One sign of the tremendous turn-around of the Los Angeles Kings farm system is the increasing number of prospects signed to entry-level contracts who are also pushing for a roster spot on the NHL squad. In prior years, the handful of prospects that were invited to camp were traditionally dispatched early with the first set of roster cuts. While there might not be much room on the NHL roster for a prospect to make the club straight out of camp this year, the growing number of those playing in Manchester of the AHL, signed to a contract with Los Angeles, and with a legitimate shot at pressing for playing time, is clearly a sign of good things to come.
Battle for the roster
With the signing of Michal Handzus, Kyle Calder and Ladislav Nagy, and several other forwards signed to multi-year contracts, there is virtually no room for a forward prospect to break into the rotation. Patrick O’Sullivan and John Zeiler are the only forward prospects expected to be on the NHL roster when the Kings break camp. O’Sullivan’s play towards the end of the 2006-07 season provides optimism that O’Sullivan will have a breakout second season, but there is room for caution as he must first prove that he has in fact improved his play away from the puck to warrant entrusting him with further ice time. John Zeiler, recently re-signed to a four-year contract, is a lock to make the roster as a fourth line energy forward.
Outside of O’Sullivan and Zeiler, a number of forwards will be invited to training camp, including but not limited to Brian Boyle, Lauri Tukonen, Ted Purcell and Trevor Lewis, but at this stage in their development, all appear to be bound for Manchester at the beginning of the season. If Raitis Ivanans or Kevin Dallman, who is capable of playing both defense and forward, make the team as the 13th forward, no forward prospect other than O’Sullivan and Zeiler will make the team. If Ivanans or Dallman is cut, or Dallman makes the team as the seventh defenseman, the 13th forward position might be filled by a forward prospect – whichever forward prospect out of the deep pool earns himself a roster spot in camp.
As difficult as it will be for a forward prospect to make the roster, it will be even tighter at the defensive position. With the signing of Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing, together with incumbents Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky and the signings of Jaroslav Modry and Jon Klemm, there is almost no defensive roster spot not already accounted for. Top prospect Jack Johnson will compete for a roster spot and is expected to make the team. Depending upon how well Johnson plays in camp, he might force either Dallman or Klemm, or both, off the roster altogether. Recently re-signed Richard Petiot, Joe Piskula and Peter Harrold, whom impressed in his brief play with Los Angeles last season, are waiting in the wings hoping to either earn the seventh defenseman position or an early call-up.
With NHL veterans Dan Cloutier and J-S Aubin, and experienced Jason Labarbera (AHL) and Erik Ersberg (SEL), it would take a small miracle for a goaltender prospect to make the roster. Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick will each be invited to camp and will try to perform such a miracle, but both have no professional experience and, at the ages of 19 and 21 respectively, there is no need to rush them onto the roster and potential stunt their development.
With 25 prospects signed to contracts with Los Angeles and only four, at the most, making the NHL roster out of camp, as many as 21 prospects will be bound for Manchester. This will be the highest total in Manchester’s short history and represents the highest number of prospects signed to NHL contracts in Kings history. That number of highly regarded prospects in the professional ranks only increases the amount of competition at every position. With a number of other prospects signed directly to Manchester, there will be an overflow onto Reading’s roster in the ECHL. With that much talent and competition on Manchester’s roster, it can only mean good things for the Monarchs fortunes.
The flurry of late season and offseason free agent prospect signings by Dean Lombardi is largely the reason for the influx of talent to Manchester. Kevin Westgarth, Ted Purcell, Vladimir Dravecky, Drew Bagnall, and Joe Piskula all were signed as unrestricted free agents. Add in the offseason signing which brought Brady Murray back into the fold from Europe and Manchester will take on a whole new look for the 2007-08 season. Of the group signed to professional contracts, four or five will be Reading bound with no space available in Manchester.
2007 Preseason schedule
Thur. Sept. 13 @ Anaheim Ducks 7:00 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 15 vs Anaheim Ducks 7:30 p.m.
Tue. Sept. 18 vs San Jose Sharks 7:30 p.m.
Wed. Sept. 19 @ Colorado Avalanche 6:00 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 22 @ Colorado Avalanche 7:30 p.m.
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