A record number of Los Angeles Kings made their professional debut this year as the team experienced an above average number of injuries and several roster shake-ups due to lackluster play. Ten new players received their first taste of NHL play in a Kings jersey this season. The majority of rookie starts went to forwards as star players like Alexander Frolov and Pavol Demitra spent extended time on the disabled list and offseason signee Valeri Bure missed the entire season with preseason surgery.
The Kings would break camp with three rookies on their roster – George Parros, Jason LaBarbera and Richard Petiot. After making toughness and physical play an area of focus for the Kings, a roster spot was opened for the Parros. A physical and grinding winger, not much was expected from Parros other than to wear down the opposition in the corners and along the boards and keep the opposition honest with an occassional fight. Parros would register five points (2 goals and 3 assists), including his first career goal and only multi-point game in a 7-2 win against Dallas on Oct. 20. Parros is still a work in progress where he needs to improve his balance as he was prone to toppling over in fights. Depending upon how the team is shaken upon this offseason, Parros will likely be battling for his roster spot next year.
Signed away from the Rangers organization in the offseason, LaBarbera was the backup goaltender for the Los Angeles. Not wanting to rely on Adam Hauser who, entering the season, only had two seasons of backup AHL experience under his belt, the Kings signed LaBarbera whom had been the starter for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate for the last three seasons. As Mathieu Garon struggled early in the season, LaBarbera received a full-time opportunity and made the most of it. Starting the season on fire, LaBarbera jumped out to an 8-2-0 record in his first 10 games, including a goals against average of 2.17 and a save percentage of .921. LaBarbera would eventually cool while Garon assumed the starting duties almost exclusively for the remainder of the season in December. Hauser would also make his professional debut on Jan. 14 in a 10-1 loss to Buffalo where he would surrender six goals in 40 minutes of play. LaBarbera, Hauser and likely a veteran free agent signing will all be competing for the backup goaltender spot next season.
Another rookie to fill a grinding role on the team was Jeff Giuliano. After spending several seasons in Manchester, Giuliano finally received his opportunity in Los Angeles and impressed enough with his energy that the organization found a way to keep him in the line-up even as the star forwards returned from injury. Giuliano played in 48 games, scoring seven points and his first career goal against Calgary.
Matt Ryan and Petr Kanko received brief stints in Los Angeles. Ryan skated on an energy line for 12 games, registering only a single point. Ryan was signed as a free agent out of the OHL before the 2004-05 season and was assigned to Manchester. Ryan will be spending next season in Manchester and may receive a call-up if injuries decimate the NHL roster again. Likewise, Kanko was slotted on the energy line in the 10 games he appeared with the Kings this season. Kanko did not stay long enough to make any lasting impression, but he did get his first taste of the NHL. Kanko scored his first career goal in his first career game off of a deflection from a loose stick on the ice. Unusual first career goal or not, Kanko displayed his strong skating and high-energy style in his short stay with the Kings and will be battling for a roster spot next season.
Although Richard Petiot would eventually be assigned to the Manchester Monarchs before appearing in his first NHL game, he did receive the honor of hearing his name called out on opening night at Staples Center. He would be recalled several times during the season, finally seeing playing time in his third call-up on Jan. 17. Petiot played in only two games and is still looking for his first career point. Petiot spent a great deal of time participating in practices during his several call-ups and has an excellent opportunity to make the NHL roster full time next season.
Top prospect Jeff Tambellini made his NHL debut on Nov. 30. However, Tambellini would play in only four games for the Kings, with no points, before being traded at the deadline to the New York Islanders with fellow prospect Denis Grebeshkov for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel. Tambellini finished the season with the Islanders, scoring four points in 21 games.
Connor James and Konstantin Pushkarev each received brief call-ups to make their NHL debuts as the organization fruitlessly attempted to breathe the life of youth into the line-up. James appeared in only two games with no points and appears to be headed back to Manchester for the 2006-07 season. Pushkarev skated in a single game and registered his first career point – an assist against Vancouver on March 27. Like James, Pushkarev is likely headed back to Manchester next season but could find himself back in Los Angeles before the season is completed.
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