GLENDALE AZ - SEPTEMBER 23: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Los Angeles Kings laughs during the a break from the preseason NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on September 23 2010 in Glendale Arizona. Bernier pitched a shut-out over two periods. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With camp about half over, we'll see (I think) our first batch of cuts today. Usually, the first batch isn't too dramatic or surprising, consisting mostly of players who are a year or more from serious consideration by the big club. I thought I would take a look at the various positional battles and attempt to make completely capricious and/or unreliable assessments of who is making a good case for himself, and who isn't.
Second Line Left Wing
1. Scott Parse -- Parse and his linemates Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams have seemed like a bona-fide NHL line throughout camp. All three have something to prove this year, and -- for the last 10 days at least -- you can tell. However, Parse sat out last night with a foot injury. Hopefully, he'll be back in a day or two, but you never know; those are things that turn into broken toes and suddenly the guy is out a month. If that happens, who gets the LW2 spot?
2. Andrei Loktionov -- by all accounts, Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius looks bigger and stronger this year, which is great news. I have been saying for awhile that when Loktionov gets his man body, he will have an NHL career. If that day is now, I think he has a shot at replacing Parse if Parse is indeed hurt for more than a day or two.
3. Oscar Moller -- Many have commented that Oscar looks bulked up, which is good news, even though I think might be an illusion, since he has always been built more or less like a tank. Many have also commented that he looks faster, and/or is a "man among boys" when compared to the rookies and prospects. If Loktionov is a genius playmaker (and he is), then Moller is the sniper you need to pair with him. There's a reason Parse/Loktionov/Moller was the best line in the AHL last year before call-ups broke up the line.
4. Brayden Schenn -- I keep waiting for Murray to try him on a wing, but so far it hasn't happened.
5. Brad Richardson -- I can see him stepping in to a top-six role if an injury happens during the season, but not now.
1. Kevin Westgarth -- when you break a guy's jaw in your first pre-season fight, you get to be #1.
2. Kyle Clifford -- a better all-around player than Westgarth, by a mile. But slightly less scary.
3. Rich Clune -- eh. He's more like the enforcer's wise-cracking sidekick. Like, "The Mighty Westgarth (and Clune)." But a good sidekick is important.
4. Jordan Nolan -- He will be here in the future. But so far, he's been quiet.
1. Thomas Hickey -- put up a point or two, logged big minutes, is finally healthy, and he's a genuine threat on the power-play. Don't forget we don't have the artist formerly known as Randy Jones to man the second power play unit. Unless we want to see a lot of Stoll or Williams on the point (please, no), having another power-play specialist is a good idea. Hickey is having a good camp, and I think he has the inside track on the third pairing spot. (And if he makes it, I hope he switches to #4.)
2. Jake Muzzin -- lots of buzz during the first week of camp, but I haven't heard anything about his play in the games. Last year's OHL Defenseman of the Year can't be ruled out.
3. Davis Drewiske -- started off with a vote of confidence from Terry Murray, but has been victimized a few times in the games, and that sounds like more of the same to me.
4. Johan Fransson -- other than the fact that he's a grown-up, I haven't seen or heard anything especially impressive about him. He may be the quiet type, for all I know. When I see him skate, he does seem like a real NHL player. I just can't tell if he's a good NHL player.
1. Jonathan Bernier -- solid in practice and excellent in the five periods he's played so far.
2. Jonathan Quick -- this category was going to be "back-up goalie" until I watched last night's game at Staples. Yes, it's meaningless. Yes, it's just a pre-season game. But he needs to be more focused than that. When you read those half-complimentary comments from Terry Murray, it just takes me right back to March and April.
3. Erik Ersberg -- injured.
Fourth Line Forwards
(Assume the crime-fighting duo of Westgarth and Clune -- "enforcers" above -- are taking up two of the five remaining forward spots, the ones that are scratchable; this category is for the other two or three spots. I actually can picture a silhouette of Westgarth used like a Batsignal whenever he's called to duty.)
1. Richardson -- has done nothing to hurt his favored son status.
2. Moller -- having a great camp as far as I can tell.
3-4. Clifford and Schenn -- I really can't tell how well these guys are doing. Schenn got a scrappy goal last night. Clifford never looks out of place. I know they're doing at least "fine," but they need to blow people away in order to dislodge the more experienced (and not waiver-exempt) Richardson. The main reason I think they might not make the team is that I don't know what Lombardi will do with Brad Richardson if they do.
5-6. Corey Elkins and Trevor Lewis -- older and more experienced, I can see either of these guys as call-ups. Lewis, in particular, is a pretty safe 4th line choice, sort of a more skilled but less-experienced Richardson.
7. Loktionov -- I have a hard time picturing him playing on the 4th line, no matter what TM says.