It’s an open casting call in Hollywood and all the stars are showing up for a chance to shine. No, we don’t mean a sequel to the Dark Knight, or even a loosely based biopic of the life of local rock legend Mike Ness. We are talking about the open audition for a number of roster spots with the Los Angeles Kings, and nearly every prospect has cleaned up his resume. When training camp officially opens on Sept. 19, no fewer than eight spots on the 20-man roster will be open to competition and every prospect will be vying for his opportunity to bring the fans back through the turnstile of the town that the box office built.
Unlike last season where a number of free agent veterans were brought in during the offseason, General Manager Dean Lombardi has not signed a single free agent. His largest offseason acquisitions were done via trade, which went only part way towards closing the number of holes on the roster. Presuming that the restricted free agents of Patrick O’Sullivan and Brad Richardson come to terms with the Kings before the season starts, that will leave nine forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender firmly established on the NHL roster.
Brian Boyle, Ted Purcell and Matt Moulson, each having received playing time during the 2007-08 season, will be provided every opportunity to earn the final three forward positions. After his brief but spectacular performance last season, Boyle appears to be the most NHL ready and with a game capable of succeeding on the third or fourth line, he plays perfectly into the current dynamics of the Kings roster. Purcell and Moulson are more known for skill and scoring. They can be slotted anywhere on the first, second or third lines, if the coaching staff so chooses to move one or more of the established scorers to other lines to create scoring depth.
While the three mentioned forwards are clearly the front-runners heading into training camp, a number of other prospect forwards with experience will be pushing for recognition. Brady Murray and Gabe Gauthier have also seen playing time in the NHL, but have only shown a propensity for service as energy forwards on the fourth line. Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller could translate a surprisingly strong training camp into an early season try-out. Even seldom mentioned Kevin Westgarth could make physical brute Raitis Ivanans expendable.
If the crystal ball is cloudy in terms of predicting which forwards will make the opening night roster, then it is down right blinding in terms of predicting the defensemen. There are at least two starting positions open to competition and all prospect defensemen currently under contract will have every opportunity to break camp with the Kings. Peter Harrold is believed to be the most likely candidate to secure a roster position as the most veteran and NHL ready of the defensive prospects. But even this is far from definite as he could find a back seat to one of the more highly touted prospects with a poor showing in camp.
Top prospects Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert could be just the players to oust Harrold and send him back to Manchester. Doughty and Teubert are fresh from the 2008 Entry Draft and come to camp full of confidence and eager to play immediately. Hickey was the Kings top pick in the 2007 Entry Draft and made enough strides in poise and grit to convince the coaching staff that he can more than hold his own at the NHL level. Alec Martinez is fresh from signing an entry-level contract after leaving college hockey early and, having never played a single professional game in his life, can be the biggest surprise of all on the blueline.
If the coaching staff determines that the position calls for a more veteran presence, Joe Piskula, Drew Bagnall and Davis Drewiske might get the nod from Lombardi. While each has limited upside as a prospect, each could convert a strong and solid camp into NHL playing time. All three are relatively experienced for a prospect and can fill the role of what Lombardi has termed “a bridge player” – someone brought in to compete at the NHL level just long enough to allow the more touted prospects to develop at their own pace. While the Kings have hinted at bringing in a veteran bridge player, do not be surprised if they dip into Manchester to fill a roster spot in the interim.
Both Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg have NHL experience and are under contract with the Kings. While LaBarbera appears secure in his position with Los Angeles, Ersberg may have to fight no less than three prospects for back-up duties. Jonathan Bernier had such a successful training camp last season that he started in net for the Kings on opening night. The possibility of this happening again is very real. Bernier could steal the show in training camp and render former starter LaBarbera to the bench. While it is improbable that Jonathan Quick or Jeff Zatkoff will win the starting job, each has an outside chance of being the backup in Los Angeles, pushing Bernier to Manchester and making Ersberg expendable. With so much competition in net during training camp, there is little indication of how it will fall out.
2008 Preseason Schedule
Monday, Sept. 22 vs. St. Louis Blues, 5:05 p.m. (split squad game played in Kansas City)
Monday, Sept. 22 vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 7:30 p.m. (split squad game played in Los Angeles)
Wednesday, Sept. 24 @ Colorado Avalanche, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 27 vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 30 vs. Anaheim Ducks, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 1 @ Anaheim Ducks, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 4 @ Phoenix Coyotes, 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 5 vs. San Jose Sharks, 6:00 p.m.