Los Angeles Kings prospect pool seeing a wealth of playoff action across North America

By Jason Lewis

Martin Jones - Manchester Monarchs

Photo: Martin Jones won his last six starts of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth for the Monarchs, but not even his strong play could help the team overcome the Springfield Falcons in the first round of the AHL playoffs (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The prospect pool of the Los Angeles Kings saw varying amounts of playoff game time this year, but one of the more important points is that the majority of them did in fact see the postseason. Over twenty-five skaters for the Kings saw playoff action across multiple levels.

NHL

As the Kings enter the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they do so with the title of "defending champs" hanging over their heads. Taking place in the defense of that title is defenseman Jake Muzzin and forward Tyler Toffoli. In the first round against the St. Louis Blues, Muzzin in particular was focused on by the Blues heavy hitting and heavy forecheck game. While the young defenseman certainly showed signs of inexperience and nerves, he fought through and had a decent first introduction into NHL playoff hockey. While many might focus on the struggles of Muzzin during the series, St. Louis is one of the highest puck-pressuring teams in the league and some flubs and falters should have been expected of a rookie. His good play still shined through in moments like Game 5 where he had a key clearance play that led to Slava Voynov’s overtime winner in the penultimate game of the 4-2 series. Muzzin has proven coachable and responsible for most of the season, so his presence in the playoffs is likely going to continue as the King’s move on. AHL Rookie of the Year Tyler Toffoli has also seen some ice time in the postseason on the Kings' fourth line with Kyle Clifford and Colin Fraser. While they are not the most offensive linemates, Toffoli has still found space to showcase his wrist shot on a few occasions. While his time has been limited, he is a scoring threat and it would not be surprising to see him pot a goal or two as the playoffs roll on.

AHL

The Los Angeles Kings have a large number of prospects in the lineup for the Manchester Monarchs, who are one of the youngest teams in the AHL. A whopping 13 prospects, including four defensemen, eight forwards, and one goalie dressed and skated in the Monarchs first-round series against the fourth-seeded Springfield Falcons. Despite some late season heroics that got the Monarchs into the postseason, the momentum stopped there as Manchester was ousted in the five-game series 3-1. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially for goaltender Martin Jones who had a fantastic series with a .932 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average. In fact, all four games played were one goal games and each of the three victories by the Falcons went to overtime.

Other standouts in the series included defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers, who was the team's leading scorer with four points in four games. It was a particularly important performance for Deslauriers who was starting to get shuffled down in the depth chart. Andy Andreoff had three assists and furthered his usefulness as a responsible bottom line forward with a plus-two rating. Linden Vey, despite being held to just two goals in the series had both of them in a clutch game three when his team faced elimination. Overall the Monarchs should be very proud of the season they had with the considerable amount of injuries and rookies the team had to work with.

ECHL

Goaltender Jean-Francois Berube was the lone representative for the Kings prospects in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign. The Reign, a powerhouse team all season, swept through their first-round series against the Utah Grizzlies with Berube allowing just six goals in four games. However, a strong Idaho Steelheads team halted the Reign in the second round. Berube was solid over the first three games of the series, going 2-0-1, but he and his teammates hit a wall in the last three games. Berube had a Game 4 to forget, allowing five goals on 18 shots and being pulled in favor of back-up Chris Carrozzi for the third period. An equally poor performance in Game 6, allowing four goals on 18 shots, put an end to Berube’s ECHL year in a bitter fashion. Although his numbers were respectable overall Berube had a couple of key games really get away from him that cost the team.

OHL

The Kings had three prospects, all skating in the same series at one point in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs this year. Defenseman Colin Miller, who was a surprise standout with Sault Ste. Marie this season, had a great series against the Owen Sound Attack, scoring seven points in six games. His teammate, 19-year-old Michael Schumacher, had an equally effective series with six points in six games. Schumacher and Miller were first and second in scoring for the Greyhounds in the playoffs. It was a tightly contested series that Owen Sound won 4-2, but Miller and Schumacher can be proud of their performances as they put up a decent fight against the higher-seeded Attack. On the opposite bench was Kurtis MacDermid. While playing a limited role with the Attack, MacDermid still had three assists and stayed in the plus column for Owen Sound, which was ousted by Plymouth the following round.

WHL

Surprise defenseman of the year Alex Roach and the Calgary Hitmen had a solid run in this year’s WHL playoffs. Roach who had a tremendous regular season, continued his strong play into the playoffs with six points in 17 games. He had a tough series against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Eastern Conference Championship, but overall Roach was a great surprise and was one of the top defenseman for Calgary in both the regular and postseason.

QMJHL

The QMJHL playoffs saw Tomas Hyka with the Gatineau Olympiques and Christopher Gibson with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens make limited runs with their respective squads. Gibson, with the ninth seeded Saguenéens got a rough match up with fifth seed Quebec Ramparts, a team that went 4-1-0-1 against them in the regular season. No surprise Gibson was shelled by the high-flying Quebec offense, giving up 23 goals in six games and losing the series 4-2. It is not all on Gibson of course, as Chicoutimi was a team that struggled defensively most of the year. In fact, Gibson faced 226 shots over the six games which is an average of 38 shots against a game. He had a standout performance in Game 5 of the series, stopping 39 shots and giving up one goal while grabbing the win. Hyka went as far as the second round with Gatineau until meeting up with the top-seeded Halifax Mooseheads who swept the Olympiques. Hyka had a good series against Rimouski in the first round with four points and plus-one rating in six games, but was shutdown in the second round and held pointless with a minus-five rating, much like most of the Gatineau team against Halifax.

NCAA

The Kings had five of six prospects playing in the NCAA make it to the year-end tournament in 2013, including two who went deep to the Frozen Four with St. Cloud State in Kevin Gravel and Nic Dowd. Dowd and Gravel played key roles in the upset run that St. Cloud State went on to the semi-finals, but the run was ended at the hands of top-seeded Quinnipiac. Gravel in particular emerged as one of the tournaments premier shutdown defensemen. After an early exit by Derek Forbort with North Dakota by eventual champions Yale, the former-first round pick signed a contract with the Kings and will forgo his final year of NCAA eligibility. Nick Shore was also signed by the Kings after Denver was ousted in the first round by New Hampshire. Michael Mersch also saw an early exit with Wisconsin and despite being pushed to sign with the Kings, Mersch is likely staying put for another year. Most of the team's prospects, aside from Gravel and Dowd stayed relatively quiet in the tournament in their limited number of games.

USHL

Standout defenseman in the USHL, Paul LaDue, got to experience the playoffs with his Lincoln Stars for the final time this year. As the defenseman is committed to the University of North Dakota next year, this was his swan song to the USHL. Unfortunately his fourth-seeded Lincoln Stars ran into the Western Conference top seed in the Sioux Falls Stampede and lost the five-game series 3-1. LaDue had an uncharacteristically quiet series with just two points and an even plus-minus rating. However, he had a tremendous 2012-13 season and LaDue can hopefully carry that forth into his collegiate career.

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