The Los Angeles Kings have had an up and down season in 2014-15. They are a team that has struggled during the regular season year after year, but this year the team has faced other challenges. With suspensions, injuries, and inconsistent play from several veteran players, the Kings have turned towards some of the younger members to step forward. With a history of young players making a difference (Dwight King and Jordan Nolan in 2012, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli in 2014), it remains to be seen who will be the 2014-15 spark.
With almost half the season gone and the Kings clinging to the final wildcard spot out West, they definitely need something to get them back on track.
Tanner Pearson, LW, 22
Drafted 1st round in 2012, 30th overall
Pearson graduated in the early going of the 2014-15 season. To say he had a hot start would be an understatement. For a time, Pearson led the entire NHL in goals. That time was obviously short-lived as the rookie came crashing back down to earth around late November. However, that hasn’t stopped him from racking up 12 goals and 16 points this year.
As was the case in the playoffs, Pearson’s speed has been a needed addition to the Los Angeles Kings lineup. Along with Toffoli and Jeff Carter, the trio are an exception to the heavy, slow, and grinding style of the Kings lineup. While Pearson does have some nasty to him as well, the quickness has been notable. He was added to the All-Star game in Columbus, however just after the announcement he suffered what is likely a season-ending broken lower leg.
Andy Andreoff, C, 23
Drafted 3rd round in 2011, 80th overall
Andreoff has been in a very difficult position this season. With the forward being non-waiver eligible, the Kings have not wanted to risk losing the feisty fourth liner for nothing. That has created a situation in which Andreoff hasn’t received too much playing time at the NHL level, and is not capable of being sent down for AHL time either. With infrequent play and limited minutes, the young forward has yet to really grow into his role as an agitating two-way forward quite like he was with Manchester. The Kings have steadily started to rotate Andreoff back into the fold in more recent times, but he still remains a player that is receiving around five to seven minutes of ice time a night. He also has just two fights on the season in his eleven appearances.
Given the situation, the jury is still out on what Andreoff’s long term role with the team may be. For the time being he is a 13th or 14th forward and will have to claw and scrap for every bit of playing time he gets.
Nick Shore, C/W, 22
Drafted 3rd round in 2011, 82nd overall
The University of Denver grad played the first half of the season with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Not only did Shore improve upon his rookie season with the Monarchs, he was one of the best players in the entire league through the first half. His exceptional play, along with the injury to Tanner Pearson, saw Shore get his call-up in early January.
Always coined as a two-way center with good defensive instincts, Shore has seen his offensive game raise to another level this year. He was over a point per game pace with Manchester in his 37 games in the AHL and sits at the 20 goal mark. There is hope that this offense will translate as he embarks on his first NHL stint. If anything he still remains a good option for a responsible bottom line center.
Martin Jones, G, 25
Signed as a free agent in 2008
Jones graduated in the early part of 2014-15, and like in 2013-14, he has provided excellent games when called upon. As the backup goaltender for Jonathan Quick he isn’t asked to participate in too many games. Nonetheless, the cool and composed style of Jones has kept the Kings in many games when their number one goalie has needed a rest.
So far in 2014-15 he has competed in 11 games and posted a 4-3-2-2 record with a .908 save percentage. His career numbers continue to float around the .925 range, however the sample size is somewhat small at 30 NHL games. If he continues to play well there has been talk that Jones may follow the path of former Kings backup and now Maple Leafs starter Jonathan Bernier. All that aside, Jones has been an exceptional backup, despite some struggles. When he is called upon keeps the Kings in games with strong technical ability and some flashes of solid athleticism as well.
Brayden McNabb, D, 24
Acquired via trade from Buffalo in March 2014
McNabb has also recently graduated from the Kings system, but not before he solidified himself into the NHL ranks as a bottom-pairing defenseman.
McNabb has had his struggles, but all things considered he has been a worthwhile addition to the Kings bullion in a time of need. He has led with his physical game and can be noticed almost every night lining up a big hit on players trying to enter the zone. On occasion it can cause him to get out of position, but over time he has chosen his spots more carefully. While foot speed and offense are still areas of weakness, McNabb has put in some good work in his own end. He has shown solid discipline, an active stick, and a decent ability to keep the center lanes and front of the net clear. With injuries and suspensions decimating the Kings blueline, the former Sabres prospect has been a huge help.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
Outside of William Nylander (TOR) and Oskar Lindblom (PHI), Adrian Kempe was arguably Team Sweden’s best forward. With four goals and eight points in six games, Kempe tied for the team lead in goals and was third overall in points. He was also a major factor on Sweden’s power play unit, leading the team in power play goals. While much of the attention was rightfully given to Nylander, Kempe showed exactly what the Kings saw in the young power forward. He has a good offensive game and a comparably good defensive game as well. He also showed a willingness to be assertive with and without the puck. There is an element of confidence that Kempe showed in the tournament that hasn’t been all that present in his SHL game this year with MODO. As he gains more experience it will be interesting to see if that translates to his pro game. Overall it was an exceptional tournament for the Kings’ 2014 1st round selection.
Dominik Kubalik has been on a downward trend since his 2013-14 move from Sudbury to Kitchener. He headed back to the Czech Republic and has bounced between HC Plzen’s men’s and junior squads this season, putting up decent points in the latter. Nonetheless he served as captain of the Czech WJC squad. Much like the entire Czech team though, his performance was on the disappointing side of things. He registered just one goal in the tournament and had a -3 rating. Perhaps it was a bit of bad luck, as his shooting percentage was exceptionally low. Nonetheless, Kubalik continues to see a slide in 2014-15 and the World Juniors were no relief. With a good tournament he could have potentially been back on the upswing in the pipeline, but that obviously did not come to fruition.
The low-flash, defensive-minded Alex Lintuniemi actually had a pretty stellar tournament. When you look at Team Finland as a whole they were very disappointing. That, however, didn’t stop Lintuniemi from looking like the most mature and responsible defenseman on the team at times.
The defenseman had the pleasure of pairing up with the highly rated puck-mover Julius Honka (DAL). Due to Lintuniemi’s defensive game, Honka was able to assert himself in the offensive zone and take more than a few risks when carrying the puck. Despite Honka having a bit of an underwhelming tournament, the partnership was able to work due to his 6’3 partner’s stability. Lintuniemi had to make a number of players during the tournament to bail his partner out. While Finland had a lackluster tournament, Lintuniemi was actually a lone bright spot with his physical play and defensive focus.
Los Angeles Kings Prospect of the Month
Without a doubt the honors go to Nick Shore for this month’s Prospect of the Month. He has continued to be a lethal force at the AHL level, and has now received his first NHL call up. Regardless of whether or not Shore stays with the team and performs well, he has had a fantastic sophomore season at the pro level. The way his offensive game has translated to the next level has surpassed a lot of expectations. Hopefully as he continues to grow his game and develop more confidence there is another level yet to be discovered. At the current moment it looks like Shore will be given every opportunity to line up in the LA Kings top-six or top-nine. Given every chance to succeed, this 3rd round pick could pay out some big dividends for an NHL squad that desperately needs a spark in the second half. So far there has been no slacking off from the 22-year-old, and he is already having a memorable 2014-15. Is there more to be heard from Nick Shore though?
Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter via @SirJDL