in time to help the Monarchs earn a playoff spot. Overall, he had 24 points in 29 regular-season games while playing in all situations, and looked to have little trouble adjusting to the professional game.

Although Loktionov is still very young and had somewhat of a ‘lost’ year due to injury, he should get a look in training camp next year. Even if he gets demoted, a productive, healthy season with the Monarchs in 2010-11 would make it difficult for the Kings to keep him down for long.

David Meckler, C/LW
6’0, 214 lbs
Acquired: 5th round (134th overall), 2006

Though Meckler had an impressive AHL debut in 2007-08, scoring 23 goals and adding 13 assists in 76 games, his offensive production has tailed off over the past few years. This season, he only posted 11 goals and nine assists in 73 games, being forced into a defensive role. A gritty winger who made his living scoring goals from in the crease in juniors, Meckler’s development has stalled, even regressed to a certain extent, and while he’s a capable AHL grinder, it would be a stretch to say that he still has NHL potential. He has one more season under contract to prove that there’s more to his game than 10 goals per year in the AHL, but save for a drastic turnaround, the 2010-11 season will likely be Meckler’s last one as a member of the Kings organization.

Juraj Mikus, C
6’1, 205 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2009
b. February 22, 1987

After an unbelievable 2008-09 campaign with Skalica of the Slovak Extraliga in which Mikus posted 90 points in 56 games and finished second in the league in scoring, he was signed by the Kings as a free agent and given the chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp. Mikus’ season was a disappointment, as not only was he demoted to the AHL start the year, he was limited to four goals and nine assists in 56 games with the Monarchs, and found himself a healthy scratch on many occasions.

Much of his struggle can be attributed to difficulties in adapting to a different style of play, but Mikus has not helped his cause by illustrating an unwillingness to get physical, something he’ll need to do if he wants to have success in North American hockey. It remains to be seen whether he’ll stay in the AHL next year to continue adapting or return to the comfort of European hockey.

Scott Parse, LW
5’11, 197 lbs
Acquired: 6th round (174th overall), 2004
b. September 5, 1984

A largely injury-free 2008-09 season and a strong start to this year helped to renew Parse’s status a legitimate prospect after struggles with durability plagued his previous professional campaigns. His play was so impressive that he earned himself a call-up to the NHL roster, and with three points in his first four games with the Kings, Parse garnered praise throughout the organization. Though he was sent down for one more stint with Manchester, Parse was eventually recalled for good, and looks to have moved on to the NHL permanently, securing a role as a supporting offensive contributor for the Kings and even getting iced in the playoffs. Overall, he posted 24 points in 59 games in the NHL this year, most of which he spent on the Kings third line. In the AHL, his 15 points in 14 games gave him the best scoring rate on the team.

Kevin Westgarth, C/RW
6’4, 245 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2007
b. February 7, 1984

Like former Kings heavyweight George Parros before him, Westgarth is an Ivy-league grad who brings an intelligent quality to the enforcer role. This year, Westgarth not only dropped the gloves 18 times for the Monarchs, he also illustrated some offensive capability, posting 11 goals and 14 assists in 76 games. With Raitis Ivanans likely leaving the team as a free agent in the coming months and Clune limited to fighting middleweights, look for Westgarth to assume the resident heavyweight role next year. Though he may not play every night, he brings elements of toughness and intimidation that inspire a comfortable atmosphere against even the most physical of teams.

Defensemen

Drew Bagnall, D
6’3, 215 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2007
b. October 26, 1983

It’s telling that in the final minutes of important games this year in which the Monarchs were attempting to hold a lead, Bagnall was one of the defensemen who was regularly iced to help lock down a win. His 12 points this year in 58 games were a bonus, as he’s not depended on to consistently produce offense.

With a solid defensive game and good size, Bagnall has the characteristics of a dependable shutdown defenseman, but his lack of foot speed limits his NHL potential. In order to compensate, Bagnall will need to continue to refine his positioning to avoid getting caught out of position. As it stands, he’s an important player and leader for the Monarchs who may still have an NHL future as a bottom-pairing, defense-first guy.

Andrew Campbell, D
6’4, 206 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall), 2008
b. February 4, 1988

Originally drafted as a lanky blueliner who would need to fill out in order to be a capable professional defenseman, Campbell has begun to do just that, and his game has improved in the process. Though he’s still capable of costly mental lapses and does not have the best puckmoving ability, Campbell’s adaptability has made him a coach’s favorite. He may never produce at a higher clip than the 11 points he put up in 74 games this year and he still needs a lot of refinement, but if Campbell can work on his decision-making and focus on making safe plays, he could make a case for an NHL call-up as soon as next season. However, with defensive stalwarts Colten Teubert and Jacob Muzzin likely to suit up for the Monarchs for the entirety of the 2010-11 season, he’ll need to play with more consistent intensity if he wants to distinguish himself from his peers and stay in the Kings plans.

Thomas Hickey, D
5’10, 182 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (4th overall), 2007
b. February 8, 1989

After posting seven points in seven games in 2008-09 to start his AHL career, Hickey entered this year looking to secure an NHL roster spot by the end of the season. Unfortunately, things did not go exactly as planned, as a mid-season injury cut his year short, and he’s yet to return to the Monarchs lineup. In the 19 games Hickey did play, he put up one goal and five assists for six points, and had some trouble establishing himself as the dominant player he was in juniors.

The jury’s still out on the former fourth overall pick, as despite the natural talent that he’s displayed in juniors and flashed at the AHL level, he’s yet to put it all together for a long stretch of time. He has an outside shot of making the Kings next year, but the team will likely send him down to see if he can handle the rigors of a full AHL season first.

David Kolomatis, D
5’11, 190 lbs
Acquired: 5th round (126th overall), 2009
b. February 25, 1989

Drafted after his overage season for Owen Sound of the OHL and signed immediately to be a secondary offensive contributor from the blueline for the Monarchs, Kolomatis stepped in and did just that, putting up 29 points in 76 games on the year. His skating and playmaking abilities are above average, as he’s illustrated creativity with the puck that makes him a valuable power-play contributor. He’s a long way from the NHL, needing to bulk up and work on making himself a capable player in his own zone, but he’ll be depended upon to continue putting up points for the Monarchs next year, especially if one or both of Alec Martinez and Vyacheslav Voynov make the Kings roster. 

Alec Martinez, D
6’1, 208 lbs
Acquired: 4th round (95th overall), 2007
b. July 26, 1987

A versatile, two-way defenseman who has consistently improved since being drafted, Martinez had a successful year as the top-scoring defenseman for the Monarchs and got his first taste of NHL action. With 30 points in 55 games, Martinez was the top producer from the blueline for the Monarchs, but his contributions do not end with offense. He plays a patient, disciplined defensive game, and does so with the calm of a much more experienced player.

Though he was slightly overwhelmed in his four-game call-up to Los Angeles, Martinez still displayed poise in dodging forecheckers in his zone and making safe outlet passes. He still needs to bulk up to avoid being overpowered by NHL-sized forwards, but Martinez’s ability to play in all situations makes him a valuable piece for the Kings, and his speed is already NHL-quality. He could join the NHL roster as soon as next year should he perform well in training camp.

Patrick Mullen, D/F
6’0, 181 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2009
b. May 6, 1986

A utility player in the Peter Harrold mold, Mullen played somewhat sparingly this year, both due to injury and being a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. Though Mullen is not particularly deficient in any area and was able to fill in both at defense and forward when the Monarchs more talented players went down to injury, he had trouble carving out a definite role for himself when the club was healthy, not strong enough in any facet of his game to warrant being iced over players with more advanced, specialized skill sets. His 10 points in 44 games aren’t terrible numbers for a rookie, but it remains to be seen whether Mullen will play a major role for the Monarchs next season or be relegated to the status of a spare part for another year.

Jake Muzzin, D
6’2, 216 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2009
b. February 21, 1989

One of Dean Lombardi’s most recent free-agent prospect signings, Muzzin had a breakout year for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, posting 67 points in 64 games and being named the top defensive defenseman in the league in the annual OHL Coaches Poll. He joined the Monarchs for the final game of their regular season and has seen some ice time in the playoffs as well, suiting up for nine games thus far and posting one point, as well as a +3 rating.

Big and mean with an impressive two-way game, Muzzin will be depended on to be a key player for the Monarchs in all situations next year. There are defensemen with more experience who are closer to making the NHL roster, but should he perform well, he could get a chance with the Kings.

Joe Piskula, D
6’3, 214 lbs
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2007
b. July 5, 1984

One of the elder defensemen on the Monarchs blueline, the 25-year-old Piskula was signed at the end of the 2006-07 and given a five-game tryout with the Kings, but has yet to crack the NHL roster since that time. He’s spent the last three seasons working primarily on his defensive game, and has become a dependable defender for the Monarchs, finishing this year a +10, the third-best rating on the team. While Piskula has played capably in the AHL, it’s telling that he hasn’t seen NHL action in the last three years. With multiple talented defensive prospects ahead of Piskula on the Kings depth chart, he may have to look elsewhere if he wants to make it to the NHL, though he still shows the potential to be a bottom-pairing NHLer.

Vyacheslav Voynov, D
5’11", 202 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round (32nd overall), 2008
b. January 15, 1990

After a solid rookie campaign in 2008-09, the still-raw Russian puck-mover continued to improve his all-around game this year, and continues to inch closer to the NHL roster. His 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points in 79 games were career highs in all categories, and his being named to the Planet USA All-Star team emphasizes his importance to the Monarchs.

With the Kings being forced to depend on Matt Greene to play the point on the power play during the 2009-10 season, there’s a void to be filled by a creative offensive defenseman like Voynov. If the Kings deem his defensive game to be up to par, he could start the year with the big club next season, but with other more rounded prospects like Hickey and Martinez in the system, securing a roster spot will be no easy task. Whether Voynov makes the club to start the year or not, he’s not far off.

Goaltenders

Jonathan Bernier, G
6’0, 184 lbs_
Acquired: 1st round (11th overall), 2006
b. August 7, 1998

Having gone through some trials and tribulations over the past few seasons, struggling to find mental consistency and not playing up to his talent level, Bernier seems to have found himself this season. He finished the year with astounding numbers: a .936 save percentage (1st in the league), 2.03 goals against average (2nd), 30 wins (3rd), and nine shutouts (1st). In the playoffs so far, he leads the league in every one of those categories. Bernier also received his first starts for the Kings since the onset of the 2007-08 season and showed no trouble handling NHL shooters, winning all three of the games he played in.

Though Bernier is one of the major reasons for the Monarchs success this season, they’ll likely have to manage without him next year, as the Kings can only hold him back from the NHL for so long. Look for him to make the Kings out of training camp next year and split starts with Jonathan Quick as he attempts to steal away the starting role.

Jeff Zatkoff, G
6’3, 170 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall), 2006
b. June 8, 1987

Though Zatkoff was stuck behind Bernier this year, the young goalie is still an important prospect for the Kings, and helps to solidify their goaltending depth. This year, in 22 games, Zatkoff posted 10 wins, nine losses, a .915 save percentage, and a 2.92 goals against average. Though his numbers are not spectacular, Zatkoff was never given the opportunity to start for an extended streak of games and find a groove. He has much more talent than his statistics indicate. With Bernier appearing ready for the NHL, Zatkoff will be given every opportunity to start a majority of the games for the Monarchs next year. Should he perform well, he’ll give the Kings another solid option in goal, though his NHL potential may be limited to that of a quality backup.

ECHL – Ontario Reign

While the Monarchs are in the midst of their most successful season in years, the Reign were unable to recapture a postseason berth in just their second year of existence, finishing the year mere points out of a playoff spot.

Michael Pelech, C
6’3, 206 lbs
Acquired: 6th round (156th overall),

Unable to secure a spot on the Monarchs this year, the gritty forward played the entire season with the Reign. Pelech had a solid if unspectacular rookie year offensively, posting 35 points in 72 games, and also racked up 133 penalty minutes on the season. Pelech looks to be ready for a bottom-six grinding role with the Monarchs, though he still needs to work on playing a more disciplined game. He’ll likely find himself in Manchester for most or all of next year and into the near future; as of now, he’s yet to illustrate any definite NHL potential.

Colten Teubert, D
6’4, 201 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (13th overall)
b. March 8, 1990

An intimidating physical defenseman, Teubert rounded out his WHL career this year by posting 40 points and 115 penalty minutes in 60 games for the Regina Pats. For the second straight year, he moved on to the Ontario Reign to round out his season, and while he was unable to impose his will on opposing players in the same fashion that he did in junior hockey, he flashed some of the intensity and checking ability that led the Kings to spend a first-round pick on him. Though Teubert currently lacks the discipline necessary to be depended upon in all situations, with a few years of refinement, he could be a two-way force at the NHL level as a second-pairing defenseman. He’ll start his professional career next season, likely spending most of the year with the Reign.