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!

No comments: