The Los Angeles Kings will kick-off the 2005-06 season when training camp opens on September 13th with a youthful flare. There will be more top-end prospects with a legitimate shot at making a significant impact at the NHL level vying for roster spots than at any other point in recent memory.
Of the 65 players invited to camp, 26 are Kings prospects, not including the 10 unsigned invitee prospects who are also looking to find a spot within the organization. Fourteen of the Kings top 20 prospects will make an appearance, including all of the top 8. This follows a frantic pace of recent signings that witnessed the Kings sign several former first round picks.
Heading the list of prospect signings during the offseason were former first round picks Jeff Tambellini (2003), Lauri Tukonen (2004) and Anze Kopitar (2005). Tambellini left the University of Michigan early where he was one of the elite scoring forwards in college hockey. Tukonen comes over from the highest league in Finland, while Kopitar is on the brink of a regular shift in Sweden’s premier league.
The Kings also signed dominant collegiate defenseman Richard Petiot to a deal as well as the scoring forward Dany Roussin. Petiot finished his college eligibility in May and comes over with a reputation for assertive play and a dominant physical presence. Roussin, a second round selection in the 2005 entry draft, comes over from Rimouski of the QMJHL where he finished second in the league in scoring.
The first full-blooded Japanese player ever drafted was also signed to a deal. Starring in Bakersfield of the ECHL last season, Yutaka Fukufuji will battle several goaltenders, including Adam Hauser who was also signed in the offseason, for a spot in the organization.
The signing of George Parros will bring toughness to the roster. Parros previously had been developing in the AHL with Manchester. Depth was also added to the organization when the Kings brought in defensemen Joey Mormina and Brad Fast, both cut loose by other organizations. Likewise, speedy winger Noah Clarke will add depth to the forward ranks if injuries should plague the team again.
A complete list of prospects invited to camp, as well as non-roster invitees, can be found below.
Battle for the Roster
While 26 prospects have been invited to camp, there really are only a couple of roster spots open for competition. With the acquisitions of Pavol Demitra, Jeremy Roenick, Valeri Bure and Jason LaBarbera, as well as the return of a slew of veteran incumbents, there are few positions available to be filled.
The Kings might still need to fill two or three forward positions and one or two defensive positions. The leading candidates to fill the forward positions are Dustin Brown and Mike Cammalleri. Brown has already spent a full season with the Kings and there is no indication that he won’t again. Brown is ready to step into a top-six role and contribute immediately, but likely will be better suited on the third line until he gains experience and proves he can produce at the NHL level. Cammalleri has spent a considerable amount of time on the NHL roster in the past and is ready for a top scoring role with the team. But despite being productive for a player of his young age, he has not been able to stick long-term on the roster in the past. Dark-horse candidates to sneak in and secure a roster spot in some sort of capacity are Jeff Tambellini, Lauri Tukonen and George Parros.
General manager Dave Taylor made it known in the offseason that they were looking to acquire another defenseman to round out their corps. Having not signed or traded for that defenseman, the roster spot is open to competition in training camp. If the team is not completely sold on Joe Corvo as a regular defenseman, two spots on the blueline could be had by one of their prospects. Battling a long list of non-roster invitees will be Denis Grebeshkov and Richard Petiot. Grebeshkov had a rather disappointing season in Manchester last year, but it takes only one superb training camp to forget all about his past problems. Petiot is older, more physically mature and better adapted to the physical, rough-and-tumble style of the NHL. But Petiot does not bring much offense to the table and the Kings are in sore need of a power play quarterback on the blueline. Other possibilities to win a roster spot are Brad Fast and Monarchs signee Eric Werner.
Now or Never
What to do with Mike Cammalleri? One would consider a prospect that has led the AHL in goal scoring, had a 100+ point season and a point per game career average in the AHL all before the age of 23, a lock to make the NHL roster. But once again, Cammalleri will be battling for his NHL life this training camp, hoping to impress to such a degree that it will force the coaching staff to keep him around. Nothing would please the coaches more than to have their hand forced as such because it would mean that Cammalleri is playing great, smart hockey, which is only a benefit to the organization. And with the rate of injuries that this organization has experienced the past few years, it might be good to keep a youthful scoring machine around to fill out the roster.
The goalie situation in Los Angeles has basically already been determined. Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera are slated to open the season in Los Angeles. But four other goalies will be competing for their place in the rest of the organization. Adam Hauser, Ryan Munce, Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji will each make their claim to the two available roster spots in Manchester.
It is likely that Hauser will open the season as the starter in Manchester due to his experience in the AHL and stellar play in the back-up role the past two seasons. But Munce, Brust and Fukufuji will look to unseat the incumbent and stake their claim as the No. 1 goaltender prospect in the organization. Munce, a former third round pick, recently completed his juniors eligibility and has an opportunity to improve his career numbers on a much better team. Brust, a free agent signee out of the WHL, spent all of last season in the ECHL where he was one of, if not the best, goaltender in the league.
The subject of much attention, Fukufuji put together a tremendous season in the ECHL as well. All four, as well as junior eligible goaltender Daniel Taylor, will spend much of training camp learning the system of the NHL club and state their case for moving up in the organizational depth charts. A poor training camp may bury that goaltender behind several other candidates for years to come.
Training Camp Prospect Roster
* = Non-roster prospect invitee, defined as any player not property of the Los Angeles Kings by draft rights or direct signing with Los Angeles and still considered a “prospect” under HF’s criteria. This includes any player signed directly with Manchester and not Los Angeles.
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