Ok so this article is two-fer! That’s right two for the price of one because I forgot to write about rookie camp and training camp suddenly came up. Wooo hockey is BACK, folks!
Rookie camp opened last Tuesday with the prospects reporting to Toyota Sports Center followed by fitness testing on Wednesday. On-ice work began Thursday and continued on Friday. Saturday evening was the first of two rookie exhibition games against the Anaheim Ducks. They were a formidable opponent with some very talented players, but in the end, the Kings stole the show 6-1.
Game 1 Recap:
Rickard Rakell of the Ducks opened the scoring about 9 minutes into the first period off a rebound collected from his teammate. The Kings’ defense was a little shaky and overall they looked very uneasy on the ice. However, J.F. Berube (currently of the ECHL Ontario Reign) stood tall in net for the Kings as they managed to escape the first period with only one goal against. Before the period was over, Andy Andreoff managed to snipe an odd angle goal past the Ducks’ goalie to tie the score.
The second period was a lot more evenly played as the Kings’ prospects, coached by Manchester Monarchs’ Mark Morris, seemed to take a collective breath between periods and came out looking better. Pearson added a second goal to double the Kings’ lead. Frederik Andersen was very good and very solid for the Ducks through 40 minutes allowing only 2 shots out of 27.
The third period was a bit of a free-for-all as the Kings tallied four more goals while the Ducks and Igor Bobkov struggled to fend off a suddenly surging Kings. Niederberger (of the Manchester Monarchs) was perfect in the remaining 20 minutes of the game, allowing no goals.
Jon Rosen has a good analysis of the game and offers his thoughts on the prospects.
Game 2 Recap:
Once again, a slow start for the Kings as they were a bit sluggish getting their legs under them while fending off a flying Ducks squad (no pun intended). About halfway through the first, they finally started to put the pieces together and thanks to solid goaltending from Patrick Bartosak (of the WHL Red Deer Rebels; he was a 5th round draft pick in 2013 but was not signed to an NHL contract), came out on top 1-0 from a beautiful shot by defenseman Alex Roach on the PP.
In the second period, Jordan Weal (of the Manchester Monarchs) doubled their lead, 2-0. Nick Shore’s tally gave the Kings a little breathing room (and ended up being the eventual GWG). However, the Ducks pressured and eventually, a board battle won by Wagner led to an odd bounce and a goal for the Ducks. Bartosak was very solid through 40 minutes, allowing only one goal in 26 shots.
The third period was much tighter as a very focused Ducks group heavily pressured the Kings and often kept them from cycling the puck out of the zone. That pressure paid off again as Whitney managed to sneak a goal past Niederberger. Igor Bobkov was perfect in the final frame.
To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the Ducks players as I was focusing mainly on the Kings players. However, for the Ducks, Emerson Etem and Rickard Rakell really stood out for me. Devante Smith-Pelley was also very good.
Obviously the best players (Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, and Jordan Weal) performed well according to their high talent and skill levels. But some of the more surprising guys that stood out were Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff. Nick Shore is touted to be as good as Vey overall but is slightly better defensively while Vey is better offensively. In the rookie exhibition games, Nick Shore showed that he has an excellent 200ft game and good vision of the ice. Andreoff scored two goals and spent plenty of time in the penalty box. He is a versatile, tough, gritty player capable of playing both center and left wing with equal comfort and is the exact embodiment of everything the Kings are looking for. He’s not afraid to stand up for his teammates, is good in his own zone and even has a scoring touch. He was good enough to catch the coaches’ attention and very well could challenge Colin Fraser for his spot as 4th line center. The coaches will be taking a long, hard look at him during training camp.
Defensively, the ones who stood out to me were Zach Leslie and Colin Miller. Leslie had good positioning and has a great reach. He was very good at breaking up plays with his stick and disrupting zone entries. Colin Miller impressed me with a similar skill set to Leslie but also with his speed. He had a beautiful end-to-end rush in the second game and nearly scored. But he didn’t sacrifice his defense for his offense, which I really liked. None of the defensemen will be challenging for a roster spot in 2014 given that the Kings have nine defensemen already signed to contract.
The players all reported to TSC in El Segundo yesterday and had their physicals today. Tyler Toffoli, Brandon Kozun and Andy Andreoff are among those who are competing for an NHL roster spot. Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey both have time left on their ELCs and can be sent back to Manchester without having to clear waivers. The same is true of Tyler Toffoli but the 21 year old, who was called up last season, impressed coaches and fans in his debut (even though he had a fairly sheltered role, despite mainly playing on a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter). He clearly has the talent and skill level to make it in the NHL. However, his place on the depth chart is a little fuzzy. There’s no way he’s going to unseat Justin Williams at RW1, Jeff Carter at RW2 or Trevor Lewis at RW3. So that leaves him at RW4, but his skill is better suited to Top 6 versus Bottom 6. Given Brad Richardson’s departure over the summer as a UFA, that’s a place where Toffoli could potentially slot in over Jordan Nolan. With some roster juggling, Toffoli could also potentially leapfrog Trevor Lewis as a RW2 but it seems unlikely, although you never know what Darryl Sutter might have up his sleeve. Depending on how training camp goes, Toffoli could start the year back in Manchester (I have a feeling that unless he’s balls out amazing, he’ll start there anyway just because the Kings are stacked at RW and there’s time to put him there).
Brandon Kozun is out of options so for him, it’s make the roster or be subject to waivers. His ELC expired over the summer and his age makes him eligible for waivers. He’s a bit small by NHL standards at 5’8, but he has the grit and the heart and the talent to make up for his lack of his size. He had a decent rookie camp, though he did not stand out as much as others did. His career in the NHL could depend on his training camp this week. If the Kings do put him on waivers, there’s a chance he’ll be snatched up by another team and the Kings will get nothing in return for a highly skilled prospect.
In other news, Jarret Stoll says he’s feeling fine after suffering a seizure on July 3rd with no warning and no explanation as to what happened. He’s 100%, feeling good and ready to go for camp. Dustin Brown, who suffered a torn PCL in Game 6 of the WCSF versus the San Jose Sharks will wear a knee brace to start camp; he did not require surgery to repair the ligament and I suspect this is just a precaution to make sure he’s able to play and won’t end up needing that surgery after all. Lisa Dillman’s article linked above includes updates from Williams and Brown.
Willie Mitchell spoke to the media on Sunday during Hockey Fest about the issues with his knee that kept him out of the lineup for the entirety of last season. He is confident and ready to go for the next season.
Whew that’s a lot of updates to cover. The full training camp roster and schedule has already been posted, but if you need it again, visit http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=681982. All on-ice sessions are open to the public, no charge.