Manchester Monarchs 2010-11 preview

By Josh Deitell

Though the Monarchs appear poised for success in the 2010-11 season, it will not be without challenges. After making a run to the Eastern Conference finals last year on the back of Kings’ top prospect Jonathan Bernier, the Monarchs will need to prove this year that they can succeed without the elite netminder. Bernier’s graduation, combined with the ascension of multiple players to the Kings’ roster and the departure of others from the organization, requires the Monarchs’ returning players and newcomers take on additional responsibility. However, with a roster made up almost entirely of prospects under contract with Los Angeles, one of the most varied and talented defensive cores in the AHL, and some quality options in goal, the Monarchs are, at least on paper, a force to be reckoned with.

Forwards

After playing parts of the last two seasons with the Kings, prospect Oscar Moller returns to the Monarchs for what will likely be his last season in the AHL. He will be the go-to player for offensive production. The most notable newcomer to the lineup is Brandon Kozun, who led the WHL in scoring in 2009-10 and should assume a key offensive role from the onset of the season. Likely candidates for the other top-six roles are Bud Holloway, who led the Monarchs in scoring last season, second-year pro Corey Elkins, who potted 21 goals as an AHL rookie, and Justin Azevedo, who has struggled with injuries as a professional but did lead the OHL in scoring in 2007-08. Steamroller Dwight King will bounce around the lineup and could find himself on one of the top two lines.

The bottom-six will be dominated by grit and defensive ability. Richard Clune joins the team after being one of the Kings’ final cuts and will bring his abrasive physical game and middleweight fighting ability to the Monarchs, though he’s a prime call-up candidate. Newly signed Jordan Nolan takes over for now-King Kevin Westgarth as the team’s heavyweight. Marc-Andre Cliché is a penalty-kill and face-off specialist who chips in offensively from time to time.

Rounding out the roster and fighting for ice time is sparkplug John Zeiler, free-agent addition Ray Kaunisto, who plays a high energy game and is a bit of a wild card at this point, and Michael Pelech, who played a major role in the success of the Ontario Reign last season with his all-around play. The only non-Kings’ forwards on the roster are Zach Harnden, a gritty two-way forward, and Justin Johnson, a pugilist who led the ECHL in penalty minutes last season, dropping the gloves 20 times.

Though Andrei Loktionov is starting the season with the Kings, his reassignment to the Monarchs would give them another weapon to work with, and he’d take over as the most creative forward on the roster. Trevor Lewis would also be a welcome returnee to the Monarchs’ roster, but being that he needs to clear waivers to be reassigned to the minors, he’s likely played his last game for Manchester. Gabe Gauthier, Geoff Walker, and Juraj Mikus are other notable departures.

Defense

Similar to their parent club, the Monarchs depend heavily on puck movement from their blueliners. With talented offensive defenseman Vyacheslav Voynov still out after suffering a shoulder injury in August, the Monarchs will be heavily reliant on Thomas Hickey at the start of the season, particularly in quarterbacking the powerplay. Once Voynov returns, he’ll help to shoulder some of the load.

Alec Martinez, who led Monarchs’ blueliners in points last season, is an unsung player who can play in any situation. Other offensive options include David Kolomatis, who performed admirably as a depth puck-mover last season, and Johan Fransson, who at 25 years of age is the elder statesman on the Monarchs’ blue line and will be looked upon to provide leadership and two-way play, unless he decides to return to Europe.

On the flip side of the coin, the Monarchs have a few defensively responsible options to work with, though there have been a couple of key subtractions. No longer with the organization are captain Drew Bagnall and depth defenseman Joe Piskula. Returning is third-year Monarch Andrew Campbell, who will be depended upon to play a major defensive role. Colten Teubert will likely be joining the Monarchs this season for the first time after he recovers from his hand injuries and will provide the team with a bruising physical presence. Utility player Patrick Mullen is a useful spare part. Newcomer Jordan Hill, the only non-Kings defenseman on the roster, is a good locker room presence and leader who’s tough to play against.

Last but not least, there’s Jake Muzzin, who made the Kings out of training camp. Though he’s still raw and developing in all aspects of his game, should he find himself reassigned to Manchester, he’ll be one of the Monarchs’ top defensemen.

Goaltending

Though the loss of a goaltender of Bernier’s caliber would hurt any organization in the AHL, the hope is that Jeff Zatkoff can step up and seize the opportunity to be the Monarchs’ backstop. Backing up Zatkoff for the time being is Erik Ersberg, who lost out on the Kings’ backup gig and returns to Manchester for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The Kings will attempt to give Ersberg an opportunity with another NHL team, or he might return to Europe.

Martin Jones, who was on the Monarchs’ roster until Ersberg’s reassignment but now is due to start the season in the ECHL, joins the professional ranks after an outstanding two years with Calgary of the WHL.

Coaching

Mark Morris is entering his fifth season as Manchester’s head coach. In 320 career games, his record stands at 170 wins, 115 losses, and 35 overtime losses. Longtime NHLer Scott Pellerin, Morris’ assistant since joining the Monarchs, is also back for another year.

Prospects

Though the Kings are not depending on their prospects to fill key roles next season, a total of seven rookies made the final cut and will start the year on the Kings’ roster. Jonathan Bernier is the most likely to make a major impact, as though he’s not being counted upon to be anything more than Jonathan Quick’s backup next season, he could force a goalie controversy with solid play.

Up front, Brayden Schenn and Kyle Clifford are both ineligible to join the Monarchs this season and are looking to secure spots in depth roles to avoid returning to juniors after before the 10-game limit. Schenn is a top-six prospect but earned a bottom-six two-way role with the Kings and is starting the season on the top powerplay unit. Clifford pushed Richard Clune off the roster with his capable all-around play and affinity for dropping the gloves. Kevin Westgarth has the enforcer role locked up and Trevor Lewis has stuck as a spare part, by virtue of his waiver-eligibility and ability to play a variety of roles. Andrei Loktionov, who showed poise and slickness with and without the puck during camp, is fighting for a depth role and powerplay minutes.

On defense, Jake Muzzin surprised by claiming a bottom-pairing spot in his first professional camp and impressed in pre-season play.

There were also a few cuts that stood out. Thomas Hickey competed with Muzzin for the last defensive spot up until final cuts; he’s a prime candidate to be recalled during the season. Brandon Kozun showed off blazing speed and some great offensive skills, though he was demolished a few times along the boards. Jordan Nolan earned a contract with his two-way play and size. Nicolas Deslauriers has continued to polish his game and looks like a gem of a prospect. Robert Czarnik looked like he would start his professional career this season with the Monarchs, but was cut at the last minute and returned to the OHL.