Saturday, September 25, 2010

Who Goes Home?

As I watched the Kings-Coyotes game at Staples Center last night, I couldn't help thinking about the rookies and prospects participating in the game.  Playing on NHL ice was the dream of every one of those guys growing up, and just as soon as they get a taste of the dream, they must also face the inevitable decisions from the club they hope to join -- because roster cuts are coming.

Like many things in life, not everyone gets their dream when they want it.  They have a shot, but there just isn't room to keep everyone.  So they work hard in camp, try to play their best and showcase their unique (or in some cases not so unique) talents, hoping to catch management's eye.  During warm-ups last night, I watched them intently.

Some looked perfectly at home, while others seemed scared, ready for the other skate to drop at any moment.  In reality, even the ones that feel confident may not get a spot.  Sometimes the club is just "going in another direction."  But like life, setbacks are temporary, and if you're completely committed to your dream, you'll do whatever it takes to make it happen one day.

With so many potential new Kings in camp, I haven't been able to watch everyone closely enough to comment on their future, so I'll just list the guys I have spent time watching and share my predictions on where they're headed.  I'll report back in a few days and we can see how I did.

Let's start with defencemen.
  • Davis Drewiske wasn't playing at the end of the season last year due to a shoulder injury, and Coach Terry Murray publicly shared that he didn't think Drewiske's level of grit and board play was the same after coming back supposedly "healthy."  Watching him in camp, I think he's back to his old pre-injury self and will earn a spot on the roster.   It's a win for our defense because he's a big body and a solid, though not exceptional puck handler.
  • Peter Harrold is probably in the strangest situation of anyone on the squad because he's been used in both defensive and offensive roles.  He's not stellar at either, and he's not the biggest body on the team, so I'm not sure where that leaves him.  Unless he's packaged as part of a trade, I suspect he stays with the club and is a healthy scratch most of the season.
  • Alec Martinez was a call up a couple of times towards the end of the season, and serviceably filled his role but didn't do anything memorable.  At 6' 1" and 208 pounds, he's not the biggest guy out there but he's physical enough.  Even so, I don't think he earns a spot out of camp and will play in Manchester.
  • Jake Muzzin is a big physical guy with an interesting back story.  He did an overage year in juniors due to injuries and has really had to fight to get to this point.  Dean Lombardi likes that kind of character, so they're giving him a long look, but ultimately a season in Manchester will tell the story of his true potential.
  • Colten Teubert will never play at the NHL level.  I know it might sound mean to pick on the guy when he has a hand injury and hasn't really even participated in camp.  But I've never been a Teubert fan, and I'm not starting now.  Expect him to play with the Ontario Reign to stay close to Los Angeles in the event they can offload him as a part of a trade package.
  • Thomas Hickey is at a crossroads in his career.  He was plagued with injuries during his first AHL season, but battled through them to make an appearance with Manchester in the Calder Cup play-offs and make a positive impression on the coaches with his contributions.  He's been working out in Los Angeles all summer, more than sufficiently handling his duties at camp and the coaches are high on him.  I'm gonna go out on a limb as say he makes the squad out of camp.  Whether he stays will depend largely on how he fits into the defensive picture when Matt Greene returns from shoulder surgery and we have an "extra" D-man.
And now for the forwards.
  • Bud Holloway had an exceptional play-off run with Manchester, but has never seemed to bring that level of game to camp, at least in a way you notice.  He's a terrific guy, but sadly I don't think he has a shot.
  • Trevor Lewis also won't be making the team.  Maybe it was nerves, but he looked a little lost during the game last night, and he's not the kind of aggressive physical presence to fill a third or fourth line role.  Back to the Monarch's kiddo.
  • Dwight King looked like Trevor Lewis last night, only slightly taller.  He'll be back in Manchester as well. 
  • Justin Azevedo will also be headed back to Manchester.   He's one of the smaller guys out there at 5' 7", and he's less skilled than other small guys like Kozun, so he doesn't fill the kind of role the Kings need up front.  
  • Brandon Kozun will stick around longer, and may even make it to Frozen Fury in Las Vegas because he's a dynamic player to watch with a good scoring touch.  Ultimately, he needs to grow a little more physically, which he can do most effectively back in juniors.  He's got plenty of time.
  • Andrei Lotkionov will also see more playing time before his eventual return to Manchester.  He shows a ton of promise, but we're loaded at center and he has too much scoring talent to get wasted on the 4th line.
  • Moller, sadly, has reached the end of the line with the Kings.  He played almost a full season 2 years ago, in the same rookie class with Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds.  When he didn't make the squad last year, I expected he would go back to Manchester, rule the ice as one of their top 3 scorers, and prove he deserved to be back.  It didn't happen, and in camp this past week everything about his body language and lack of jump in his step spoke volumes.  It makes me sad because I've always been a Moller admirer, but I'm pretty sure he's done.
  • Brayden Schenn will be one of the last cuts, but I predict he'll go back to juniors for another season.  Not because of lack of talent or physicality, mind you, because the kid has all the tools, and he showed it last night going hard to the net to help Dustin Brown bang in a dirty, gritty goal.  But Schenn is a long term play for the Kings -- he's a keeper, and patience will pay HUGE dividends with this kid.
  • Rich Clune will make the team.   The nickname "Clunatic" makes him a fan favorite, he's a fast skater and good but clean agitator who will drop the gloves and take on a guy a head taller than he is if that's what it takes to get the job done.
  • Kyle Clifford has a similar game to Clune, although he's also bigger and just a bit faster in my estimation.   To a great agree, Clifford's fate is probably tied to whether Kevin Westgarth makes the squad.  Westgarth is more of a "traditional" heavyweight enforcer, and if he proves his skating ability has progressed enough during the summer he will take the spot on the 4th line that could otherwise be open for Clifford.   I predict Westgarth makes the squad.
So now you have my picks to fill the Kings open roster spots.  I'd love to know what you think, so get those comments coming!


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