The Los Angeles Kings training camp has been filled with positives to date. There are some “knowns” in camp so far- the line of Palffy, Stumpel and Robitaille will give the kings their best offensive line since the Gretzky era- and some unknowns- who will fill in the last two defensive spots and when will Jere Karalahti arrive in camp?
The lines seem to be taking shape without much input from young prospects. Donald MacLean played about as quiet an exhibition game as possible against Colorado on Tuesday, and has not yet impressed the new coaching staff. Younger players like Kip Brennan and Brian McGrattan showed some spark but have already been returned to their respective teams, and none of the leftover prospects seem to have done enough to warrant their stay on the big club. The good news is that the Kings seemed prepared for this and have filled the potential voids with more savvy players who know Coach Murray’s system. Players like Brad Chartrand and Len Barrie have shown some spark and Chartrand will likely make the squad. 27-year-old winger Marko Tuomainen has shown an aggressiveness that should make him stick. He plays a sound defensive game, and has the grit needed to dominate a player on that side of the ice.
The Long Beach Press Telegram is reporting that Aki Berg has agreed in principle to a one year contract with the Kings that could be signed as soon as today. Berg claims no hard feelings and says he is ready and eager to play for the Kings this season. This move is huge in easing the concerns of defensive depth. This also puts Berg back on track to the promising future he had two years ago.
Also, the Los Angeles Kings issued the following press release on the condition of prospect Eric Belanger. Belanger was diagnosed with a blood clot that could potentially keep him out for the season. As this article reads, the centerman’s season has been salvaged after all.
INGLEWOOD, CA. – Los Angeles Kings center Eric Belanger underwent successful surgery this morning for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that caused a blood clot to develop in his right arm, Kings Senior Vice President/General Manager Dave Taylor announced today.
Surgery was performed by Dr. Fred A. Weaver, chief of vascular surgery, USC University Hospital, to remove Belanger`s first rib on his right side. He will be followed over the next month by Dr. Weaver and Kings internist Dr. Michael Mellman. The timing for Belanger`s return to professional hockey will be determined by his response to surgery and rehabilitation over the next month.
The lack of depth in the Los Angeles Kings system is perhaps most visible in their lack of wings in their system. While the Kings finally acquired their long coveted scorer in Ziggy Palffy, it came at a serious cost to their system, particularly on the wings. Josh Green showed some signs of greatness, and was one of former coach Larry Robinson’s favorite players. In the Kings’ home opener last season, Green broke to the net and scored on a rebound, showing signs of the power forward many had hoped he’d become. The bad news was that was the last time he went to the net. Green had potential, but was slow and hesitant, which makes him the next Kevin Stevens, which is not what the Kings needed at wing. The number four pick that also went to New York would likely have been forward Taylor Pyatt. The Kings also passed on signing left wing Matt Zhultek, allowing him to return to the draft where Boston took him. So without those forwards, here is the extent of the Kings young forwards, both at the NHL level and in the pipeline.
The Los Angeles Kings thought they had their center of the future in Olli Jokinen as recently as last Spring. He was exactly what the Kings had longed for- a big, physical centerman with playmaking ability. Whenever teams called for trades, they were told that Jokinen was off limits. Now he is gone as part of the Palffy trade, and the Kings have quickly become thin at a key position- center ice.
While they did get the enigmatic Bryan Smolinski as part of the trade, the loss of Jokinen, Ferraro (free agency) and Perrault (trade last season) have left the Kings with an opening for one of their young center prospects. Much like defense, the Kings drafts and trades of the past will have to produce a player this season, furthering the need for Dave Taylor to face the music. The success or failures of some of these young forwards may well determine Taylor’s future as General Manager of the Kings.
The Kings are set with three centermen, Josef Stumpel on the first line, Smolinski on the second and crowd favorite Ian Lapperiere as the center on the checking line. That would likely leave two center positions available, one third line center and one reserve. The Kings signed journeyman center Len Barrie who has played in Europe the last two seasons and is 30 years old. He would appear to be the safety net in case the young players cannot handle the rigors of the NHL. These are the rest of the centers with shots at the roster:
The LA Kings started the 1998-99 season amid optimism for a breakout season. The backbone of that potential was what then-coach Larry Robinson called “one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.” While that may have been an overstatement, the fact remained that the Kings were deep at defense. A year later, Robinson is gone, as well as the deep defensive corps. Steve Duchesne was a bust, Garry Galley’s effort has been called into question, Doug Bodger has been told to seek employment elsewhere and promising young defenseman Aki Berg is no closer to signing with the club. Add to that the fact that Matthieu Biron, the club’s top pick last year, was sent to the Island in the Ziggy Pallfy trade, and we’re looking at some major depletion here… The Kings still have solid NHL defensemen in Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom and an improving Sean O’Donnell, but still lack depth. Phillippe Boucher, Jaroslav Modry and Garry Galley round out the experienced defensemen on the NHL roster. The result is that one or two of the following players will need to make the club this season, and the other young defensemen in the system will need to mature quickly.