Kings training camp preview

By David A. Rainer

As in 2005, the Los Angeles Kings bring in a large contingent of youth to open their training camp in El Segundo, California beginning Sept. 14. In prior years, prospects attending camp were hoping to secure themselves playing time in the NHL. However, prospects in this year’s camp will be looking more to catch the eyes of coaches for future consideration than to actually win a roster spot immediately.

Battle for the Roster

New General Manager Dean Lombardi spent the offseason acquiring depth at the forward position while restocking the farm system through the draft and the trade of Pavol Demitra. One prospect acquired in the trade of Demitra is already slated to start the season in Los Angeles. Patrick O’Sullivan was one of the top players in the AHL last season and is more than ready to make the jump. A left wing position on one of the top two lines is O’Sullivan’s job to lose. If he continues his hot streak from last season, O’Sullivan will receive top ice time with the Kings.

Outside of O’Sullivan, there are not many forward roster positions available to be won by a prospect. So much so that veteran incumbents Eric Belanger, Jeff Cowan and George Parros might be fighting for their jobs. If Sean Avery is traded, the door may be opened for Petr Kanko on the third or fourth line. Depending upon how injuries will affect the roster during training camp, Anze Kopitar might secure an early roster spot. If the team breaks camp healthy, Kopitar will likely begin the year in Manchester and have to wait until midseason to don the Kings sweater. Matt Ryan and Konstantin Pushkarev have outside chances of securing a roster spot during training camp.

While there does not appear to be much room at forward, the Kings have one or two defensive positions that are open to competition for a prospect to possibly fill, depending upon the health status of some of their aging vets. Richard Petiot is the only defensive prospect with any NHL experience, having been called up to Los Angeles four times last season and appearing in two games. However, Petiot suffered a leg injury during the 2006 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament which possibly could end his season before it even begins. He is currently classified as week to week by the Kings.

Peter Harrold and non-roster prospect Eric Werner might also impress enough during camp to earn early season call-ups. Neither has any NHL experience, making it unlikely that the Kings will break camp with either filling a starting position. With the injury to Petiot and the inexperience with the remaining defensive prospects, it is almost assured that the Kings will not use a prospect at any defensive position to begin the year.

With Mathieu Garon, Dan Cloutier and Jason LaBarbera already competing for two goalie positions with the Kings, all goaltender prospects in camp will merely be playing to impress the coaching staff for future references.

Better late than never

While there are not many roster spots available for prospects to fill out of training camp, many prospects are vying for midseason call-ups. As already stated, Kopitar, Kanko and Petiot are the three most likely to fit this mold.

Kopitar was signed to a three-year entry-level contract immediately after being drafted, but returned to Sweden in 2005. Now in North America, Kopitar will be closely watched as a prospect who can contribute immediately. Still only 19 years of age, Kopitar has plenty of time to develop in the farm system. But it will be difficult to hold back his raw talents in an NHL-sized body. If nothing else, Kopitar might be able to add a scoring threat on the third line before the 2006-07 season has completed.

What holds Kanko back from playing in the NHL is not development, but the fact that his role with the team is being filled by someone else. He has already gotten his feet wet in the NHL and is now just waiting for his opportunity full-time. Kanko is a feisty player, born for the role as an agitator. However, Sean Avery of the Kings is already one of the best agitators in the NHL. If Avery has in fact worn out his welcome in Los Angeles with his teammates and management, a midseason trade might create space for Kanko on the third or fourth line with the Kings. Expect to see Kanko in Los Angeles before the season is finished.

It appeared that Petiot was on the fast track to playing regularly in the NHL by the middle of the season. But a serious knee injury during the Pacific Division Rookie Tournament has all but made that an impossibility. Depending upon the severity of the injury, Petiot could be sidelined for months in recovery and rehabilitation. While Petiot may see a handful of games with the Kings towards the end of the season, it is more likely that he will only appear in a Manchester sweater.

Preseason schedule

Mon. Sept. 18 @ Anaheim Ducks 7:00 p.m.
Tue. Sept. 19 vs San Jose Sharks 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 23 vs Colorado Avalanche 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Sept. 25 vs Anaheim Ducks 7:30 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 29 @ San Jose Sharks 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 30 @ Colorado Avalanche 6:00 p.m.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.