Despite missing out on the big fish of the free-agent market, Brad Richards, the Kings managed to add two key pieces this summer while keeping their core together.
GM Dean Lombardi made an important decision in trading away Brayden Schenn, who was not only the top prospect in the organization but is arguably the best in the league, and Wayne Simmonds, one of the first fruits from Lombardi-era draft classes and a still-developing player, for Mike Richards, a proven talent and captain with a laundry list of accomplishments. That trade preceded the signing of Simon Gagne, which cemented the Kings intent to be a cup contender next season. If you include the trade deadline deal that sent Colten Teubert and the team’s 2011 first round pick to the Oilers for Dustin Penner, Lombardi has made three major moves aimed towards winning a Stanley Cup after years of conservative management afforded the team an excess of depth on the main roster and in the prospect pool. This newfound freedom from rebuilding-focused restraint is evident in the Kings’ 2011 draft class, as rather than reaching for boom-or-bust impact talent the Kings selections were either players passed over in previous drafts that caught the team’s eye or depth-type project picks with which the team has the ability to be patient.
The third goalie drafted in the 2011 draft, Gibson comes into a situation that is both nurturing and challenging with the LA Kings. Behind a number of talented goaltenders on the depth chart – such as Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Martin Jones, and J-F Berube – the 18-year-old will have plenty of time to work on his game without being pressured to ascend through the ranks. At the same time, for the time being, Gibson is the only netminder in the system not inked to a pro deal, and is a major part of the team’s future in net. Still, Gibson relishes the challenge.
"I think it’s important to have these people that you need to compete against, it brings the best out of everyone," he said right after being drafted.
The Finnish-born goaltender is used to adversity, having come across the pond from Finland as a 16-year-old to play Midget AAA hockey for the Notre Dame Hounds. He won the Telus Cup, Canadian’s national midget hockey championship, with the Hounds in April 2009 before being drafted by Chicoutimi the summer thereafter.
"It’s all about mental toughness," Gibson said.
He played so well this past season that Chicoutimi dealt import Robin Gusse, who was splitting starts with Gibson, mid-way through the year. Tending net for an offensively challenged team that scored the fifth-least goals in the Q, Gibson posted a 14-15-8 record in 37 games. His .920 save percentage was best in the league and his 2.42 goals against average ranked him second. The only glitch in his performance was in the playoffs, where a strong Drummondville team overwhelmed him in the first round and he posted a 5.20 goals against average and .865 save percentage in a four-game sweep.
Gibson plays a positionally sound, economical style similar to that of current Kings prospect and Q alum Jonathan Bernier. When he’s on his game, he shows little open net to shooters and makes saves look easy. Kim Houston from the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau described him as "technically…very strong, always in the right position." She went on to add that he, "Gets himself out and is aggressive out at the top of the paint (and) anticipates where the puck is going well."
It’s not often that 20-year-old players get picked in the first half of a draft, so it may have come as somewhat of a shock that the Kings took a flier on Andreoff in the third round of selections, but it’s not every day that players progress so much in a single season as the feisty two-way forward did last year. After posting 15 goals and 33 assists to go with a minus-18 rating on an Oshawa team that missed the playoffs in 2009-10, Andreoff was part of a major turnaround which saw the Generals not only make the playoffs, but win their first series since 2008. Andreoff, for his part, scored 33 goals and added 42 assists to go along with a team-best plus-34 rating and a team-high 109 penalty minutes.
"Over the summer, I was working pretty hard on my skating, puck protection, stick-handling, and shooting," Andreoff said at the recent Kings development camp when asked for the reason behind his rapid improvement. "That work helped during the season."
More importantly, Andreoff’s mental state improved as he garnered more responsibility.
"I think my confidence got a little bit better," he said. "Coach gave me a lot of chances and I capitalized on them."
Given his age and physical stature, standing 6’1 and about 200 lbs, Andreoff is poised to make the jump to the pro ranks this season, though whether he’ll play for the Monarchs in a depth role or be a key player for the Reign is uncertain. Like Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds before him, who were passed over in their draft years but selected by the Kings as high picks afterwards, Andreoff is a hard-working bottom-six type with a still-expanding offensive upside.
Nick Shore, C – University of Denver (WCHA)
3rd round, 82nd overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 184 lbs
Ask the Pioneers’ head coach, George Gwozdecky about Shore, and it’s clear that he’s taken a liking to the young forward.
"It’s easy coaching Nick," Gwozdecky told Hockey’s Future in February. "He’s extremely intelligent. He is a guy that will listen and work at his game. You couldn’t ask for a better attitude or a guy who works any harder than Nick. It’s certainly a nice combination when you add in just his overall skill set. It’s a tremendous thing for our program to have."
That combination of a good attitude and skill led the Kings to take an interest in Shore and trade up to select him in the third round despite what could be considered, statistically middling season. Shore was bothered by a wrist injury sustained in the first game of the season but still managed seven goals and 11 assists through 33 games, playing mostly alongside fellow true freshman Beau Bennett (PIT).
When asked about his game, Shore is determined to define himself as more than just an offensive contributor.
"I’d say that I’m a two-way center that is very reliable in the defensive zone and able to create offense in the offensive zone," Shore said. "I’m good on faceoffs as well. I think being able to play at both ends of the ice is a big part of it and developing both parts of my game is really important."
He’s not the flashiest player, but with his combination of speed, skill, and all-around play, Shore has the potential to be somewhere between a second and third line center down the road.
Michael Mersch, LW – University of Wisconsin
4th round, 110th overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 198 lbs
Described as a "gangly giraffe" by Coach Enrico Blasi, Mersch is a budding power forward who’s still raw in both stature and playing style. The NTDP grad came to Wisconsin unaware of his physical potential and has been asked to make a commitment to getting bigger and playing more aggressively. He’s responded to the challenge positively.
"I’ve had to learn to use my big body, and that’s helped me become a better player," Mersch said at the draft. "Playing strong in the corners and in front of the nets is a big part of my game."
As a true freshman at Wisconsin, Mersch played in all 41 of the team’s games, posting eight goals and 11 assists. While his play is still unpolished, he’s shown a willingness to improve the aspects of his game that need work, such as his skating stride, which is being constantly reworked by the university’s private skating instructor.
"I’m always looking to get better … I need to work on my footwork a lot, I’m doing that over the summer," he said. "You can never get strong enough or quick enough. It’s a process and I’m working hard at it and taking full advantage of (the opportunities at Wisconsin)."
Like Andreoff, Mersch can be characterized as a hard-working prospect that projects as a depth player distinguished by a good attitude.
Joel Lowry, LW – Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
5th round, 140th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 180 lbs
Being passed over in the 2010 draft was not the first time that Lowry has been disappointed, but he’s made the best of his opportunities and now has the chance to play for a distinguished NCAA program at Cornell.
"I didn’t make Red Deer as a 17-year-old and then I started looking at the college route and the BCHL was my best option in order to go that way," Lowry said at Kings development camp. "I went there for my 18-year-old season and had an OK season and then went back there last season and ended up getting a commitment to Cornell."
Part of the reason Lowry has been able to successfully deal with adversity is that he’s had an understanding of what it takes to be a professional from a young age. His father, Dave, played 1,084 NHL games spread across five teams and has been behind the bench for six years, four of which he spent with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL before moving on to the Calgary Flames.
"Not everyone has an opportunity to experience a lot of what I experienced growing up," he said. "Just being around a lot of NHL players when I was really young and seeing how hard they work every day and getting to watch a lot of games and understand how the play develops."
During the 2010-11 season, the two-way forward potted 24 goals and added 43 helpers for a total of 67 points in 42 games, and maintained his high level of play in the playoffs, posting 17 points in 12 postseason contests.
Lowry plays an up-tempo, high-energy game based around his already refined skating ability. He projects as a bottom-six type that is an asset defensively and on the forecheck but also able to chip in on the offensive side from time to time, comparing well to current Kings forward Trevor Lewis.
Michael Schumacher, LW – Frolunda HC (SuperElit)
7th round, 200th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 198 lbs
Just 17 years old and with plenty of room on his 6’3 frame, Schumacher is incredibly raw, but it’s easy to see why the Kings took an interest in the budding Swede.
"I would describe myself as a power forward. I can score goals too and I can make passes and I go hard to the net," Schumacher said at Kings development camp.
Schumacher, along with Maxim Kitsyn, Dwight King, and Ray Kaunisto, make up a bevy of oversized forwards on the left side that contrast well with skill types like Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, and Brandon Kozun who could feasibly line up across from them on the other wing.
Schumacher played at three different Swedish junior levels last year, amassing 39 points in 47 games altogether. Rather than continuing to work his way up the ranks in Sweden, Schumacher is poised to come across the pond, having been drafted 40th overall by Owen Sound in the CHL Import Draft.
"I think it will be a big experience for me to come over," Schumacher said, looking forward to the much tighter play and more speed of North American hockey.
The move, orchestrated by current Kings scout and former Owen Sound GM Mike Futa, affords Schumacher an opportunity to contribute right away as the Attack are losing two of their top wingers, Garrett Wilson (FLA) and Bobby Mignardi, to the pro ranks.