Los Angeles Kings boast enviable depth at AHL level

By Josh Deitell
Photo: From making the NHL out of training camp to being the top scorer in the WJCs, few prospects have had more eventful seasons than Brayden Schenn. (Photo Courtesy of www.whl.ca)

After hovering around the .500 mark for the first few weeks of the season, the Kings-affiliated Monarchs have gone on a tear. The team is sitting comfortably atop the Atlantic Division, thanks to a six-game win streak in late December. Balanced scoring from their forwards, contributions from their defense at both ends of the rink, and stellar goaltending have propelled Manchester to a 24-13-1-1 overall record.

Justin Azevedo, C, 22

Azevedo entered the pro ranks two years ago with concerns regarding how he would be able to handle the rigors of the professional game. So far, he’s been unable to prove that he can play a full season as a pro, as injuries have prevented him from breaking the fifty game mark in each of his first two AHL seasons. He’s played in all 38 of the team’s games to date, but he’ll need to stay healthy for the whole season to break his injury-prone reputation.

Marc-Andre Cliche, C/W, 23

Cliche is an integral part of the Monarchs fifth-ranked penalty-killing unit. In addition to his responsible play, he’s also seen some power play time, illustrating his versatility. In total, he has eight goals and 16 points in 29 games this season, putting him on pace to surpass his career highs of 11 goals and 25 points which he posted in 66 games last season.

He’s had injury struggles as a pro but he has the speed and two-way game to make an impact as a depth forward in the NHL.

Richard Clune, LW, 23

Clune finished the 2009-10 season with the Kings, even suiting up in some playoff games, but found himself displaced from the roster to start this season. He’s taken his demotion in stride and continued to play the game fearlessly, hitting everything that moves and taking on fighters thirty pounds his senior. Clune leads the Monarchs with 135 penalty minutes in 38 games. He’s also chipped in 11 points on the year.

Despite his limited offensive upside, Clune’s cannonball attitude and pesky style of play make him valuable. He’s mainly been kept out of the NHL this season because the Kings are particularly deep at forward, but could feasibly be taking a regular fourth-line shift on a number of other teams.

Corey Elkins, C, 25

After an impressive rookie season in which he led the Monarchs with 21 goals in 73 games and also potted his first NHL goal in three games with the big club, Elkins returned to Manchester this year with the expectation that he’d be one of the club’s top goal scorers again, and he hasn’t disappointed so far. Through 37 games, he has nine goals and 14 points.

A developing two-way forward, Elkins looks like a solid free agent signing for the Kings. Though he’s not quite ready to be an NHL regular, should he continue to refine his defensive game, he has the touch to be a depth forward who can put the puck in the net from time to time.

Bud Holloway, LW, 22

Last season, Holloway led the Monarchs in points during the regular season (with 47 in 75 games) and playoffs (with 14 in 16). This year, Holloway is ranked second amongst Monarchs forwards with 25 points through 38 games.

Where Holloway excels is with his versatility, being able to play both wing and center capably. He also has a hard, accurate shot and a knack for scoring goals at the right time.

However, despite his quality attributes, Holloway is inconsistent defensively, particularly in playing physically. He does not have the offensive skill to crack an NHL roster on talent alone, so continuing to refine his all-around game will go a long way towards getting him his first cup of coffee at the NHL level.

Ray Kaunisto, RW, 23

After a breakout year with Northern Michigan University, Kaunisto was inked to a deal as an unsigned college free agent this past summer and is in the midst of his first AHL season. After missing the beginning of the year with a foot injury, Kaunisto has played fairly exclusively on the Monarchs bottom lines and has posted six points in 24 games. He hasn’t been a liability but also isn’t making his presence felt on a consistent basis. The gritty winger will need to continue to pay his dues and will likely only get his shot to play quality minutes if or when the prospects ahead of him on the depth move up to the big league.

Dwight King, C/LW, 21

One of the fastest risers in the organization, King made his debut for the big club this year in just his second professional season, and in just his second game was promoted to the top line alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Though King went pointless and was eventually demoted to the bottom-six before being sent back down to the Monarchs, the fact that he got the opportunity to prove himself just one year removed from the ECHL is indicative of how highly the Kings thinks of him.

With 19 points in 31 AHL games, King is well on track to surpass his 26-point performance in 52 games as an AHL rookie. What’s further encouraging is that the well rounded forward has played in a variety of situations this year, most notably on the power play, whereas last season he was limited to mostly even-strength minutes.

Brandon Kozun, RW, 20

To date, Kozun’s season has been a mixed bag. Though he’s ranked in the top 20 in rookie scoring, he’s been bounced around the lineup from the first line to the press box and everywhere in between.

Kozun has found his way onto the scoresheet for nine goals, ten assists, and 19 points this year in 33 games, but has not been given heavy power play minutes, ceding time to more seasoned players. Part of the issue has been his lack of discipline. His six minor penalties in ten games in October were incongruent with his lack of physical play. Monarchs’ coach Mark Morris went as far as to scratch Kozun for a stretch of games in early November to try and get the importance of responsible play within the system through to him.

Kozun is struggling to play a balanced game, something not entirely unexpected for an undersized AHL rookie. The issues with his game are not drastic enough to discount his immense offensive potential, but he can’t get by solely on skill anymore. It will take him some time to put it all together.

Andrei Loktionov, C, 20

While there may not be another prospect in the Kings organization with as much skill and flair as Loktionov, he entered the pro ranks last year as a skinny teenager whose durability would be tested against the rigors of the AHL. After having his promising 2009-10 season derailed by a dislocated shoulder in his NHL debut, Loktionov spent the past summer bulking up to increase his durability and came to training camp a stronger and more aggressive player, much more a man than he was a year previous.

Having been sent down after failing to carve out a spot for himself in the Kings’ top-six, Loktionov has had no trouble maintaining his status as one of the AHL’s top playmakers. He leads the Monarchs with 21 assists and 27 points in 28 games, despite having spent the beginning of the season with the Kings.

David Meckler, LW, 23

When Meckler made his AHL debut in 2007-08 and scored 23 goals in 76 games that season, there were high hopes that he would develop into a quality NHL goal scorer. However, over the next two years, Meckler was only able to pot 25 goals, and fell down the depth chart as other prospects made their presence felt.

This year, he seems to have found his touch again, as he’s leading the Monarchs with 12 goals in 38 games. With his contract expiring this summer, he’ll need to continue to put the puck in the net if he wants to stick around with the organization.

Jordan Nolan, C, 21

Nolan is of a new breed of NHL heavyweights: a big guy who can play the game but is also capable of dropping the gloves when necessary. Along with posting 152 points in 267 career OHL games, Nolan established himself as one of the league’s premier pugilists, not dropping the gloves with the frequency of a true enforcer but rarely coming out on the losing end of a scrap when he did.

This year, making his professional debut, Nolan has eased seamlessly into the Monarchs bottom six, providing gritty play and the occasional point, with seven in 34 games. It remains to be seen whether he’ll realize his offensive potential at the professional level, but with his combination of size, strength, and surprising speed, Nolan is an intriguing depth prospect.

Brayden Schenn, C, 19

There’s not a prospect on the Kings who has had a more eventful season than Schenn. After playing in eight NHL games during the month of October and posting one point, Schenn spent early November with the Kings as a healthy scratch while still practicing with the team. He was then sent to Manchester on a conditioning assignment, a loophole that allowed him to play with the Monarchs despite the CHL/AHL arrangement. During his time with the Monarchs, Schenn posted seven points in seven games and looked like a quality AHL player, though he was forced to return to the Kings after the two week stint was up.

The Kings were then forced to make their final decision with Schenn, sending him back to Brandon before he played in his tenth NHL game. As a result, Schenn’s entry-level contract will not kick in until next season. Returning to junior afforded him the opportunity to play in the World Junior Championships for Canada. When all was said and done at the WJC he finished with 18 points in seven games, tied for the most by a Canadian.

Schenn will undoubtedly be ready to make the jump to the pro ranks next season. Whether the Kings will ease him in with the Monarchs or plug him into the NHL roster is to be determined.

Andrew Campbell, D, 22

One of the bigger scapegoats amongst Monarchs fans in his first two years with the team, Campbell has settled things down and become a dependable AHL defenseman. After developing a reputation for slow foot speed, bad positioning, and poor puck decisions, the still-developing blueliner has played a much safer game this year.

This season, aside from occasional lapses, Campbell has been an apt bottom-pairing defenseman. Whether he has NHL potential remains to be seen, but he does have the luxury of being one of the few defensemen with size in the organization.

Thomas Hickey, D, 21

After struggling with injuries last season, Hickey is healthy and showing flashes of his ability. With five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 38 games, Hickey is second amongst Monarchs defensemen in scoring. His plus-13 rating is also best amongst blueliners on the team.

Hickey has had some trouble adjusting his game to the professional ranks, a process made more difficult by his injury woes, but he is now getting the opportunity to play for an extended stretch with the Monarchs and learn the nuances of pro hockey for the first time.

David Kolomatis, D, 21

Kolomatis has not improved by leaps and bounds this season, but is still contributing from the blueline on a consistent basis. With 12 points in 32 games, he is on a similar pace to his 29-point performance in 76 games last year. He’s not ideally sized for an NHL player, but he’s smart with the puck and as a result, gets his share of time quarterbacking the team’s power play.

While there are some quality prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, he’ll continue give the Monarchs some offensive punch from the back end for the near future and will play a bigger role as other prospects ascend to the NHL. The Kings inked him to a three-year entry-level deal this past summer.

Alec Martinez, D, 23

This year, the Kings tried to be patient with Martinez, cutting him at training camp and challenging him to match last year’s AHL performance. He was even better. With 16 points in 20 games, Martinez was one of the top defensemen in the AHL in scoring before his late-November call up to the Kings, when he replaced Jake Muzzin in the lineup.

He scored a goal in his first game of the season and has since added another and two assists for four points in 20 games, but even more impressive is his poise with the puck.

Without it, the shift defenseman is responsible in his positioning and unafraid to take the body. Gluing things together is his footwork: he’s arguably the most gifted skater on the Kings. Martinez has looked much more the part of a seasoned NHL defenseman than an overmatched rookie. It would be a surprise to see him returned to Manchester, as he’s proven to be an elite AHL player and looks to have stuck for good.

Patrick Mullen, D, 24

Mullen is substance without flash. He’s carved out a nice supporting role for himself on the Monarchs, to the tune of 33 games of action with a plus-two rating over that span. He’s not particularly strong in any aspect of his game, but he’s a smart, safe player who can play 12 minutes a night without any major gaffes. His offensive game is improving as well, as his 10 points on the year match his output in 44 games last season.

Jake Muzzin, D, 21

Muzzin not only forced the Kings to cut the highly-drafted Hickey at training camp, but also stuck on the roster and played over the more-experience Peter Harrold to the tune of an average of just under 14 minutes a game. More importantly, he was largely mistake free in his audition.

Muzzin was sent down to the Monarchs to refine his game while playing heavy minutes. He’s taken the responsibility in stride, posting eight points and an impressive plus-nine rating in just 10 games on the year. Muzzin’s upside may not be higher than that of a middle pairing defenseman, but for a player the Kings added without giving up assets or using a draft pick, he’s a gem of a pickup.

Colten Teubert, D, 20

Teubert was not drafted as a prospect that was expected to easily make the jump to the NHL. The Kings knew what they were getting: a mean, physical blueliner with a booming slapshot who had plenty of kinks to work out in his game. He’s been inconsistent and unstable, but now in his first season with the Monarchs, Teubert is enjoying moderate success while trying to play a responsible defensive game.

His three points in 20 games are indicative not so much of his limited offensive upside as his lack of power play responsibility. It’s clear that while Teubert has the ability to be a two-way defenseman, the onus is on him to be safe in his own zone first. He’s a long way from the NHL, but notwithstanding some head-scratching rookie mistakes, Teubert is at least improving, and that’s all that can be reasonably asked of him right now.

Vyacheslav Voynov, D, 20

After posting 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points in 79 games least season, Voynov is well on pace to crush his career highs with six goals and 21 assists for 27 points in 35 games so far this season, a total which ties him for tops amongst all players on the Monarchs and ranks him first in the AHL scoring by defensemen. His creativity with the puck is unmatched amongst Kings defensive prospects. Further encouraging is Voynov’s consistent improvement with his defensive zone coverage. He still has his lapses, but he’s not the teeth-gritting liability he once was.

With the Kings depth on the blueline, they can afford to continue to be patient with Voynov, but there is a flight risk with him, as he’s paid his dues and proven himself deserving of a shot at the NHL. Look for him to get his first cup of coffee with the Kings as the season goes on.

Martin Jones, G, 20

Though Jones came into the season looking to push Zatkoff for the number one job, he’s exceeded expectations by seizing the starting role and posting extraordinary numbers. The AHL Rookie of the Month for December has made it increasingly difficult for the struggling but more experienced Zatkoff to get starts in recent weeks. After starting six games in November to Zatkoff’s nine, Jones started nine games during December to Zatkoff’s five.

His hold on the starting job becomes firmer with each solid performance, and there have been plenty of them. Jones boasts a 1.68 goals against average and a .945 save percentage, both amongst the tops in the league. In 19 games, he has 13-3 record. Though he’s behind two quality talents in Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, Jones is looking like another impressive horse in the Kings’ stable.

Jeff Zatkoff, G, 23

Zatkoff entered this season with pressure on him from a variety of angles. AHL star Jonathan Bernier ascended to the Kings roster, leaving Zatkoff, by virtue of seniority, the prime candidate to take over the starting role from a goaltender who carried the team deep into the playoffs last year. At the same time, young Martin Jones joined the Kings, looking to jumpstart his pro career by playing well with the Monarchs when given the opportunity, but with the expectation that he would likely be ceding a lion’s share of the starts to Zatkoff or spending most of the year in the ECHL.

Partially due to Jones’ stellar play, but also due to poor performance from Zatkoff, things haven’t gone as expected. Jones has taken over the starting gig and is playing like a top AHL goalie, while Zatkoff has gone 10-10-1 in 22 games. His 3.20 goals-against-average and .892 save percentage rank him outside the top 40 AHL goaltenders. Once a promising pro prospect, Zatkoff will need to get his game in order to avoid becoming irrelevant in the organization.