With training camp three weeks away, many new hopefuls will be battling to earn a spot on the opening night roster, when the Kings open the season
against the division rival Phoenix Coyotes.
The most notable spot which is left open to be filled is the sixth
defenseman. On the Kings’ depth chart, Andreas Lilja would fill that hole
by default, but is the 6’3 220-pound Swede ready to carry the position left
void by the departure of Philippe Boucher, who teammates considered to be
the best defenseman for the Kings during the first round? Boucher was a
force to be reckoned with in the playoffs, often punishing the Avalanche
forwards, most notably doing a number of Peter Forsberg.
Lilja, who was drafted in the second round of the 2000 draft, has appeared
in a combined total of 33 games in the NHL (27 appearances in the regular
season and six in the playoffs). He is not known for his offensive skills,
scoring a goal and five points, all of which came in the 2001-2002 season.
His biggest asset is his size and mobility for a big guy, amassing 39 hits
in 26 games this past season, and nine hits in five playoff games versus
Colorado, where he averaged 10:26 of ice time. Lilja plays a solid
positional game as well, but to maintain his stay in the NHL, Lilja’s puck
making decisions and foot speed has to improve, and for a big guy his size,
he has to develop more of a mean streak and a consistent physical game to
be considered a regular defenseman in the Kings lineup.
Another favorite who might step in is 25-year old defenseman Joe Corvo, who
enjoyed a successful season with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester
Monarchs, as he averaged a point per game in the playoffs with five assists
in five games and was second in team scoring in the regular season with 50
points in 80 games, coming in as the seventh leading scorer amongst
defensemen in the AHL with his 13 goals and 37 assists. Corvo also led the
Monarchs in shots with 234.
Other likely candidates to keep an eye on are Jason Holland and Tomas
Holland was called up briefly by the Kings and appeared in three games when
Mattias Norstrom went down with a rib injury. He averaged a hit per game
and 15 minutes of ice time and was a -1. Holland has played in 27 games in
the NHL throughout his career, scoring a goal and an assist. In 65 games
with the Monarchs, Holland scored nine goals and 27 points. Holland, like
Lilja, has size going for him, but often times relies more on his
positional play rather than his big frame to line up the opposition.
Tomas Zizka had a productive and impressive first season in North America,
scoring 21 points in 58 games with the Monarchs. Zizka is a shifty and
quick puck-moving defenseman who possesses an accurately crisp pass and has
a good eye at finding the open man and starting a breakout and an offensive
rush out of his own zone.
Other honorable mentions are Joe Rullier, Mike Pudlick and Jason Crain.
The battle for to be the sixth defenseman will be a fierce and competitive
one as the Kings will look to one of their own developed prospects to
step in and fill an important role on the team. Will it be a physical force
on the blueline or a puck rusher who prefers to handle the puck? We shall
find out the answer to that question on October 9.
The Los Angeles Kings forward prospects will be focused in next week’s
installment of the training camp preview.