Manchester Monarchs 2007-08 season preview

By David A. Rainer

For better or worse, the Manchester Monarchs will be overflowing with prospects assigned to the AHL from the parent organization – the Los Angeles Kings.  Twenty-four prospects currently under contract with the Kings have been assigned to training camp in Manchester, the highest total in the short history of Manchester.  With several other players signed directly by Manchester, there will be a number of highly skilled prospects spilling over onto the Reading roster, leaving the cream of the crop in Manchester.

Forwards


Of the 24 prospects assigned to Manchester, 14 are forwards.  With such a great quantity, Manchester will have a tremendous pool of talent to choose from and can use the depth to shuffle the line-up to make for better match-ups.  The group is highlighted by incumbents Lauri Tukonen and Matt Moulson.  Each are capable of scoring in large quantities and are looking to have breakout seasons to catch the eye of the Kings should an opportunity arise in Los Angeles.  Gabe Gauthier and Matt Ryan also return to Manchester, providing skill and speed from the center position.  Petr Kanko adds grit and can be substituted in as the situation calls for a more physical lineup on any given night.

Joining the group of returnees are a plethora of highly regarded, newly-signed prospects who have the potential to turn Manchester into a powerhouse in the AHL this season.  Former two-time Hobey Baker Finalist Scott Parse joins the Monarchs after completing four seasons with the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he led the team in nearly every career offensive statistic.  Parse has the potential to lead the Monarchs, and be amongst the league leaders, in scoring in his first season in the AHL from the left wing position.  Impressive right wing Ted Purcell is another newcomer with the potential to be a dynamic scorer for the Monarchs.  David Meckler is a grinding scorer who can be relied upon to perform the dirty work around the net while Trevor Lewis adds a speedy, play-making element to the center position.

Vladimir Dravecky joins the organization from Slovakia after signing with the Kings during the offseason.  Dravecky is a quick and defensive-minded forward that can be used extensively on the penalty kill.  Marc-Andre Cliche is a tremendous leader and two-way right wing that can provide invaluable talent to a third or even fourth line, revealing the impressive amount of depth the Monarchs will enjoy this season.  Dany Roussin will be battling for one of the final roster spots in his third season with Manchester.  He had previously spent most of his time in the ECHL, but might be able to secure a fourth line spot, adding an offensive quality to an already defensive fourth line.

Roussin will be battling Ned Lukacevic and Kevin Westgarth for the final available roster positions.  Like Roussin, Lukacevic spent most of his time in the ECHL last season but might establish himself on the fourth line with his defensive play and penalty-killing skills.  Kevin Westgarth adds a physical presence to the team and can be substituted in when the situation calls for a big and physical pugilist.

With 14 prospect forwards, and other veteran AHL players like Jeff Guiliano expected to earn a roster spot or two, there are a number of forwards that will likely be assigned to Reading of the ECHL.  Two of Dany Roussin, Ned Lukacevic and Kevin Westgarth will likely see more time in Reading than in Manchester.  Additionally, if Kanko experiences the same visa difficulties he experienced last season, he might be assigned to Reading until the problem is addressed.

Defensemen

Peter Harrold is the only holdover from opening night last season for the Monarchs amongst prospect invitees to camp.  Second in scoring by defensemen on the team and recognized as one of the best mobile defensemen in the AHL, the Monarchs are happy to have him back.  Harrold is expected to lead the defensive corps this season, unless he is called into service by Los Angeles, which remains a strong possibility.  Another veteran of the AHL, Richard Petiot is also expected to lead the group of blueliners as the top defensive defenseman on the team.  Petiot returns after rehabilitating a knee injury that nearly cost him the entire 2006-07 season.  He provides a mobile, physical presence to the blueline that can be used in all situations on the ice for Manchester.

Brian Boyle headlines a group of hard-nosed, physical defensemen that have recently been signed by the Kings and were assigned to Manchester.  Boyle (6’6), Joe Piskula (6’3), Drew Bagnall (6’3) Joe Ryan (6’2) and Patrik Hersley (6’2) are all large-framed, grinding defensemen that will spend more time banging bodies than joining the rush.  However, with the exception of Piskula, all have the ability to contribute modestly to the offensive side.  Boyle, a converted center, has a booming shot that can be used on the power play.  Hersley is mobile and quick on his skates.  Bagnall, a former Hobey Baker Finalist, is likewise mobile with solid passing skills. Ryan is an average skater with a solid shot that might be used on the power play.  But overall, their physical presence sends the message that the Monarchs forwards will provide the vast majority of offense for the team while the defense’s assignment is to physically dominate the opposition’s forwards.

A number of non-prospect AHL veterans have also been invited to the Monarchs training camp, including holdovers from last season Brendan Buckley, Paul Crosty and Jeff Likens.  With the exception of Buckley, each is a long shot to make the roster.  With seven prospect defensemen and at least three non-prospect veterans in camp, Ryan and possibly one other defenseman are likely bound for Reading.  The blueline might be the most hotly contested position in training camp for the Monarchs and will be something to keep an eye on as opening night approaches.

Goaltending

The Los Angeles Kings recently waived veteran NHL netminder Dan Cloutier after a poor 2006-07 season followed up by a poor training camp.  When Cloutier cleared through waivers without being claimed by another organization, the Kings optioned him to Manchester.  In Manchester, Cloutier is expected to be the starting netminder and receive the vast majority of starts.

With Cloutier in camp, the real story for goaltenders is the battle for the back-up position.  Signed in the offseason, Erik Ersberg moves his game from Sweden to North America.  Of the prospect goaltenders in camp, Ersberg is the most experienced and requires the least development.  As such, he is likely to secure the back-up position in Manchester.

Jonathan Quick signed with the Kings this offseason after only two seasons of college hockey.  He will likely be assigned to Reading for the season so that he can play fulltime and continue his development while playing meaningful minutes.  Daniel Taylor is also bound for the ECHL as a backup with either Reading or Bakersfield.

Overview

Manchester played its way out the first round of the playoffs last season for the first time in their franchise history.  If the Monarchs want to improve on last season’s performance, they will need significant contributions to a number of new prospects assigned to it from Los Angeles.  While these new additions mean that the Monarchs will need to rely heavily on very young and inexperienced players, it also means that the overall talent level and competition on the Monarchs has increased several-fold.  As the new prospects develop with the aid of Manchester’s training personnel, the team will follow.  The offense is deep in not just scoring talent, but also intangibles which will give Manchester the option of substituting players to create better match-ups. 

While the defensive corps is lacking in overall offensive capabilities, they more than make up for it with their physical presence and ability to wear down the opposition.  But the engine to the Monarch’s machine will be their goaltending.  If Cloutier can recover from his injury and regain the abilities that carried him to consecutive thirty win seasons from 2001-2004, then there is a chance that Cloutier will be recalled to Los Angeles.  If he struggles as much in Manchester as in Los Angeles, he might prove to be immovable from the bench.  Depending on how Cloutier plays, the real man of the hour might come down to Ersberg as he replaces either a recalled or benched Cloutier.  With all that said, this Monarch’s squad as the potential to be the best team in the entire AHL.

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