It’s been made pretty clear that the Kings system is depleted at best. With that in mind, assume the Kings will lose a few players during the off-season to expansion et all, and there seems to be a few open roster spots. The question is who will make a run at these spots? In past seasons, the Kings have signed guys like Len Barrie to fill “fringe” positions on the third or fourth lines. Thirty year old players with some skill are stop-gap solutions at best. So who will help the Kings soonest? Here is a stab:
If the question was who is going to play in the NHL soonest, Pavel Rosa would be the answer. Rosa seems poised to be a top pick in the expansion draft. Rosa has had several opportunities to sparkle and has done nothing with them. Barring involvement in a trade- which seems to be growing more and more unlikely, Rosa will spend next season in Columbus or Minneapolis. Rosa is probably the only sure shot for next year, albeit with another team.
Donald MacLean is in another resurgence. He is starting to play better in Lowell and as I saw him play last week I am reminded that he has one thing that many others do not- tremendous size. A third or fourth line center with size is a premium. MacLean has to either commit himself to one side of the ice or develop a nasty streak because his game has not developed to the point where he can excel offensively as well defensively. I would not be surprised if MacLean makes a move to the big club next year as the fourth line center.
Dave Taylor is a legend to Kings fans. Everything he has done in his professional career has been done with a drive and work ethic that have made him a successful forward in the NHL for 17 seasons and now the General Manager of his beloved Kings. How has he done? It’s hard to day. You would have to compare him to his predecessor, Sam “the Disaster” McMaster.
The Disaster was forced out in 1997. Kings fans everywhere, including yours truly, called for his head and wanted our fair-haired boy DT to take over after his three year apprenticeship under the Disaster. DT was the most appealing choice to succeed the Disaster because of his lifelong dedication to the Kings. Kings fans were elated- not only to have DT as the GM, but to have the Disaster out of the organization. Well Kings fans, I have some bad news. We would not be enjoying the limited success we have if Sam was not the previous GM.
Kings’ Norris Winning Defenseman Rob Blake has emerged as one of the top players in the NHL ever since he came to the club. Blake as able to step in and contribute right away because he had played and excelled on the collegiate level and his experience paid immediate dividends. The Kings have a few players in the college ranks right now that may give the Kings a boost down the line. Here is a quick rundown:
The most intriguing college prospect is Noah Clarke. The Kings made the diminutive Clarke their ninth round draft pick in 1999. Noah currently plays for Colorado College of the WCHA. Clarke is the highest scoring college prospect for the Kings with 20 points in 23 games (9 goals and 11 assists). Despite being a freshman, Clarke is third on his team in scoring. The reason I am personally pulling for Clarke is that he is a California native, hailing from LaVerne and attending Claremont High School. Clarke is small in stature- he is 5’9: and 175 pounds but has shown some promise. If Jason Blake can play on the NHL level then there is hope for Clarke.
As we approach the halfway mark of the season, here are the highs and lows of the system.
The best story so far is Joe Rullier. He is quickly emerging as the top defensive prospect in the Kings system. He has shown the grit the Kings like at the blue line and has added some solid offense. Rullier was the only Kings’ representative on Canada’s WJC team and has put up solid numbers for Rimouski of the QMJHL.
The most concerning story is Scott Barney. The Kings have been so hush-hush about this that one can only wonder what the problem is. To the best of my knowledge, Barney is still nursing a back injury and is not even skating right now. This is the big centerman the Kings have longed for. An unfavorable diagnosis would make a thin pipeline even thinner.
What to watch out for is firstly, Barney. Will he play this season? Secondly is how Pavel Rosa emerges. He has been decent in Long Beach, but where is the goal scoring? Is he moping in Long Beach or is this what the guy is? The Kings seem like they would have to at least give him a cup of coffee this season, even if it is to show him for trade.
The Los Angeles Kings recent slide has overshadowed what has been a great season to-date. The Kings started the season playing over their heads and are currently playing below their ability. That is not unusual- teams go through slumps. The part that may be somewhat distressing is that when the Kings could use a spark from the farm system, some peek at a great prospect that will reinvigorate players and fans alike, the best the Kings could do…
No offense to Len Barrie. He plays hard and with grit and he is an excellent minor league hockey player, but he would likely not crack 75% of the NHL teams fourth line. It was this move that lead to a look at the system. The fact, while hard to swallow, is that the Kings do not have an impact player that is even remotely ready to play in the NHL.
The Kings seem to be on either side of the prospect fence. They have prospects like Pavel Rosa and Jason Podollan who posses promise but a call-up would likely expose the holes in their games and impede on any potential movement in regards to expansion. Both of these guys, along with Donald MacLean, Nathan Lafayette and Rich Brennan can prosper in the minors, making themselves more appealing to Columbus or Minnesota.