Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We've Moved!

Check it out. We've moved over to http://rinkroyalty.com/ - come on over and drop me a line! See you there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oscar Moller Returned to Manchester

After making a couple spot starts in the games against Columbus and Dallas, Oscar Moller has been returned to Manchester, where he can continue working on his game.

I think this is a fine decision. While I was somewhat disappointed to see Moller sent to Manchester to begin the season, I think it was the right call. Moller isn't ever going to be an effective fourth-line grinder. That's just not the game that he plays, but he does fill an important role on the team, and can be a legitimate contender on one of the top two or three lines. In all, he responded fairly well to starting the season in Manchester, putting up decent points. This recent call-up is also a good indication that he's on the minds of Murry and Lombardi, and likely will get a couple more call-ups this season when injuries and inconsistency require it.

This demotion is a likely sign that Frolov will be back in the lineup for the next game against Dallas, which should come as a surprise to precisely nobody. The only hope is that the one game sitting on the bench lit a fire under his ass, and is going to get him moving.

Regardless, hopefully Moller's return to Manchester will allow him to continue working on his all-around game, and lead the Monarchs to post-season glory with the other Kings prospects thriving down in the AHL.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bringin' It Home

Tonight the Kings played division rival Dallas Stars. I wish I had a more clever title for this post, or that my introductory sentence was more engaging. But I don't. Live with it. Perhaps the biggest story in this game is the fact that Alexander Frolov would be a healthy scratch. Frolov is one of the centerpiece players for the Los Angeles Kings, and has scored thirty goals twice in his relatively young career. Despite his important role for the Kings, Frolov has not played terribly well this season, and played particularly bad in the last game against the Blue Jackets, making a truly awful pass that lead directly to a goal. In addition to Frolov's healthy scratch, the Kings have been suffering from a flu bug, that's sidelined or weakened a number of their players.

The question then becomes, how will the Kings respond to this adversity. I suppose the other question might be, how will Frolov respond to being benched, but we'll have to wait to see the answer to that question. To begin the game, the Kings looked solid, though not great. After making a few excellent saves, Quick was beaten with only a couple minutes left in the first period, allowing the Stars to go into intermission, down 1-0.

The first period was disappointing, and it didn't seem like it was going to get any better in the 2nd period. The Kings had a 2-man advantage early in the period for almost a full two-minutes, which they were unfortunately unable to cash in on. They did however manage to hit the post THREE TIMES. Once the first penalty expired, Brown fired a weak shot from the edge, which made its way into the net via Ryan Smyth. The Kings haven't been playing terribly well with three straight losses, but as the 2nd period progressed, they seemed like they had their game together for this one, and I know I for one was hoping they'd be able to put it together and close out the longest road trip of the season at 3-3. Another goal, this one by Justin Williams put the Kings up 2-1 and placed the Kings in everyone's most tense situations, the one-goal lead. Shortly afterward, the Williams-Kopitar-Smyth line utterly dominated the Stars, and topped it all off with another goal. Kings 3 Stars 1.

Third period was some kind of stressful, as the Stars dominated the Kings for long stretches at a time. That said, the Kings showed some real grit, and Quick demonstrated why some people think he's got a future as a talented starting keeper for years to come. Simmonds added an empty net goal, to finish the game and the road-trip off.

Next up: Stars (again)

Result: Stars 1 Kings 4

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Game 6 - Rangers v. Kings

So the streak is over. It had to end, and although I'm not thrilled it came against the Rangers, it could be worse. It could have come to an end against the Red Wings... In the end this game was doomed by weak goalkeeping, and bad luck.

Despite all that, this game might have been the most impressive that the Kings have played, regardless of the result. Unlike some of the other teams (Islanders - poor, Blues - still young and inconsistent, etc) the Rangers can not be described as a poor team. Although I tend to think they'll fall back to earth a la Rangers teams of past seasons, coming into this game they're on a five game winning streak, and their key players such as Gaborik have been highly productive. The Kings had their own four game winning streak, so this was truly a matchup of two of the top teams in the league (for right now) even if it's unlikely that both (either?) will stay there for the duration.

Anyway, in this game, the Kings forecheck dominated for long streches of the first and second period, and although they fell behind early, and played more than half of the game from behind, they maintained their hunger for the goal. The Kings bounced back from an early goal against, and helped get some early support for a shaky Ersberg. It's clear that the lack of playing time has hurt his consistency, but hopefully he'll learn to shake that rust off quicker so that he can play as a solid backup for the rest of the year. I do have to say that if the Rangers have been playing the way they did tonight, I have no idea how they're 5-1. Their passes haven't been crisp, the skating isn't impressive, they have a TERRIBLE breakout, and in general are unimpressive. That being said, there's no arguing with results, and the Rangers have gotten them so far.

I also think this game was useful because it demonstrated a completely different challenge than the Kings have (successfully) faced this season. In their four wins, they've jumped out to a fairly significant lead. Other than the first game, which I'm inclined to describe as an abberation at this point, they've never been behind from the start. This game gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to play against a team that was able to match them offensively, and that scores the first goal. In general I'd say the rose to the challenge. While their power play was generally weak (1 out of 6 is not an impressive conversion rate), other aspects of their game were actually fairly strong. Despite the fact that they failed to make the comeback, they held the Rangers to a single shot on in the 3rd period, and played impressively to dominate the bulk of play when they needed to. In the end they were stymied by talented goalkeeping, but they're definitely on the right track.

Next up: Red Wings

Result: Rangers 4 - Kings 2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aw Shucks

First, let me say that I apologize for being scarce in my postings lately. I've been moving, and frankly making sure my lights remain on when I get to the new place, so this has taken a back seat. I'll do my best at this point to get back on track, and we'll review the last few games at this point.

All I can say at this point is that... oh my goodness. After the first two games, any impartial observer might have ask themselves, which team are we going to see this season? Game 1's terrible team with disorganization and all around terrible play? Or Game 2's much more straight forward, solid and competent play. Through five games, that question has been (at least tentatively) answered. The Kings are on a four game winning streak, taking them to the top of the Western Conference, and matching their best start to a season since their 92-93 season, which as we all recall ended in a Cup Final appearance. Will this season end in a Cup Final appearance? Or even (knock on wood) a win?

I doubt it.

But one thing can be said at least this far into the season. Watching Kings hockey is fun again. Now onto the games:

Game 3 - Kings v. Wild
This game seemed like a replay of Game 2. Complete with the strong start, a partial collapse, followed by the Kings putting the game away late. While I'm not thrilled about the fact that they let their opponents back into the game twice in a row, I am happy with the way that they managed to lock down the game and play with a lead. Too many times last year the Kings let a lead slip away, and far too many points were dropped as a result, and these two games early may be an indication that the problem has been at least a bit solved. The six goals is also a great sign that the offense has some real potential this season.
Result: Kings 6 - Wild 3

Game 4 - Blues v. Kings
A totally different game than the first three. In the first game, Kings got rolled. In the second and third game there was a wide-open, offensive bonanza. This game was neither. This was a hard-nosed, grit it out kind of game, and the Kings demonstrated another aspect to their game that has been missing in the past few seasons. It's worth mentioning that Jonathan Quick, after couple decent but unspectacular performances, really stepped up his game with 29 saves. After climbing up to a two goal lead, the Blues grabbed one back, making for a tense ending to the game, but in the end the Kings again managed to put the points in the bank. Another nice ending to a solid game.
Result: Blues 1 - Kings 2

Game 5 - Islanders v. Kings
OK so nobody expected the Islanders to be... good. And in all likelihood they'll be at or near the bottom of the league by seasons end. But despite this lack of quality, any Kings fan has to be pleased with the ability of the Kings to step up and take the points they should be taking. In all fairness, if the Kings are able to consistently lock up full points for the wins against mid-level and lower-level teams, they'll be in great shape come playoff time. In another replay of the previous games, the Kings jumped out to a two goal lead off goals from Kopitar and Doughty, before giving one up near the end of the game. Although I would have liked to see the Kings prevent that one goal to preserve the shutout for Quick, who was clearly deserving after another excellent performance.
Result: Islanders 1 - Kings 2

In all there is a lot to like about the team and (obviously) the start. I'd love to see the Kings grab another win against the streaking Rangers to prove that their wins are going to stand up to the top teams in the league.

Kings Statistics Through 5 Games:
Anze Kopitar - 4G 6A
Ryan Smyth - 4G 4A
Drew Doughty - 2G 4A
Justin Williams - 1G 4A
Michael Handzus - 2G 2A
Alexander Frolov - 1G 3A
Jarret Stoll - 0G 4A

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Game 2 - Kings v. Sharks

So as a follow up game to the embarrassment that was Opening Night, this game had some ups and some downs. In general the Kings played MUCH better than the first game, though admittedly that means just about nothing. That being said, a win against last season's President's Trophy winners, and a team that by all accounts is projected to finish at or near the top of the Western Conference is nothing to scoff at. Now onto the positives and negatives:

First the positives. The Kings came out rolling. The team was playing exceedingly well for the first period and change. After coming out with some serious energy, the Kings racked up four consecutive goals and chased the usually consistent Nabakov. The Kings offense was firing on all cylinders for this game, especially for the first half of the game. With six different players getting on the score sheet (five if you leave off the empty-netter at the end of the game), the team is hopefully going to continue their offensive talent. Although it's highly unlikely that they'll put six up every night (obviously), this is hopefully an indication that they've got the firepower that was desperately missing last season. Only time will tell if they can keep it up. The final positive worth noting is the obvious. They managed to snag a solid win against a big division rival, projected to finish at the top of the Pacific by most experts.

Now onto the negatives. Wow what a collapse. After coming out strong, the Kings fell apart after chasing Nabakov. After putting four goals up, the Kings had an important power play near the end of the second period. Instead of putting the game, and the Sharks, away, they allowed them to climb back into the game with an atrocious and inexcusable too many men on the ice penalty. This kind of mental meltdown allowed the Sharks to score the first of four goals on their way back to tie the game. Eventually the Kings managed to pull the win out, but it's not something they are going to be able to rely on. In addition, if the Kings are unable to close out a game in which they are leading 4-0 more than halfway through the game, how are they going to finish out a tight game with MUCH less breathing room? The final (but not insignificant) negative was the Penalty Kill. With all four of the Sharks goals scored on the power play, the Kings failed to kill even on penalty successfully. Hopefully this was a blip on the radar, and they'll turn that aspect around. Special teams will be key this season, and a weak PK could be lethal. We'll see I suppose.

In all, I'd say this was a good turn around after game one. They'll need to build on the positives, and leave the negatives behind. Up next? Kings v. Wild on Thursday. Any predictions?

Kings - 6
Sharks - 4
Kings Scorers: Wayne Simmonds (1), Ryan Smyth (1), Jack Johnson (1), Anze Kopitar (1), Ted Purcell (1), Davis Drewiske (1)
Sharks Scorers: Devin Setoguchi (2), Rob Blake (1), Dany Heatley (1)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Game 1 - Kings v. Coyotes

What a terrible way to start a season. After a reasonably entertaining and somewhat hopeful preseason, the Kings started the game with a big exciting 6-3 loss. I can say one thing without question. It was a terrible, terrible game to watch. From the outset the Kings looked outclassed, and Drew Doughty, the great white hope on defense from last year, played a truly atrocious game. In general it was an embarrassment. I'm not going to get into too much detail at the moment, but suffice it to say, if the rest of the season continues like this, we are going to be in for some rough sailing. That said, here's the box score:

Kings - 3
Coyotes - 6
Kings Scorers: Anze Kopitar (1), Alexander Frolov (1), Drew Doughty (1)
Coyotes Scorers: R. Vrbata (2), M. Lombardi (1), D. Winnik (1), S. Upshall (1), R. Lang (1)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Preseason Review - All The Way Through

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming... (although not without another plug for that awesome polar bear ad. It's awesome, check it out.) Now, after going 3-2 in the first five games, the Kings had three games left on the schedule, including two against the Avalanche and one against the hated Ducks. Unfortunately the results didn't play out quite the way a Kings fan might have preferred (ie. we lost too many times). On to the game by game:

Kings 2 - Avalanche 3
Kings Scorers: Peter Harrold (1), Trevor Lewis (1)
Avalanche Scorers: P. Stastny (1), M. Hedjuk (1), T. Hensick (1)
Recap - Bummer of a start with a loss against the Avs. It definitely not a good sign, since the Avs have been widely predicted to finish outside of the playoffs, and since the Kings will certainly be fighting for a playoff spot, they'll need to make sure to secure as many points as possible when playing substantially inferior teams.

Coyotes 3 - Kings 5
Kings Scorers: Anze Kopitar (2), Alexander Frolov (1), Wayne Simmonds (1), Drew Doughty (1)
Avalanche Scorers: D. Tucker (2), W. Wolski (1)
Recap - A better result then the last matchup between these two teams and I'll take it. With Kopitar's two goals, he's hopefully finding his knack for the net that he'll be able to build upon heading into the season. Another bright spot in this game includes Simmonds' continued scoring touch, and while I'd be shocked if the scoring continued at anywhere near this pace, the offense he's shown, coupled with the teammates he's likely to have make me think 20 goals for the winger might not be out of the question. It's probably worth a mention that this game was played in Las Vegas, Nevada during the annual "Frozen Fury". In the last 13 FF matches, the Kings are 9-2-2. If only they could translate that success into the regular season...

Ducks 5 - Kings 4
Kings Scorers: Ryan Smyth (2), Anze Kopitar (2)
Sharks Scorers: C. Perry (1), B. Ryan (2), R. Getzlaf (1), J. Lupul (1)
Recap - Not the most uplifting way to end the pre-season with a loss to cross-town rival Ducks. That being said, Kopitar put in another couple goals, and Ryan Smyth continued to impress with his performance for the Kings. He's looking more and more like a great addition to this team, and certainly worth the cost. This end to the pre-season put the final record at a solid, if unspectacular 4-3-1. Lest you be tempted to be overly optomistic about this record, keep in mind that the Kings have finished with a pre-season record of .500 or better for 21 consecutive years. Yes, you read that right, they haven't had a preseason below .500 since the 1980's. In all that time, they've also only made the playoffs 9 times. Clearly success in the preseason is not a predictor of success. Hopefully this will be the year that it all turns around and the Kings make the next step into the playoffs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kings Cuts Part V

So the final set of cuts has come down, and there are no big surprises (yet again). A few demotions do deserve comment however.

Jonathan Bernier (Goalie) - Manchester, AHL
- No real surprise here. Murray has been vocal in stating that Quick is the #1 keeper in Los Angeles this year. Add that to the fact that Bernier can go to Manchester without clearing waivers (Ersberg can not), and the fact that Bernier will be better served playing regularly as opposed to sitting on the bench, this demotion was as close to a foregone conclusion as I can imagine. That said, this will be an interesting spot to watch. If Bernier can become one of the best keepers in AHL (he's shown flashes of brilliance over the past couple years), he'll continue to push Quick for the starting job even from Manchester. And you can bet if Quick falters, Bernier will be all too ready to jump in and take his spot.

Thomas Hickey (Defense) - Manchester, AHL
- Again, not a big surprise to me. Coming into camp, Hickey was a bit of a long-shot to make the team, and it's perhaps a mild surprise that he's going back down to Manchester while Alec Martinez remains up with the big club, but in general this should be expected. I'd imagine Martinez is going to be heading back down to Manchester when O'Donnell's suspension is over two games into the season. As both Martinez and Hickey are talented youngsters, they're in the same position as Bernier. Significant playing time in Manchester will be more valuable to his development than being the 7th defensement on the Kings.

Kevin Westgarth (Center) - Manchester, AHL
- Easily the most obvious of the demotions. Westgarth played well in general this pre-season, and in my mind pretty well cemented his position as the heir apparent to Raitis. My guess is that Ratty has no more than a season or two left with the Kings, and as long as Westgarth doesn't regress, he'll be ready to take the spot at that time. It would be great if while working on his game in Manchester he's able to add an additional physical defensive aspect to his game, as well as better discipline.

Brayden Schenn (Center) - Brandon, WHL
- Schenn might be the player that most people were excited to see at Prospect camp earlier this summer, and has been a pleasant surprise for the Kings this pre-season. He's played a strong two-way game, and has managed to put a couple points on the board. While the team is pretty deep at Center, there is just no room for Schenn this season. Like Hickey and Bernier, the time spent playing at a high level will be more valuable than he would get if he stuck with the Kings. There's no question in my mind that if it were possible, Schenn would see time in Manchester. Since rules prevent it, we obviously won't see him until his junior season is over, and even then possibly only for a handful of games. Schenn's camp has solidified his position as a dominant prospect for the Kings, and justified why he's the #3 prospect on our list.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kings Cuts Part IV

More cuts. Technically I'm a bit behind on this "breaking news" but, since it's not terribly surprising I won't sweat it too much. Anyway, the following players have be reassigned:

Andrew Campbell (Defense) - Manchester, AHL
Marc-Andre Cliche (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Kyle Clifford (Left Wing) - Barrie, OHL

Anyone with half a brain could figure out who that leaves left to fight out the last few spots on the team:
Richard Clune
Peter Harrold
Raitis Ivanans
Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson
Brayden Schenn
Kevin Westgarth

It's probably a stretch to say that Harrold is legitimately fighting for a spot, since his versatility as a player who can play forward or defense makes him a good bet to make the team, even if it's just as an auxiliary player. I'm still skeptical that Schenn makes the team this year, but hopefully he'll get a couple games at the NHL level to get used to the speed and energy necessary before he heads back to lead his Junior team. Anyone have predictions on who will be the starters on the fourth line on Opening Night?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preseason Review - Halfway Through

Here's a halfway through preseason review. With eight total games on the schedule for the preseason, the Kings have now played five. I realize the math is a little off, and we're a bit further than halfway through, but "Preseason Review - 5/8th way Through" didn't have quite the same ring to it. Anyway, here's how the games have gone so far:

Kings 2 - Coyotes 4
Kings Scorers: Wayne Simmonds (2)
Coyotes Scorers: J. Vandermeer (1), V. Fiddler (1), J. Hoggan (1), D. Spina (1)
Recap - With a few notable exceptions, the Kings played a reserve squad in this game, fielding a number of players looking to make an impact on the Kings this season. Simmonds made a big statement, coming on the back of a solid if unspectacular rookie season, he demonstrated an increasing ability to put the puck in the net. This developing ability can only be a boon to the Kings offensive firepower if he's able to build on it going forward.

Coyotes 3 - Kings 4
Kings Scorers: Jack Johnson (2), Teddy Purcell (1), Justin Williams (1)
Coyotes Scorers: M. Boedker (1), K. Yandle (1), P. Mueller (1)
Recap - A good result. The first good result of the preseason happened on the same day as the first loss. In an interesting scheduling decision, the Coyotes and Kings scheduled two matches on the same day. In this match the Kings started many of the players expected to make the team and be impact players, and just as in the previous game, somebody stepped up. Jack Johnson netted two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist. The three point game is a good total for anyone, let alone the fact that he's a defender. Johnson has spent the previous two seasons working on fitting into the roster, and focusing on his defensive game. While obviously he can't let up on the defense, this game may be a sign that he's ready to start moving forward and adding the offensive potential that made him a huge prospect to his game. Only time will tell.

Sharks 2 - Kings 1 (SO)
Kings Scorers: Dustin Brown (1)
Sharks Scorers: B. Ferriero (1)
Recap - I admit I missed this game. From the scorecard it looks to have been a tightly fought battle, and the fact that the Kings held the Sharks to only one goal is a good sign. Of course the fact that they were only able to put one goal past rookie Sharks keeper Greiss is not the most uplifting of signs...

Ducks 1 - Kings 4
Kings Scorers: Brayden Schenn (2), Ryan Smyth (1), Anze Kopitar (1)
Ducks Scorers: Saku Koivu (1)
Recap - It's always good to get a result against the hated cross-town rival Ducks. In addition to the satisfaction of getting one over (resoundingly I might add) on the Ducks, Brayden Schenn couldn't have picked a better time to get started scoring. With the first set of cuts coming shortly after this game, it's entirely possible that without his offensive outburst he would have been sent back to juniors early. However, the outburst came, and Schenn stuck with the team. Will it be for the long-term? I doubt it, but potting four goals against Jonas Hiller is always satisfying, even in the pre-season. A strong performance by Jonathan Bernier was only the topper to an impressive win. Here's hoping it starts a pattern heading into the regular season.

Islanders 2 - Kings 4
Kings Scorers: Teddy Purcell (1), Wayne Simmonds (2), Drew Doughty (1)
Islanders Scorers: A. Sutton (1), J. Bailey (1)
Recap - Simmonds is the hero again. In five games, Simmonds has netted four goals, an excellent start for a player expected to increase his totals from the 9G, 14A, 23P of last season. If the preseason so far is any predictions, there's no doubt Simmonds will top those numbers, and may make the substantial step forward that the Kings will need if they are looking to make the playoffs this season. Jonathan Quick had what appears to be a solid, if unspectacular, game in goal, and is off to a good start this preseason.

The one thing that can be said so far, is that the Kings have not had a lot of players under-performing this pre-season. With any luck, they will be able to keep this string of strong play going into the regular season when it debuts on October 3rd.

Upcoming Preseason Games:
September 23rd, 2009 - Kings v. Avalanche
September 26th, 2009 - Avalanche v. Kings
September 27th, 2009 - Kings v. Ducks

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kings Cuts Part III

A few more cuts today:

Drew Bagnall (Defense) - Manchester, AHL
Gabe Gauthier (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Brandon Segal (Right Wing) - Manchester, AHL
John Zeiler (Right Wing) - Manchester, AHL

Nothing surprising, except to say that Manchester is getting even better... Zeiler is a bit of a surprise, although nothing shocking. As we discussed previously, this means that the Kings have a fourth line that's a bit more up in the air. Many analysts (myself included) assumed Zeiler would make the team as either a fourth-line player, or perhaps even as an extra forward. By my count that leaves the following players as options:

Marc-Andre Cliche
Kyle Clifford
Richard Clune
Peter Harrold
Raitis Ivanans
Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson
Brayden Schenn
Kevin Westgarth

I'd be surprised if Schenn made the team playing on the fourth line, only because he needs significant minutes to develop and he's unlikely to get them on this line. The loss of Zeiler does make Richardson's place on the Kings somewhat more likely. If I were to predict at the moment the line, I'm thinking it will include Ivanans, Richardson and Harrold. I'd like to see Lewis, and that's certainly a possibility, but for the moment I'm holding strong with my predictions. What are your thoughts?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kings Cuts Part II

New changes are a-comin' for the Los Angeles Kings. Pre-season camp players have suffered through the next set of cuts, although no terrible surprises have been forthcoming, with one possible exception. Without further ado, here are the players the Los Angeles Kings have cut from camp, along with the team they're heading to for the upcoming season:

Justin Azevedo (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Corey Elkins (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Bud Holloway (Left Wing) - Manchester, AHL
Dwight King (Left Wing) - Manchester, AHL
Andrei Loktionov (Center) - Manchester, AHL
David Meckler (Left Wing) - Manchester, AHL
Juraj Mikus (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Oscar Moller (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Patrick Mullen (Defense) - Manchester, AHL
Jordan Nolan (Center) - Manchester, AHL
Scott Parse (Right Wing) - Manchester, AHL
Michael Pelech (Forward) - Manchester, AHL
Viatcheslav Voynov (Defense) - Manchester, AHL
Geoff Walker (Right Wing) - Manchester, AHL
Jeff Zatkoff (Goalie) - Manchester, AHL
Colten Teubert (Defense) - Regina, WHL

With these cuts, the Kings are that much closer to their start of season roster, taking the total in camp down to 35, with some fairly painful cuts yet to make. Of those that have left, there is perhaps only one "surprise." Oscar Moller, who played the bulk of last season with the Kings, has been sent down to Manchester. While it might seem that this is a slight, for a small player who has done everything asked of him to be sent to the AHL, in reality this is a prudent move for the Kings, who just don't have a spot open for him at the moment. Frankly, it's a statement on the depth of the Kings organization that they have the luxury of sending a highly skilled player down to get minutes in the AHL.

Look at it this way, with the first three lines effectively locked (specific pairs may not be, but the top three lines are clearly including Kopitar, Williams, Smyth, Brown, Stoll, Purcell, Frolov, Handzus, and Simmonds), Moller would either play on the fourth line with limited minutes, or be a regular scratch if he were to stick with the Kings. Neither option is appealing, and he's better off getting real minutes in the AHL for the time being. If Purcell or Simmonds struggle early, it's entirely possible that we see Moller brought up, and I'd be surprised if he didn't see some NHL action this season. That said, sending him to the AHL is the right move at this moment.

Any other surprises? Not to me. Loktionov, Voynov, Tuebert all were long shots at best to make the squad, and will be better served with some time playing at a lower level. There's just no room for them on the roster at the moment. Besides, better to bring them along slowly, and allow them to grow into the talented players they may yet become. The rest of the chaff had a fine camp, but are for the most part bit players (with a few exceptions) that are hit or miss projects. For the time being, there's no place for them. However, there is plenty of opportunity for a mid-season call-up if they set the AHL on fire. In the meantime, Manchester looks stacked, and ready to make some real waves in the AHL!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Training Camp - September 18th

So today I finally made it down to pre-season camp, something I had been intending to do for several weeks now. In fact, I was hoping to make it to Rookie camp a while back, but real life interfered. Nonetheless, I made it to the Toyota Sports Center today to check out how some of the Kings are playing.

As we know, the following players had already been sent back to their Junior teams:
Jean-Francois Berube (Goalie) - Montreal, QMJHL
Nicolas Deslauriers (Defense) - Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL
Martin Jones (Goalie) - Calgary, WHL
Brandon Kozun (Right Wing) - Calgary, WHL
Linden Vey (Right Wing) - Medicine Hat, WHL

No big surprises there, although Martin Jones might be the closest. Still, with Ersberg, Bernier, Quick and Zatkoff still fighting it out for the two NHL spots this season, Jones had no realistic chance, and might as well get back to getting in sync with his junior team.

The first thing I noticed at camp was the Smyth-Kopitar-Williams line. Unlike in previous years with Andy Murray and Marc Crawford, Terry Murray seems to be trying to generate some serious chemistry in the pre-season, and has done substantially less shifting of players. It's an interesting technique, and certainly if he finds some magic, it'll be considered a resounding success. For now, the jury is still out, and it's possible he'll miss out on a great combination for lack of trying a variety of pairings.

That said, the Smyth-Kopitar-Williams line was fairly impressive. They seemed to be one of the most confident lines on the ice, and certainly had a significant amount of talent. The passing was crisp, shots on target, and they seemed to be communicating well. For what it's worth, Smyth seems like a big talker. He was chatting with just about everyone on the ice, including his linemates, something that can only help integrate himself into the Kings lockerroom sooner rather than later. I'm hoping he is able to capitalize on coming to the young, energetic Kings, and make for a huge season.

Thomas Hickey also seemed to be impressive. He was making some solid passes, and most impressively really demonstrated significant vision. Although the drills were fairly rigid, he was on target with his moves, and as indicated, is a gifted skater. His shots from the blueline were not bad, though nothing booming or particularly impressive. I'd imagine any role he plays offensively is going to center more around moving the puck and getting solid, on-target shots at the net, more similar to Lubomir Visnovsky's offensive game, and less like Rob Blake's.

Another surprise at camp was Peter Harrold. He fired a couple impressive shots past both goalies, and in general seemed very in sync with the entire team. His versitility as a defenseman or winger makes him a very likely pick to make the team this season. How much he'll play is another matter entirely, and something that will be interesting to monitor. Regardless, it's never a problem to have too many talented, versitile players.

Finally, the keepers. Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick were out there today, and both put on solid, if unspectacular performances. If I were to pick one of the on the basis of this single preseason session, I'd have to lean toward Bernier, although it would be a very close call to be sure. There's no question that both have the quality to play in the NHL today, and it's the first time in a very long while (ever?) that the Kings have had at least two solid NHL-caliber keepers ready to step in. Although Murray has gone on record as saying that Quick is the #1 keeper, it can only help the Kings to have Bernier constantly pushing him for playing time. If Bernier isn't able to unseat Quick for the starting job, I'd like to see him get a few games early in the season and then get sent down to Manchester to work on his game. Backing up Quick isn't going to be as helpful as playing 65-70 games in the AHL this season, and significant playing time will only make Bernier that much better going into next season.

In general, I'm very optomistic about this season. The team looks solid, Scuderi and Smyth look like solid additions, and there have been little substantial subtractions. In addition, with a team as young as the Kings, they're only going to get better with age. Quick has another year under his belt, Kopitar, Doughty, Johnson, Moller, Simmonds, Purcell, all the youngsters can be expected to be that much better this year. I think this team can make the playoffs this season, but only if things fall into place. Here's hoping they do, but even if not, the next couple seasons are going to be a delight for Kings fans!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top Ten Prospects (Cont'd)

Up next, the top 5 Kings prospects in the system. We should point out that as a general rule we use Hockey's Future criteria in deciding what made a prospect. Of course there could be an exception in the future, but there aren't any at the moment. Now, on to the ratings:

5. Colten Teubert
(Defense) - Drafted 1st Round, 13th Overall - 2008
Colten Teubert is the perfect fit for this spot on the list. Is he going to be an offensive superstar? No chance. He's probably not going to win the Norris at any point (unless they start rewarding defensive defensemen the same as offensive defensemen, a point best saved for another day). He's 6'4", and uses his size to the best of his ability. He's a strong stay-at-home defensemen with a solid positional game. By all accounts Teubert is a huge competitor, with a bit of an edge to his game. Critics have even gone so far as to say the emotion he plays with could be a detriment. While I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss that point of view, if he harnesses that heart, he could be precisely the heart-and-soul, shutdown defensemen that any Stanley Cup team needs.

4. Vyacheslav Voinov (Defense) - Drafted 2nd Round, 32nd Overall - 2008
Vyacheslav Voinov could be a real gem in the making for the Kings. As a talented defensemen, he couples strong defensive skills with impressive explosive offensive abilities. With a solid, if unspectacular shot from the blue line, Voinov will only get better as he develops the confidence necessary to let it fly from the top of the offensive zone. As an 18 year old in the AHL (a rare occurance), he lead all Manchester Monarchs last year with 8G, 15A, 23P. Not a bad point total, and in all likelihood he will increase that total this year. Although he's not a huge player (6'0") he is strong positionally, and has the ability to play well under pressure, the kind of mindset necessary for a smaller player to thrive in the NHL. Voinov would be a legitimate contender for some real playing time in the NHL this season, except that he's a bit behind on the depth chart. With Hickey, Doughty, Drewiske and Johnson all ahead of him, the Kings are pretty well stacked with young defensemen. Not a bad place to be, but it may slow Voinov's ascendence to the big league. Still, at only 19 years old, he's got plenty of time.

3. Brayden Schenn (Center) - Drafted 1st Round, 5th Overall - 2009
Obviously hasn't been a lot of development in Schenn's play since he was drafted, but the future upside for Schenn is impressive. I'll say now that I would be very surprised if Schenn makes the team this season, although that's hardly an indictment of his talent. Lombardi has repeatedly spoken about his emphasis on players paying their dues, and the importance of playing in critical games at any level of hockey. His Junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings will host the 2010 Memorial Cup tournament, and thus get an automatic bid. With the Wheat Kings as a legitimate contender for the title, Schenn will no question be one of the keys to their success. It's safe to say that if Schenn does not pan out to be a top 6 forward, the Kings (and I) will be disappointed. With his brother already playing for the Maple Leafs, he certainly knows what will be expected of him, which may give him a leg up in the long run. As a strong, physical forward, he may take somewhat more time to develop then an otherwise skilled forward. Some have compared Schenn to a young Pat Verbeek or Brendan Shanahan. Since Verbeek ended up with 522 goals and 1,063 points, and Shanahan topped out at 656 goals and 1,354 points, certainly either result would be... acceptable.

2. Jonathan Bernier (Goalie) - Drafted 1st Round, 11th Overall - 2006
Goalies take a long time to get to the NHL. It is exceedingly rare that a goalie would make the NHL in the first couple seasons after being drafted. In that regard, the fact that Bernier won the starting job in the 2007-2008 season can be considered somewhat shocking. However Bernier plays an impressive positional game, as a combination stand-up/butterfly keeper with impressive reflexes. Unfortunately, the 2007-2008 season is one Kings fans may like to forget, and after being completely abandoned in net for a few games, Bernier was sent back to Juniors for some less traumatizing playing time. Nonetheless he seemed poised for a significant push in the next couple years. Lombardi has made it clear that he prefers his goalies to play at least two seasons in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL, and this preference, combined with extraordinarily strong play from Jonathan Quick saw Bernier passed over when the Kings called up a goalie last season. As we know, Quick played very well, and enters this years training camp with the edge in the starting goalie competition. Two things are clear, Bernier still has sky-high potential, and he has a very real opportunity to beat out Quick and/or Ersberg for a role with the Kings this season.

1. Thomas Hickey (Defense) - Drafted 1st Round, 4th Overall - 2007
Perhaps the strongest statement about the Kings prospects is the fact that they have three solid future starters in the top 5 prospects. This is on top of recently "graduated" prospects, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Davis Drewiske. With the possible exception of Drew Doughty, Hickey may have the highest potential. First things first, he is an AMAZING skater. At only 5'11", it's perhaps no surprise that he's refined his skating ability, but the sheer grace of his stride as well as impressive on-ice vision make him a force to be reckoned with. When Hickey was picked out of the blue at #4 in 2007, Lombardi had more than his share of nay-sayers. Going off the board so dramatically was a risky manuever to be sure. However in this case, the gamble looks like it may be paying off. After moving to the AHL at the completion of his junior season, Hickey rattled off seven points, in seven games. Impressive numbers for any rookie, let alone a defenseman. It's also worth noting Hickey's leadership capabilities. Serving as capitan on the 2009 WJC Canada team that won the gold. The development of Hickey's skills is something to watch closely in the very near future.

So that's it. Got any opinions? Thoughts? It looks to me that the Kings have one of the strongest prospect groups in the NHL, do you agree? Who's your favorite prospect? The best? Leave your comments below and let's have a discussion!

Hickey's strong suit is his skating ability, a skill that has enabled him to excel in the WHL at a young age. Another product of the successful Hockey Canada programs, Hickey exudes confidence on and off the ice. He plays bigger than his 5'11, 185-pound frame might suggest. A well-spoken player with great on-ice vision. Uses his skating ability to move the puck out of the zone and pressure the opposition's forwards up-ice. Might develop into a future powerplay quarterback.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Top Ten Prospects

In the excitement leading up to the start of the 2009-2010 Season, we'll take a look at the top ten prospects in the Los Angeles Kings system, to see what we've got to look forward to for the future. As always these are my opinions, and you're welcome and encourage to provide your own feedback in the comments section. We'll start with 6-10 and continue with the top 5 in the next post.

10. Justin Azevedo (Center) - Drafted 6th Round, 153rd Overall - 2008
Might as well start with a bang, this may be the biggest reach of the top ten. Azevedo was selected late in the 2008 draft in what appeared to be more of a flyer on behalf of the Los Angeles Kings management. In his draft year, he led the entire Ontario Hockey League with 124 points in only 67 games, and was named the CHL Player of the Year. He also won the Memorial Cup with the Kitchener Rangers. He's got all the skills to be a strong sniper in the NHL, the question is if he can put it all together. At only 5'7", he's even smaller than the already diminutive Michael Cammalleri, but if he can put his speed together with a deft scoring touch, he may be something special. While no question he'd be on the outside looking in at the pre-lockout NHL, there's a real chance that with some high-scoring years in the AHL, he could be ready to slot in a play the role of a Brian Gionta (5'7"). No question he's got an uphill battle, but he's got real potential.

9. Trevor Lewis (Center) - Drafted 1st Round, 17th Overall - 2006
As the second half of Dean Lombardi's first draft at the helm of the Los Angeles Kings (and major factor in the trade that took Pavol Demitra to Minnesota) there have been expectations on Lewis since the start. Although not the scoring force that some might have hoped, Lewis has a strong combination of speed, skill and toughness that make him a real threat to crack the lineup as soon as this season. Most likely Lewis is destined for a solid role as a third line center, though his upside may allow him to crack the second line on some teams.

8. Andrei Loktionov (Center) - Drafted 5th Round, 123rd Overall - 2008
Loktionov is the kind of player the Kings need to develop if they are going to have any chance of replicating the success the Red Wings have had in developing late picks into central figures on their Cup-winning squads. As another Kings prospect who has lifted the Memorial Cup, there's no question that he's coming up in a system that has taught him to expect success - an attitude that can't hurt in the Kings locker room. He does tend to have a bit of Frolov disease, in that he prefers to pass over shooting, but in general is a skillful playmaker who has the potential to be a strong second-line center in the future.

7. Ted Purcell (Right Wing) - Signed as Free Agent
Another example of the kind of player the Kings need to find success will. Signed out of the University of Maine, Purcell snuck up on most people, including the majority of GM's in the NHL. Having cracked the lineup last year on a semi-regular basis (40 GP, 16P) the 2009-2010 season is his opportunity to take the next step. At 24 years old, he's not as young as some of the others on this list, and progress should be expected. Purcell is a talented play-making winger, and has the ability to add serious scoring threat to a team that sometimes struggles to put the puck in the net. Although some have speculated that Purcell could play as high as the 1st line this year, more realistic projections have him lining up on the 2nd or even 3rd line in '09-'10. Purcell is precisely the kind of player that needs to step his game up if the Kings are going to take the next step.

6. Oscar Moller (Right Wing) - Drafted 2nd Round, 52nd Overall - 2007
Moller is another player that has a wide range of projections for where he might end up. As another smallish prospect (5'10") the Kings are very deep in the small, skilled player pool. The likelihood that all of them will make an impact with the Kings is... well... small. Moller made the team after an impressive (and surprising) camp last season, and despite suffering from a shoulder injury during the World Junior Championship, made a significant impact. As a player who needs to perform on the 1st or 2nd line, he will obviously be expected to increase his production from the 7G, 8A in 40 games last season. It's worth mentioning his time spent as Capitain of Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships, something that provides a not insignificant amount of leadership potential for the Kings.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marleau to the Kings?

ESPN is reporting that Patrick Marleau is heading to the Los Angeles Kings in a three-team deal between San Jose, Ottawa and Los Angeles.

This significant shakeup would look like this:

Heatley to San Jose
Frolov and Stoll to Ottawa
Marleau to Los Angeles

Reaction? I'm not pleased. Alex Frolov has been a key member of the Los Angeles Kings almost since he's been drafted, and while Stoll is expendable this deal looks like a dramatic overpayment for a player who has repeatedly underperformed, if not outright disappeared in the NHL Playoffs.

Here how the stats break down:
To Ottawa:
50G, 50A (32/27 from Frolov; 18/23 from Stoll)

To San Jose:
39G, 33A

To Los Angeles:
38G, 33A

Let's keep a few things in mind.
  1. Stats don't tell the whole story. No question Heatley brings... something to the table that Marleau and Frolov (the Kings key in this deal) does not. Similarly, some have argued that Marleau has character perks that make him more valuable that the statistics would indicate.
  2. Age. Of the three teams, there's no question the Los Angeles Kings are in the most intense rebuilding. Why trade away the two youngest players in the deal (Frolov and Stoll are both from '82) in exchange for the oldest? Leadership? Frolov already has six full years in the NHL, not including the year of the lock out. Stoll has another five. While not exactly grizzled veterans, they provide the stability of a veteran presence. Besides, it's not like Marleau "knows how to win in the playoffs." Anyone seen the Sharks lately?
  3. Projections. Heatley moves to San Jose where he has Thornton dishing him passes. So Heatley's numbers go up (almost certainly). Frolov gets another year of experience under his belt and moves to a team with more pure offensive threats (Spezza, Alfredsson) than he's ever played with. Frolov's numbers go up. Marleau goes to a rebuilding team, which will be relying on him producing for them, so opposing defenses can key in on him. Marleau's numbers... don't go up. Anyone doing the math here? And that's leaving Stoll out of the deal entirely.
In all though, Ottawa makes out like a bandit in this deal.The Sharks get a cancer in the locker room, which can't POSSIBLY make their team perform better when the chips are down. The Senators get an emerging stud power winger in Frolov and a serviceable role player in Stolls. The Kings get an aging Marleau, who will be in his mid-30's, if around at all, by the time the Kings are serious Cup challengers.

UPDATE: According to Rich Hammond, Dean Lombardi is denying the deal. Here's hoping that's the truth!