The 2001-2002 season has brought prosperity for the Kings both in the system and on the NHL level. The Kings were able to do some key things that they have not been able to do in year’s past-
1) The Kings were able to develop some top prospects that they acquired in trades and from drafts. Alex Frolov has emerged as a potential NHL star and Jared Aulin, Yannick Lehoux and Mike Cammalleri have all had seasons that have pushed them into the legitimate prospect category. The Kings have also seen defense prospects Joe Corvo and Tomas Zizka emerge as potential NHL defensemen as soon as next season. Add the improved play of Jens Karlsson and the Kings system is deep heading into a draft where they have a first round pick and two first round picks the following year.
2) The Kings were able to develop their own affiliates in Manchester and Reading. The Monarchs have been a monumental success. All of their prospects have been able to develop under their own coaching and the team has been successful as well. The franchise is a hit in Manchester and the players have prospered there.
3) The Kings were able to dip into the system when needed and were the beneficiaries of some positive results. When enforcer Ken Belanger went down, they were able to call on Kip Brennan and new fan favorite Ryan Flinn who combined to give the Kings the punch the Kings were missing for much of the season. In fact, their inspired play lit a fire under Ken Belanger who has played his best hockey since returning. When Eric Belanger went down the Kings were able to go to Brad Chartrand who not only filled in admirably, but also earned a spot in the everyday lineup even when Eric Belanger returned. When the defensive corps was depleted the Kings were able to call on Andreas Lilja who even played some forward. When Kelly Buchberger went down the Kings were able to use both Adam Mair and Jaroslav Bednar who have both played well. These injuries would have buried the Kings a few years ago but they were actually bright spots this season and were a big part of the success on the NHL level.
So how do the Kings follow up a great season? Firstly, they have to sign Jared Aulin. If Aulin, or even Lehoux, were to re-enter the draft, then the Kings will have taken a huge step back. The Kings also have to get Alex Frolov over to North America. Frolov has a legitimate shot to be a NHL forward next season. At worst, he needs to play in the AHL and see where his game stacks up with other top prospects. If the Kings could get Frolov, Aulin and Lehoux in the fold for next season, they would still have Cammalleri, Steckel and Karlsson, along with the draft picks from this season, in line for future years.
Looking to the draft, the Kings have to find a goaltending prospect. Alexey Volkov is enigmatic, even for a goalie. That is emerging as the only question in what is turning out to be a deep and solid system.