Manchester Monarchs 2011-12 season preview

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Entering his first season as a pro, Nicolas Deslauriers will have to simplify his game in order to become a more effective defenseman. (Photo courtesy of www.huskies.qc.ca)

The Manchester Monarchs are dealing with internal flux up front. Gone from last year’s roster are two-time leading scorer Bud Holloway, Oscar Moller, and Corey Elkins, the three of whom combined for 69 of the team’s 254 goals last season, over one quarter of the total production. Also a noticeable absentee from this year’s roster is John Zeiler, who had established himself as a quality AHL veteran. Replacing them are four forwards fresh from junior hockey, wet behind the ears but possessing offensive upside.

Still, rather than depending on the youth movement from the junior level, the Monarchs are looking mainly to their returning forwards, mostly those entering their second or third AHL season, to break out and offset the losses they’ve incurred. It’s a time of opportunity for the players on the roster that have been biding their time as secondary contributors to step in and seize key roles that are very much up for audition.

With their goaltending tandem and entire blue line group returning as well as a few fresh faces arriving on both fronts, the Monarchs are poised for another playoff run with the ultimate goal being to capture the franchise’s first Calder Cup.


Forwards

The most drastic roster turnover for the Monarchs occurred up front this past summer, with the aforementioned four quality forwards jumping ship for Europe, leaving a few gaping holes in the team’s top six.

Andrei Loktionov is the catalyst of the offense. Despite missing parts of the last two seasons with serious shoulder injuries, he’s now somewhat of a known entity as a third-year pro. Staying healthy is a must for him this year.

After a rookie season in which he totaled 48 points in 73 games, Brandon Kozun appears poised to take the next step and take on a major offensive role. Consistency is his major obstacle, having gone through some ups and downs in his first year as a pro.

Fourth-year pro Justin Azevedo is now an elder statesman on the Monarchs roster. He may not have the same NHL upside as other players on the roster, but has established himself as a quality playmaker at the AHL level.

Dwight King is coming off a breakout season in which he posted 24 goals and 52 points in 72 games and also spent some time on the NHL roster. The Monarchs will be depending on him to put the puck in the net on a regular basis.

Fresh faces Linden Vey, Andy Andreoff, Robbie Czarnik, and Rob Mignardi could potentially make a splash within the first month of the season and secure quality minutes. Though all four are lacking in professional experience, they’ve been productive with their respective junior teams. It’s difficult to bank on any of them to be major contributors, but opportunity knocks.

Marc-Andre Cliche and David Meckler are AHL veterans who will be rotating in and out of top-six roles. Though capable of putting the puck in the net from time to time, they’re both streaky offensive contributors and will be looked upon mainly for leadership.

Jordan Nolan and Ray Kaunisto will be trying to prove themselves as more than a bottom-six forwards this year, having played mostly in energy roles during the 2010-11 campaign as rookies. Both have shown flashes that have yet to substantiate into production, in part due to lack of opportunity.

Rounding out the roster are newly acquired journeyman Cam Paddock, a bottom-six forward who is suiting up for his eighth professional team in eight years, scrapper Justin Johnson, and energy forward Richard Clune.

Defensemen

During training camp, it looked as if Drew Doughty‘s absence would open up a spot for an offensive blueliner to ascend to the NHL roster. Slava Voynov was the prime candidate, with Thomas Hickey not far behind, but when Doughty signed his contract that window closed. It was a tough break for the aspiring NHLers but good news for the Monarchs, who see their entire blue line group from last season return for another year, along with two new faces.

Voynov is the prime source of offense from the blue line. He posted 51 points in 76 games last season, the highest total by a defenseman in the Monarchs 10-year history. His two-way game has evolved during his first three professional seasons to the point that he’s no longer a complete liability, but he still has much work to do before he can be considered a stable two-way option.

Hickey showed signs of stepping his game up in camp. Rather than just skating a solid, regular shift for the Monarchs as he did last seasons, he’s expected to be a more evident force this year, particularly in the offensive zone.

Jake Muzzin is another defenseman not far from NHL action looking to take his game to the next level. A two-way force in his last season of junior hockey, Muzzin played a primarily defensive role as an AHL rookie last year but should see increased responsibility this campaign.

David Kolomatis has quietly posted 57 points in 146 games over the last two seasons with the Monarchs. He’s a mainstay on the second powerplay unit.

Andrew Campbell returns for his fourth season with the Monarchs. Much maligned by Monarchs fans for his defensive gaffes as a youngster, he’s slowly but surely rounded out his game and is now the closest thing on the Monarchs roster to a shutdown, stay-at-home defenseman.

Newcomer Nicolas Deslauriers is the major addition on the blue line. A flashy two-way defenseman in junior hockey, Deslauriers will have to simplify his game in order to be successful at the pro level and should see his minutes increase as the year goes on.

Patrick Mullen is back for his third campaign in Manchester. A utility defenseman/forward, he can fill in competently in a variety of roles and situations.

After spending most of last season with Ontario of the ECHL, Jordan Hill was brought back on a pro tryout contract and is looking to secure a regular shift. Newcomer Joe Charlebois is in the same boat. Both are physical, defense-first defensemen that could stick with a good showing on the penalty kill.

Goaltending

After a year in which Martin Jones stole the starting gig and won all-star honors as a rookie before eventually relinquishing a majority of the starts down the stretch to the more experienced Jeff Zatkoff, the crease is very much up for grabs in Manchester. Jones, by virtue of his quality play in the first half of last season, will likely enter the season with a leg up on Zatkoff, who has yet to join the Monarchs after traveling with the Kings to Europe. Still, the starting duties will likely go to whoever the hot hand is.

Throwing a wrench into the mix is newcomer Jean-Francois Berube, who’ll likely find himself playing in Ontario when Zatkoff rejoins the team but has a good chance of starting a few games in Manchester this season, particularly should Jones and Zatkoff falter.

Coaching

Head coach Mark Morris and assistant Scott Pellerin return for a sixth year behind the bench. The Monarchs have made the playoffs in four of their first five seasons, including two runs to the Eastern Conference finals.

Prospects

After impressing in prospect and training camps over the summer, tough stay-at-home defenseman Alex Roach earned an entry-level contract. Still just 18 years old, he’ll return to the Calgary of the WHL for another season.

Rob Mignardi was the only other free-agent invite to earn a longer look with the Kings, currently playing for the Monarchs and trying to earn a regular shift.

Andy Andreoff could have been returned to Oshawa for an overage season, but looks to have stuck with the Monarchs after a good camp.