The city of Manchester, N.H. was not immune to the change in management that occurred in Los Angeles during the offseason. The Monarchs received a new General Manager, a new head coach and some new faces on the ice. While offensive players like Lauri Tukonen and Konstantin Pushkarev return to the Monarchs for their second season, new blood like Anze Kopitar, Ned Lukacevic and Peter Harrold breathe new life into a team that has not made it to the second round of the playoffs in their short history.
After finishing the season fifth in the conference, the Monarchs fell to the Hartford Wolfpack in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs. This represented the fifth straight first round loss in the Monarchs’ five-year history. In an effort to force home the point that just making the playoffs is not sufficient for this organization, new Monarchs General Manager Ron Hextall relieved the coaching staff of their duties after only a single season. The new staff, led by former Clarkson University head coach Mark Morris, will have their hands full trying to sail the Monarchs ship deeper into the playoffs while working with a roster that is expected to give up some of its best talent to the parent organization by the end of their season.
A handful of “old regulars” will be back in Manchester to lead the scoring. Lauri Tukonen will be returning from a shoulder injury which ended his season prematurely in 2005-06. He has been recovering from the surgery slowly and is still lacking the same strength in the shoulder as he had last season. If he can return to full health, he will be anchoring the top scoring line from the wing position. However, it might be a full season of rehabilitation as the Kings take it slow with his recovery and keep his ice time low to begin the season.
Likewise, Petr Kanko, Konstantin Pushkarev and Matt Ryan return with expectations of making major contributions. Kanko is a solid player who will provide the Monarchs with depth and physicality from the third line. Pushkarev is the lead returning goal scorer from last season and looks to improve on his game. If Tukonen is slow to recover, Pushkarev can slide into one of the wing positions on the top line and not have a drop-off in production from Tukonen. Ryan provides speed and skill as the second or third line center. He returns for his second season with Manchester and will be looked to as a mainstay on the specialty teams.
The regulars from last season are supplemented by a pair of new faces in Ned Lukacevic and Gabe Gauthier. Lukacevic joined the team for only their seven-game stint in the playoffs last season and scored his first professional goal. Lukacevic will likely start the season as a speedy winger on the third line and anchor the top penalty-killing unit. Gauthier joins the team after completing his college eligibility with the University of Denver and signing with Los Angeles during the offseason. If Gauthier can stick with Manchester out of training camp, he will provide some depth and experience to the forward corps.
Greg Hogeboom will be in his third season with Manchester and, if he can avoid the injury bug, will likely skate with the Monarchs on the second or third line. He has spent a great deal of time on the Injured Reserve or in the ECHL the last several years and may be ready to take a regular role in the AHL. Likewise, Dany Roussin and Shay Stephenson will make their attempts to avoid assignments to the ECHL and prove their worth to the Monarchs. Roussin is billed as a scoring forward and will be given his opportunity on one of the top two lines. If production wanes, Roussin might find himself riding the rails to Reading. Stephenson and John Zeiler will likely be depth forwards providing size and physicality on the third or fourth line
If the Kings cannot find roster spots for top prospects Anze Kopitar or Patrick O’Sullivan in Los Angeles, each will be an enormously welcome addition to the Monarchs. However, in the unlikely event that both start the season with Manchester, it will only be a matter of time before Los Angeles comes calling for their stud forward prospects. Non-roster invitees, Chris Korchinski, whom impressed enough during the Pacific Division Rookie Tournament to earn himself a try out with Manchester, and Ryan Murphy have outside chances of sticking in the AHL or the ECHL.
Recent Kings signee Matt Moulson will also be expected to contribute to Manchester this season. Formerly in the Penguins farm system, Moulson signed with Los Angeles where he was one of the last cuts during the Kings training camp. He will immediately jump into one of the two top lines for Manchester and could be one of the most significant offensive additions to the Monarch’s roster this offseason.
The bulk of Los Angeles’s defensive prospects are playing in junior or college hockey. Only signed prospects Peter Harrold and Joey Mormina will be attending training camp in Manchester. Mormina is a hold-over from last season. His large frame and physical style compliment the smaller and more mobile defenders on the team. Harrold joins the Monarchs after graduating from Boston College where he was captain during the 2005-06 season. He immediately steps in as one of the most skilled defenders on a team that is in need of talent on the blue line. Harrold will be looked to as a top four defender and contribute significant minutes on the power play.
The knee injury to Richard Petiot during the offseason will thin out the blue line in Manchester even more. Listed as week to week, depending upon the severity of the injury, Petiot could be out a couple of months or the entire season. Regardless, Manchester will need to look to other defenders to fill his empty skates. Largely, the team will depend upon veteran AHL defenders and non-roster invitees to complete the defensive pairings.
One non-roster invitee who will likely be a regular on the blue line for Manchester is Eric Werner. Werner spent only 15 games with Manchester last season, but will be pressed into duty with the loss of Petiot and Denis Grebeshkov (NYI) from last season’s squad.
The real story of training camp for Manchester will be in net. Barry Brust will return as the incumbent from last season. Even though Brust posted solid numbers in winning the starting job last year from veteran Adam Hauser, he did not dominate to such a degree that it would force the new coaching staff to award him the starting job before even taking the ice. Both goalie positions are available to win and Yutaka Fukufuji, Ryan Munce and Daniel Taylor will press Brust for playing time.
Fukufuji spent the majority of last season with Reading of the ECHL. With the loss of Adam Hauser, the path is open for both Brust and Fukufuji to hold down the two roster spots in Manchester. Munce spent all of last season with Bakersfield and will not settle for returning to the ECHL. He will compete for one of the two spots in Manchester, but is more likely bound for the starting spot in Reading, which is next in line to Manchester on the farm system depth charts for Los Angeles. Similarly, Taylor will not rest on his laurels, just happy to be in camp. After completing his major juniors eligibility with Kingston of the OHL, Taylor signed with the Los Angeles Kings. As he is new to the system, Taylor must be extra impressive in camp to win a spot with Manchester. It is most likely that he will be sent to Bakersfield to work his way up the ladder to Manchester. However, an excellent training camp by any one of the four goaltenders may result in a starting nod with the Monarchs.
If Manchester is going to fight their way out of the first round of the playoffs, they will need to lean heavily on the offensive talent at the forward position. While the Monarchs are solid in net, they have multiple questions marks on the blue line that may be solved by veteran AHLers. Regardless of how the defensemen unfold, their strength is clearly in the talent and depth they possess at forward, presuming Kopitar begins the season in the AHL. If Kopitar finishes the season with Manchester, he has the talent and ability to carry the Monarchs on his back as he has with Team Slovenia in the World Junior Championships and the World Championships. If Kopitar is called upon by Los Angeles, Manchester will need to look towards marked improvement from Tukonen and Puskarev and large contributions from Kanko, Lukacevic and Roussin to break through to the second round.
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