LA Kings Prospect Review 2011-12: Let's Talk About Monarchs

Hey, remember this guy? No? Okay. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

I'm not big on introductions. My name's John, and I love the LA Kings. Pretty simple, that. I'm a longtime reader at this website and when our Royal Highness took over, I figured I'd see if I could help out in any way possible. She said there was an opening to delve into the Kings' prospect system, and this is an area that has always interested me anyway, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Starting things out, we'll take a look back at the year that was (or in some cases, was so far) for the prospects in the LA Kings' system. We'll do this in 3 parts, with part 1 covering the LA Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester. We'll delve into their CHL prospects in Part 2, and finally in Part 3 we'll talk about "everything else"- international, college, ECHL and beyond. Sound good? Then let's get started.

The Monarchs have been a fixture in the AHL playoffs for more than a decade, but may see that streak in more than a little bit of jeopardy. Right now, they sit tied for 8th in the East with 77 points, and are in the middle of a logjam that sees them only 3 points above the 12th place Springfield Falcons with 4 games left to play. It would seem logical to suggest that some of the call-ups who have helped out the big club, such as Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, may have hurt our affiliate's playoff hopes. But right now they're in, and if they can hold off the teams below them it will mean more meaningful games for the many Kings' prospects still riding those buses. We'll keep you updated on how things shake out for them with only a few weeks left in the AHL regular season.

In the meantime, let's look back at the season so far for the team's prospects still playing in Manchester. All but three members of the current roster are contracted with the Kings, so this gives us quite a lot of players to run through.

Center

Name

Drafted

Age

Goals

Assists

Points (11-12)

Points (10-11)

Azevedo, Justin

2008, 6th round
(153rd overall)

24

25

21

46 (59 GP)

53 (79 GP, 2nd on team)

Cliché, Marc-Andre

2005, 2nd Round
(56th overall)

25

16

22

38 (69 GP)

35 (career high in 63 GP)

Czarnik, Robbie

2008, 3rd Round
(63rd overall)

22

8

14

22 (45 GP)

N/A (77 points in OHL)

Loktionov, Andrei

2008, 5th Round
(123rd overall)

21

5

15

20 (32 GP)

31 (34 GP)

The first thing that jumps off the page at you is our favorite Russian wizard. It would appear that he didn't take his demotion back to the AHL this season at nearly the same stride he did last year, as he's struggled to find the nearly point-a-game pace he was scoring at in '10-'11 and '09-'10 (24 P in 29 GP). On the other hand, the pint-sized Justin Azevedo has picked up some of that slack, already eclipsing last season's total despite missing some substantial time due to injury. His 25 goals stand out a bit due to the fact that he'd previously never broken 20, but it's also worth noting that his 15.9 shooting % is quite a bit higher than his career average as well. His size is always going to hold him back, as he is listed at 5'7 but is probably closer to 5'6 or maybe even 5'5, so I'm not sure anyone should be holding their breath waiting for him to get a call-up.

Speaking of maybe-AHL-lifers, captain Marc-Andre Cliché has flirted with cracking the Kings line-up but has never really been able to get it done. He remains an effective center for them in what appears to be a more defensive role, and has already eclipsed last-season's career-high in points (albeit with 6 more GP). But as a 2005 draft pick who has already played parts of 5 seasons with the Monarchs, time is not on his side at this point. On the opposite end of that spectrum, Detroit-native Robbie Cznarik has been reasonably productive in his first season with the Monarchs following a 77-point campaign with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers that tied for the team high in '10-'11. He's got 22 P in 45 GP, almost 0.5 PPG, not bad at all for his first AHL season, but not numbers that will get you immediate attention either. He's got decent size (6'0 and 188 lbs), and will likely be one to keep an eye on next year. Should he be able to improve upon his rookie professional season, he could be a candidate for a mid-season call-up. I would peg him as unlikely to challenge for a roster spot out of training camp, barring of course a great playoff run.

Left Wing

Name

Drafted

Age

Goals

Assists

Points (11-12)

Points (10-11)

Clune, Richard

2005, 3rd Round
(71st Overall)

24

5

8

13 (53 GP)

22 (career-high in 66 GP)

Kaunisto, Ray

N/A (college free-agent)

25

6

14

20 (70 GP)

14 (57 GP)

Meckler, David

2006, 5th Round
(134th Overall)

24

9

5

14 (40 GP)

33 (75 GP)

Kind of slim pickings here, no? Richard Clune has had some cups-of-coffee with the Kings here and there, but he's looking like another AHL-lifer at this point. Ray Kaunisto is interesting just because of his size, at 6'4 and 185 (so he's got some room to bulk up there, for sure), but he never broke 10 goals playing for a nothing Northern Michigan team in the CCHA until his senior year (when he scored 18). In general it is a good idea to be wary of a sudden leap in production for a collegiate player in his senior year, due to a lot of factors (very similar to CHL players in their overage year) that can basically be summed up by "well, he's older than everyone". His PPG is up a tiny bit from his rookie year, 0.29 this season compared to 0.25 last year, but neither number suggests he can produce much of anything at the NHL level. His size suggests he may have a future as a defensive forward/4th line grinder, so yeah, our most promising prospect at the AHL level on LW is basically a bigger Kyle Clifford except without his prolific scoring touch.

(Even sarcastically, that might be the first and last time you'll see "Kyle Clifford" and "prolific scoring touch" mentioned together in a sentence. Unless that sentence is "Kyle Clifford sure as hell doesn't have a prolific scoring touch" or maybe "Kevin Westgarth makes Kyle Clifford's scoring touch look prolific by comparison." I guess those might come up.) [Ed. note: Clifford did light up Niemi last year in the playoffs. That was fun.]

Not much to say about David Meckler either, another probable AHL-lifer who isn't producing much even at that level. His career-high was 36 points in his rookie year, '07-'08, and other than last season he's struggled to come close to that number again. Nothing to see here, move along.

Right Wing

Name

Drafted

Age

Goals

Assists

Points (11-12)

Points (10-11)

Kozun, Brandon

2009, 6th Round
(179th Overall)

22

19

23

42 (70 GP)

48 (73 GP)

Legein, Stefan

2007, 2nd Round
(37th Overall)

23

13

9

22 (59 GP)

17 (41 GP)

Vey, Linden

2009, 4th Round
(96th Overall)

20

18

22

40 (70 GP)

N/A (116 P in WHL)

In contrast to those LWs, who frankly were so dull I almost fell asleep doing research on them, we've got quite the interesting trio here. Let's start with Brandon Kozun, the half-American, half-Canadian, LA-born little guy (5'9 listed, probably a little smaller than that) who played well in the WHL but seems to have stagnated a bit at the AHL level. It looks unlikely he'll match his rookie point total with just 4 games remaining in the current AHL season, and with his lack of size Brandon is simply not going to be able to play in the NHL without putting up some points. Barring a more productive third campaign, it's hard to see him getting up with the big club anytime soon.

Up next we have Stefan Legein, otherwise known as "The guy the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted in the 2nd round who briefly retired for some reason." One wonders if this guy just doesn't have the passion for the game anymore, which is unfortunate given his tantalizing mixture of PPG+ and 100+ PIM seasons at the OHL level. He hasn't done much of anything in the pros other than retire, unretire, and get traded twice (from CBJ to PHI and then PHI to us for "future considerations": basically we took him to free up a space under the contract limit for the Flyers to sign Sean Couturier, and also got a 6th rounder out of it). At least we haven't sent him down to the ECHL, as the Flyers apparently did last season to "teach him a lesson." Lesson learned, apparently, as he's settled in as a reasonably unproductive AHL grinder, unlikely to crack anyone's NHL line-up anytime soon.

So that leaves AHL rookie Linden Vey as our last great RW hope. He's been reasonably productive in his rookie pro season after scoring 116 points in his final year of major junior. He still has a chance to crack 20 goals with 4 games remaining, and given the fact that he's got decent size (5'11", 176 lbs) with room to still fill out his frame, he may be one to watch in the future. It wouldn't shock me at all to see him as a mid-season call-up next year, especially if he can improve a little bit on his current 0.57 PPG pace.

Defense

Name

Drafted

Age

Goals

Assists

Points (11-12)

Points (10-11)

+/-

Campbell, Andrew (A)

2008, 3rd Round
(74th Overall)

24

2

15

17 (72 GP)

12 (76 GP)

7

Deslauriers, Nick

2009, 3rd Round
(84th Overall)

21

1

12

13 (61 GP)

N/A (43 P in 48 GP in QMJHL)

-10

Hickey, Thomas (A)

2007, 1st Round
(4th Overall)

23

3

22

25 (72 GP)

24 (77 GP)

16

Kolomatis, David

2009, 5th Round
(126th Overall)

23

5

20

25 (54 GP)

28 (70 GP)

2

Mullen, Patrick

N/A (college free-agent)

25

11

26

37 (65 GP)

20 (67 GP)

-8

Muzzin, Jake

2007, 5th Round
(141st Overall)

23

6

21

27 (67 GP)

18 (45 GP)

-8

Yes, now that we're talking blueliners let's add in everyone's favorite deeply-flawed/might-be-useless plus minus statistic into the mix! Great!

This would be LA's area of depth, as unlike at forward they have several guys here who could probably be playing right now at the NHL level (and one who already has). Andy Campbell is a big (6'3/207 lbs.) stay-at-home kind of guy who has been a rock for the Monarchs' back-end for the last couple of seasons. Given the depth the Kings have at the position, I don't expect him to crack their line-ups anytime soon, but he could get a shot at replacing, say, Matt Greene for instance down the line. He's not going to bring much in the way of offense, however. Speaking of not bringing much in the way of offense, Nick Deslauriers has not even come close to approaching his nearly PPG numbers from the "Q", perhaps unsurprisingly. He's not a small guy, already at 6'1/214, but he wasn't drafted in the 3rd round for his play in his own end and he's going to have to produce more than he has shown so far and probably improve his play in his own end if he wants to move up this crowded depth chart.

Up next is some guy named Thomas Hickey; I'm sure you've never heard of him, right? Drafted 4th overall, probably penciled in as the 6th or 7th defenseman in every fantasy LA Kings opening night line-up for the past 3 years or so? The bad news for Mr. Hickey is that he's yet to crack an actual NHL line-up, and like Deslauriers he has struggled to approach his major junior production at the AHL level (and he's smaller than Nick at 5'11). However, he's gotten better in his own end, as evidenced by his career-high +16 rating this season and his selection to the AHL all-star team, so there's that. As has been well-publicized on blogs like this one, Alec Martinez basically leapfrogged him and took his roster spot last year, and Hickey is going to need more than an AHL all-star selection and another sub-30 point season to wrestle that spot back out of Martinez's hands. Sorry to say, but at 4th overall this is looking more like a major bust every single day. Hey, at least he's not Cam Barker, right?

Meanwhile, 5th round selection David Kolomatis has equaled Hickey's production this year despite playing in 18 fewer games. My fellow New Jersey native (insert your Jersey Shore jokes here) has also turned around a -13 mark from last year into the plus territory, and he's basically the same size as Hickey. A 0.46 PPG mark is nothing to sneeze at for a defenseman, and I would not be surprised to see him get a call-up next season. Has he passed Hickey on the depth chart? Maybe, if life was fair (but it's not, so Hickey's 4th overall pick status and better all-around game probably still has him at least slightly above. But watch out for the Jersey boy, Hicks, we don't mess around).

Patrick Mullen is a University of Denver product who's producing even better than Kolomatis, at 0.57 PPG. His 11 goals is a somewhat-shocking career-high, as even in four years of college he never scored more than 7 (in his freshman year, which he promptly followed up with years of 5, 4, 4). Is this a fluke year, or has the Pittsburgh native turned the corner? That remains to be seen. Jake Muzzin is a name you might recall, having played 11 games with the Kings last season (and just 1 assist to show for it). One would think others--Mullen for instance--have passed him on the depth chart a bit since then, and I doubt he would be the next call-up should a defenseman go down this time.

Goalies

Name

Drafted

Age

W-L-OTL

SV%

GAA

Jones, Martin

N/A (undrafted out of WHL, signed by Kings after try-out)

21

16-17-1

.919
(10-11: .924)

2.59
(10-11: 2.54)

Zatkoff, Jeff

2006, 3rd Round
(74th Overall)

24

20-16-3

.920
(10-11: .911)

2.52
(10-11: 2.68)

And you thought the Kings were deep on blueliners! In yet another position they really don't need any help in on the big club, LA has two very capable players waiting in Manchester. They've split time almost equally over the past few seasons, but it looks like Jeff Zatkoff (who has played 2 more games than Jones so far this year) will get the nod should the team make it into the post-season. His numbers have rebounded while Jones' have slid a little, although this just makes them almost identical at this point. Should the team try and trade Jonathan Bernier for help up-front in the off-season--as has been suggested numerous times by fans and yet not even really hinted at by anyone in management--Zatkoff might be next-in-line due to seniority (given their exceptionally similar numbers). Regardless, the AHL team seems to be pretty much set in net at this point and, with the two of them only 24 and 21 years old respectively, far into the future.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a review of all the Kings' prospects down in the AHL system. To recap: not much of anything ready yet at forward, some good prospects on D, and two really solid net-minders. Next time, we'll take a look at who LA has playing in the Canadian Hockey League (otherwise known as major junior) and what they did in the 2011-12 season (which has already been over for a little while now).

I value feedback, criticism (constructive or otherwise), or even angry flamings, so feel free to have at it. If you have any suggestions on what you'd like to see from my prospect coverage in the future, please let me know. Thanks guys, and hope you enjoyed it!

(You can also follow me on Twitter, should you need yet another belligerent hockey fan filling up your timeline. @kinghawkranger)

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