The Rebuilding of a Kingdom
(Written by Donna Sarasin and David Ward)
The Kings have had plenty of time to ponder their strategy for the new season. Realizing at the end of the prior season, after missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, changes needed to be made to turn the tide. No time was wasted as within two weeks after the regular season ended, Kings General Manager Sam McMaster, was fired and replaced by Assistant General Manager Dave Taylor on 22 April 1997. Taylor promised Kings fans that he would be the one to bring success to the Kings franchise by developing prospects, pursuing quality free agents plus utilizing the entry draft picks to create a franchise of the future.
The Kings began their commitment to the future by signing their top prospects Pavel Rosa, Donald MacLean and Olli Jokinen during the summer break. Pavel Rosa, the Kings second round choice, 50th overall, in the 1995 entry draft, led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) in goals (63), assists (90) and points (153) during last season. Rosa is only the fifth player to lead the QMJHL in goals, points and assists. The other players who have accomplished this feat are Mario Lemieux, Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk and Daniel Briere. Rosa, who led his team the Hull Olympiques to the 1997 Memorial Cup, alone is not the answer to the Kings offensive shortcomings; however Rosa’s scoring abilities should improve the Kings weak offensive unit. The Kings acquired the draft pick that was used to draft Rosa from Pittsburgh in the Robitaille and Tocchet trade. The Kings then traded Tocchet to Boston for Kevin Stevens. Robitaille was then dealt back to the Kings for Stevens. All in all the Kings came out ahead in this trade because the Kings got Robitaille back and still have Rosa, who was sent to play in Fredericton American Hockey League (AHL) due to a concussion and loss of ice time during training camp in September. Rosa is still suffering from dizziness from the concussion and has not played much for Fredericton. He is expected to be sidelined a few more weeks. It is expected for Rosa to be called up by the Kings this season and should be in a Kings uniform for years to come.
Rosa’s Hull Olympiques teammate, Don MacLean, was selected by McMaster in the second round in the 1995 draft, 33rd overall. MacLean had 43 goals and 89 points last season in the QMJHL. He is 6’2″, 174 lbs and fits into Larry Robinson’s “big player” team philosophy. According to scouting reports, MacLean could be a strong third or fourth line center although scouts for the Kings have projected MacLean to be a second line center if he can score or the Kings have the option to move MacLean to play left wing. MacLean has signed a 3 year contract with the Kings. Taylor, recently stated regarding MacLean, “He is a good two-way centerman. Donald is very solid at both ends of the ice. We think he is going to be a good player down the road.” MacLean has obtained a spot on the Kings roster due to his performance in training camp. MacLean stated in an article in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, “After winning the (Memorial) Cup last year, I realized I’d played the best hockey of my life and I saw the potential I had. I worked hard, came into camp in great shape and it paid off”. MacLean is currently playing LW on the number one line with Jozef Stumpel and Craig Johnson.
Jamie Storr has recently signed a 1 year contract. Taylor and the Kings organization believe that Storr is ready and capable to play at the NHL level and he will be backing up Stephane Fiset this season. Storr had performed well during training camp although he suffered a groin injury towards the end of camp. He was placed on the injured reserve list and still has yet to play this season. Storr is listed day to day.
The Kings other leading candidates, Eric Belanger, Josh Green and Marian Cisar, were reviewed during Kings training camp in September at the their practice facility in North Hills, CA. Although Cisar, Belanger and Green were sent to the minors expect to see them in Kings uniforms in the next few years.
Eric Belanger, 5’11” 196 lbs, drafted in the fourth round in 1996 as part of the Eric Lacroix/Chris Snell trade. Belanger is a centerman with speed and he is considered to be a playmaker. Belanger with Pavel Rosa were in the top 10 leading scorers in the QMJHL for the previous season. Belanger is considered to be one of the best playmakers in the QMJHL; he has the potential to be a number one center. Belanger was assigned to Fredericton (AHL) on 22 September. Although Belanger was sidelined with the flu, he is back on the ice for Fredericton. To date, Belanger has played 6 games scoring 1 goal and three assists.
LW Josh Green was selected with the Kings first pick in the 1996 draft in the second round, 30th overall. Scouts report that Green is projected to be a first or second line left winger with potential to develop into a player with physical presence plus the ability to score. McMaster rated Green as the number four prospect in the 1996 draft and was thrilled to obtain him. Green was sent to Swift Current Ontario Hockey League (OHL) on 25 September for the upcoming season.
Marian Cisar was drafted in the 2nd round in 1996 for his offensive skills. Cisar came over to the United States from his native Slovakia to play North American style hockey as well as learn the English language. Cisar is now considered a gritty two-way RW who can score a lot. According to his junior league coach, Cisar has made considerable improvement. Cisar was returned to Spokane Western Hockey League (WHL) on 15 September 1997 and according to reports is putting up good numbers for Spokane. Cisar is more than likely a year or two away from joining the Kings as Cisar is expected to play this whole season in juniors then next season in the AHL. With Cisar’s continued development he could see action with the Kings next season.
Draft day 1997 was a day to look forward to as the Kings had three draft picks within the top 30 selections. As expected Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were drafted as number one and two respectively by Boston and San Jose. All eyes were fixed on Dave Taylor as he made his way to the podium to announce the Kings first pick of the draft, third overall. The Kings selected 6’2″ 198 lbs centerman Olli Jokinen who played with IFK Helsinki in Finland this past season. Jokinen was the top rated and top drafted European player in this draft. Although Jokinen is only 18 years old, he has experience playing against men in the Finnish elite league. Jokinen is fast on the ice and will use his height and weight to his advantage. “I am willing to fight”, Jokinen was quoted in The Hockey News’ draft preview issue. Jokinen signed a three year contract on 16 July 1997, and has obtained a spot on the Kings roster.
The Kings also possessed the fifteenth pick overall as part of the Wayne Gretzky trade to St. Louis in 1996. Matt Zultek scored 27 goals in his first season as a member of the Ottawa 67’s; Zultek was also named to the OHL’s second all-star team. Zultek, 6’4″ 218 lbs, describes himself as a hard worker on both offense and defense. He is considered to be a physical player and is not afraid to go to the net. Although Zultek was in Kings training camp in September and played several preseason games, he was returned to Ottawa (OHL) on 16 September. Zultek has played 11 games for the 67’s; scoring 3 goals and 3 assists with 47 PIM.
With their second round selection, 29th overall, the Kings selected center Scott Barney. Barney was still available in the second round of the draft even though in the mid season draft review, he was expected to be a top ten pick. Barney’s stock fell by the draft because he didn’t play up to expectations as he played injured most of last season. According to scouting reports Barney, 6’4″ 198lbs, is a fairly aggressive, skilled forward. He has he capabilities to become a NHL power forward with hard work and the proper attitude. Reports state that Barney is capable of scoring 60-80 points per season at the NHL level. Barney spent the last season at Peterborough (OHL); he played 64 games accumulating 21 goals, 33 assists for a total of 54 points. Barney had a good training camp with the Kings and is predicted to have a better season this year. Barney was returned to Peterborough on 16 September. If Barney plays up to expectations, he could move up to the AHL during this season after completion of his junior season. “Although centers Scott Barney and LW Matt Zultek were returned to the OHL, coach Larry Robinson was impressed with their play in training camp.”
As July 1st approached, Kings fans waited anxiously to see which free agents that Dave Taylor would pursue during the offseason; many highly skilled veteran players were available this past summer that would be able to help the Kings hockey club to a winning season plus provide the essential leadership that is necessary to build a solid foundation for this young club. The Kings signed D Garry Galley, an unrestricted free agent, on July 5, 1997 to a three year contract. Galley, was drafted by the Kings in the 1983 entry draft in the fifth round, 100th overall, returns to the Kings after leaving Los Angeles ten years ago. Galley stated “It is an opportunity for me to finish where I started and to better what I did before. It is going to be exciting for me to bring my experience and leadership to a young club that looks very good and has a lot of potential.”
The Kings traded LW Kevin Stevens to the New York Rangers for LW Luc Robitaille on 28 August 1997. Although this trade seemed like a wash to many experts as both players have seemed to have lost a step and on the down side of their careers, the Kings seem to believe that Robitaille will help to ignite the offense. Robitaille, a former 50 goal scorer, has a better knack of getting the puck into the net than Stevens. Robitaille’s return to a more friendly environment in Los Angeles could be a motivational factor to increase his offensive production. Don’t expect Robitaille to repeatedly light up the scoreboard for the Kings all the time as Robitaille will need to have someone to create the scoring opportunities, but “Lucky” should make a significant impact on the offense which appeared to be dismal in the past few seasons.
The day following the Stevens/Robitaille trade, Dave Taylor announced that the Kings had made another trade. This time LW Dimitri Khristich and G Byron Dafoe were being shipped to the Boston Bruins for C Jozef Stumpel, RW Sandy Moger plus a fourth round draft pick in 1998. This trade is a win-win situation for both hockey clubs. The Bruins acquire a proven goal scorer with Khristich and a solid goaltender with Dafoe. The Kings continue their quest for youth in trading the 28 year old Khristich for 25 year old Stumpel, who is also emerging as a play-making center which is something that the Kings have needed to past few seasons. Stumpel led the Bruins in scoring last season with 22 goals and 54 assists in 78 games. Although Moger was injured during the end of last season, he finished out last season with 10 goals and 3 assists in 34 games. Moger, 6’2″, 190 lbs, will provide size that is needed on the right side plus has the ability to get to the net.
The Kings organization and fans alike will soon find out if the offseason acquisitions and signings will be the remedy to the postseason drought that has plagued the Kings since the ’93 Stanley Cup run. The Kings have taken a step in the right direction by continuing the rebuilding process that McMaster started in his tenure in Los Angeles. McMaster was responsible for creating the Kings movement to the rebuilding process. It is apparent that Taylor will continue this process that will hopefully lead the Kings to a Stanley Cup sometime in the future. The additions of Rosa, MacLean and Jokinen will have an offensive impact on the team perhaps as early as this season. The acquisitions of Robitaille and Galley should provide the veteran leadership to help these young players adjust to the NHL level of play. Stumpel and Moger bring in more size and skill to the offense which will hopefully lead to more points on the scoreboard on the Kings behalf. Even though it seemed like the Kings had a quiet offseason, Taylor and company were quite busy changing the look of this team. Whether or not the changes will pay off this season, only time will tell. We wish Taylor and the Kings organization the best of luck in the new season!