One of the more important stories so far this season for the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings is who was and was not assigned to Manchester to start the season. The controversial assignment of Jason Labarbera pushed the goaltender prospects down a rung on the development ladder. Additionally, top rookie Anze Kopitar, whom was expected to spend the bulk of his season in Manchester, in all likelihood, will never see the inside of the Verizon Wireless Arena wearing a Monarchs sweater.
Not wanting to lose Labarbera to waivers, the Kings assigned the veteran goaltender to Manchester to start the season. This resulted in pushing the expected starter of Barry Brust down into the backup role and forced Yutaka Fukufuji and Ryan Munce out of town and into a Reading Royals jersey. However, due to a clause in the NHL collective bargaining agreement which obligates the Kings to pass Labarbera through waivers before they recall him to Los Angeles, and the fact that he would assuredly be picked up on waivers by another organization, this has opened the door for the Kings to call up Barry Brust and give him his first shot in the NHL.
In the rare minutes that Brust has spent on the ice in Manchester, he has posted rather lackluster numbers with a 1-4 record and a 3.04 goals-against average. While Brust has been in Los Angeles, Fukufuji was recalled from Reading to fill the backup role in Manchester. In only two games, Fukufuji has performed remarkably well with a 1.52 goals-against average and a stellar .928 save percentage. Since it does not appear that Labarbera will be leaving Manchester any time soon, Fukufuji and Brust will spend the remainder of the year in the backup role.
To the disappointment of Manchester fans, Kopitar’s performance in training camp and early in the season has kept him on the NHL roster. As such, Manchester has had to look elsewhere for offense this season. Alternatively, the top scoring prospect for the Monarchs, Patrick O’Sullivan, was expected to play the entire season in Los Angeles. But a slow start in the NHL ended in an assignment to the AHL where he has provided some offensive spark with 11 goals and 23 points in 28 games. How much longer O’Sullivan will remain in Manchester is yet to be seen. As the Kings fall further back in the standings, they will be sellers at the NHL trade deadline and look to call up some of the young talent in Manchester to give them their shot, including O’Sullivan.
Other newcomers to Manchester who have picked up the scoring slack are Matt Moulson, John Zeiler and Peter Harrold, all three signed by Los Angeles during the offseason. Zeiler has been a pleasant surprise with 10 goals and 20 points through 34 games with solid defensive play, a scrappy plus/minus of +11 and a team-leading seven power-play goals. Moulson is second on the team with 14 assists and third with 22 points from the left wing spot. Prior to being called up to Los Angeles, Harrold was tied for the team lead in points by a defenseman with 13. He has since returned and picked up where he left off, leading all Monarchs defensemen in points per game average and tied for eighth in the AHL for points be a defenseman (19).
Lauri Tukonen has yet to take that next step in his development. He is still developing his scoring ability but has only six goals, five on the power play, in 24 games. Tukonen missed part of the season with an injury in November after recovering from a shoulder injury that ended his 2005-06 season prematurely. Moving into the remainder of the season, Tukonen must step up and show progress in his scoring if he is to be called up to Los Angeles towards the end of the season.
There are a variety of other prospects that have made varying contributions to the Monarchs this season. Matt Ryan has recently returned from a preseason injury and the team has responded, going 8-3-2 in the 13 games he has appeared. Petr Kanko has provided seven feisty points in his 21 games. Konstantin Pushkarev, Gabe Gauthier and Shay Stephenson have added depth and scoring from outside the top scoring line. Dany Roussin, Greg Hogeboom and Ned Lukacevic have filled in on occasion, but have spent most of their time in the ECHL.
Hogeboom has been the brightest star of those Kings prospects playing in the ECHL en route to being named to the league all-star game. His 42 points in 30 games places him fourth overall in league scoring. Just as important, he leads the entire ECHL in shorthanded goals with five, an early indication of the progress he has made in his defensive game. Hogeboom has appeared in only three games in Manchester, but he will definitely receive another chance to prove himself in the AHL before the season is completed.
Roussin and Lukacevic provide depth to the forward corps in Reading. Neither has hit the back of the net much this year, but they distribute the puck well and provide some speed to the second and third lines.
Fukufuji began the season as the starter in net for the Royals, posting a pedestrian 3.19 goals-against average in 10 games. When Fukufuji was recalled to Manchester in December, Munce was ready to assume the starting role in Reading. However, he failed to secure the job as Jeff Pietrasiak was acquired from Pensacola and immediately took over as starter. Munce’s goals-against average (3.38) and save percentage (.880) are severe drop-offs from his totals with Bakersfield last season. Danny Taylor, taking over for Munce in Bakersfield, has yet to find his groove or been able to stop the puck with any regularity. His goals-against average (4.45) and save percentage (.874) in 10 games are well off the league averages.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.