After a long period of turnover, the Kings have found some stability. Capable of icing a quality lineup without rushing prospects or trading them for immediate help, gone are the days of shipping out blue chip prospects and signing an excess of free agents to fill key roles. With a solid young core in place, look for the year-by-year changes to the Kings roster to be as minimal as possible, with an increased emphasis on keeping the nucleus intact and promoting team chemistry. This is a stark contrast from the constant flux of the late 90s and early 2000s, but one that is already beginning to pay dividends.
Newer additions to the prospect pool can be summed up in one word: diverse. The Kings have focused on picking up players with unique playing styles in recent drafts, with the mindset that a varied assortment of skaters who gel together in the team’s system makes for a more successful team than a roster of uniform players.
Currently playing for the Kings as a 19-year-old rookie, Kyle Clifford has not quite been able to establish himself offensively at the NHL level, going pointless in nine games, but nevertheless has shown a lot of promise. Originally drafted as a physical forward with an aptitude for fighting, Clifford developed a goal-scoring touch during his three years in the OHL. It remains to be seen whether or not the Kings will keep him around after the 10-game mark, potentially burning a year off his entry-level contract. Regardless, Clifford looks to have a long NHL future ahead of him.
Suiting up for the Monarchs are Dwight King, Richard Clune, and Ray Kaunisto. The aptly named King has been given more offensive responsibility for the Monarchs this year, and has not disappointed. He has posted nine points in 13 games so far this year, impressing with his physical play and getting a chance to play on the man-advantage. Richard Clune lost his gig on the Kings to Kyle Clifford, but continues to mix it up for the Monarchs in an agitator role. Should Clifford be sent back to the OHL this year, he’ll be a prime candidate for a fourth line role. Ray Kaunisto was signed as an undrafted free agent from the college ranks this past summer to provide the Monarchs with depth. A scrappy, two-way forward with some offensive upside, Kaunisto is still a bit of a wild card.
Rounding out the group is the only left-winger not playing in North American, Maxim Kitsyn. He is among the top five prospects on the Kings if judging on skill alone, but he’s a boom-or-bust prospect in the truest sense of the phrase. With three goals on the season (a hat trick) and four points in 10 games, the offensively gifted, enigmatic winger has already exceeded his output in both categories from last year.
The cream of the center crop is Brayden Schenn, who tore up the WHL last year and has stuck with the Kings thus far this year as a 19-year-old, if only because he has nothing left to prove in juniors. Though he’s playing in a fourth line role now, Schenn is getting some powerplay time here and there, and is patiently being groomed as the second line center of the future.
Also sticking with the Kings this year is Trevor Lewis, who made the roster out of camp last season as well but spent most of his injury-shortened 2009-10 campaign with the Monarchs. Too old to be sent down without being exposed to waivers, Lewis has been a healthy scratch much of the time, but the speedy forward is playing in a utility role with the big club.
Equal to Schenn in skill but without the same edge, Andrei Loktionov looks to be a fifth round steal for the Kings. Loktionov made the Kings out of camp, spending some time on the first line and top powerplay unit, but was recently sent down to play top minutes in Manchester. The Kings have been experimenting with playing him at wing, a position change that may make it easier for him to stick in a top-six role with the Kings sooner rather than later.
Also suiting up for the Monarchs this year are Bud Holloway, Corey Elkins, David Meckler, Justin Azevedo, Jordan Nolan, and Michael Pelech. Holloway, the Monarchs’ leader in points during the 2009-10 campaign, tied the AHL playoff record last year with six game-winning goals during the postseason. A clutch performer with a good work ethic, Holloway looks like he’ll end up a useful role player. Elkins returns to Manchester after a successful 2009-10 campaign, in which he potted 21 goals in 73 games as a rookie and made his NHL debut. He’s off to a strong start with 10 points in 13 games. Meckler seems to have regained the nose for the net that led him to pot 23 goals as an AHL rookie. He’s pacing the team with seven goals in 13 games thus far. Azevedo is healthy and playing a key role for Manchester, coming off two seasons cut short by injury. His offensive skills have never been in doubt, but he needs to show he can handle the professional game by staying in the lineup this year. Nolan and Pelech are lining up in the Monarchs’ bottom six, providing toughness and two-way play.
The Kings have a two centers playing in the junior ranks: Jordan Weal and Robbie Czarnik. Last season Weal finished second in the league in assists and third in points. This year, Weal has continued to impress, posting 23 points in 16 games thus far. Perhaps his strongest qualities are his tenacity on the forecheck and work ethic, attributes that will translate well to the NHL, even if his offensive game doesn’t. Czarnik is one of the more difficult prospects to judge. Having gone through some ups and downs in his time with the University of Michigan, Czarnik jumped ship to Plymouth of the OHL, where he became a go-to player. This year, in spite of Tyler Seguin’s departure, Czarnik is impressing by
shouldering the offensive load, posting 15 points in 10 games to date. His upside will become clearer once he transitions to the professional ranks.
The Kings are represented by three collegiate centers. Garrett Roe and Nic Dowd are both suiting up for St. Cloud State. Roe, a senior, has been a key part of the team for three years running, and with eight points in 10 games so far, looks poised for another successful season. Dowd, joining the Huskies for his first year in college, has suited up for all 10 games, but only posted two points. Josh “Podge” Turnbull looks to be turning things around a bit as a senior at the University of Wisconsin, posting six points in ten games so far on the year after accumulating just two in twelve games last season.
Juraj Mikus and the Kings mutually agreed to part ways before the season after a disappointing 2009-10 season with the Monarchs. He’s now playing for Riga Dynamo in the KHL.
The team has two right-wingers suiting up for Manchester this year in Brandon Kozun and Marc-Andre Cliche. Kozun has already made his presence felt as an AHL rookie, posting 10 points in 12 games. One of the top scorers in the WHL the past two seasons, the young winger is rife with talent, but needs to overcome his size to make it to the NHL. Cliche was recently awarded the Monarchs’ captaincy. An intelligent two-way forward, Cliche has battled injuries early in his professional career. With his checking ability and speed, he has bottom-six NHL upside.
The team’s top right wing prospect is 2010 draft pick Tyler Toffoli, who is playing for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL this year. A gritty goal-scorer who potted 37 goals last year in 65 games, Toffoli has started off this season with 11 goals and 22 points in 18 games.
Hard-working winger Linden Vey has established himself as a top player for Medicine Hat of the WHL. He paced the team with 51 assists and 75 points last year, and is the Tigers’ leader in both categories through 14 games this year, with 18 assists and 25 points.
With eight defensemen under contract with the Kings suiting up for the Monarchs this year, the team has plenty of options to work with.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Kings organization this year was Jake Muzzin making the NHL team out of training camp. With Matt Greene nursing an injury to start the season, Muzzin secured an eight-game gig and played well. He’ll be looked upon to be a top defenseman for the Monarchs this season at both ends of the rink, and it looks as if it’s only a matter of time before he’s recalled again.
After struggling with injuries last season and only suiting up for 19 games with the Monarchs, Thomas Hickey came to training camp healthy and with something to prove. He was one of the team’s final cuts, but his play has been underwhelming with the Monarchs. With only four points in 13 games, the former fourth overall pick is behind three other defensemen in scoring, though he has shown signs of turning things around in the past few games.
Leading the Monarchs in points thus far is Alec Martinez, who continues to establish himself as a top defenseman at the AHL level with dependable two-way play. Though he appeared overwhelmed in his four games in the NHL last season, with 10 points in 13 AHL games, he’s on track to be one of the team’s first injury call-ups.
After starting the year on injured reserve, Vyacheslav Voynov has returned to the Manchester lineup and is putting his name on the score sheet with frequency. With seven points in nine games, the offensive defenseman is producing like a player who wants to play in the NHL sooner rather than later.
The other Kings-contracted defensemen playing for the Monarchs are Andrew Campbell, David Kolomatis, and Patrick Mullen. Campbell has continued to refine his positioning and physical play and is succeeding in a stay-at-home role amongst the flashier defensemen on the roster. Kolomatis continues to produce as a supporting offensive defenseman, with seven points in 12 games. Mullen is a utility player; his plus-one rating and three assists in 13 games are respectable considering his limited role.
Yet to play this season is Colten Teubert, who is nursing multiple hand injuries. He was a top ECHL defenseman last year for the Ontario Reign, but has yet to make his AHL debut. The Monarchs will try to fit the bruising blueliner into the lineup when he’s ready.
The sole CHL defenseman in the system is Nicolas Deslauriers, who is turning into a quality, well-rounded blueliner. His 17 points in 17 games with Gatineau of the QMJHL is tops amongst the team’s defensemen.
Making his college debut for the University of North Dakota this season is NTDP-grad Derek Forbort. Aside from battling with an illness that has him sidelined for a brief span, Forbort’s transition has been almost seamless. Playing in the Sioux’s second defensive pairing, Forbort has posted five points in six games while playing a strong all-around game. The sky’s the limit for the still-raw blueliner
Joining Garrett Roe and Nic Dowd at St. Cloud State is Kevin Gravel, a freshman defensive defenseman who the Kings selected late in the 2010 draft. He’s a very raw prospect, but his physical tools are intriguing, and he’s getting a regular shift in his first college campaign.
After signing a one-year deal with the Kings this past summer with the intention of making the Kings out of camp, when Johan Fransson was sent down to Manchester to start the season, he promptly decided to make his way across the pond to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL this year.
What is there to be said about Jonathan Bernier that hasn’t been? A top goaltender in the AHL last year, Bernier and Jonathan Quick give the Kings a quality one-two punch in goal, perhaps the best tandem of goalte
nders that the team has ever had. For now, Bernier’s limited to playing back-to-backs and the occasional spot start, as Quick has started the season as one of the hottest goalies in the NHL. Regardless of how things shake up this season, Bernier has the potential to be among the elite goaltenders in the NHL, and will continue to be brought along patiently.
Taking over for Bernier in Manchester are Jeff Zatkoff and Martin Jones. Zatkoff has had the edge in starts, getting the nod in eight of the team’s twelve games so far. He’s been solid for the most part, posting four wins with a .899 save percentage and 2.89 goals against average, but has had some issues with inconsistency. Jones is nipping at his heels and has posted better numbers, albeit with a sample size of only two games. With Erik Ersberg moving on to the KHL, the two will compete for starts all season long.
Last but not least is Jean-Francois Berube, the starting goaltender for the Montreal Juniors of the QMJHL. Playing behind a solid club, Berube has won eight of his eleven starts, but his .881 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average are concerning, even in the high-scoring Q.