Matthew Barry ruminates on the Kings' embarrassment of riches on defense.
"Lombardi needs to admit his mistake and move on", one Kings insider told me in regards to the oft injured Thomas Hickey who was surprisingly selected 4th in the 2007 draft. Meanwhile, Karl Alzner (whom Lombardi passed on saying "he was already a man"), Jacob Voracek and Sam Gagner have already made that selection look increasingly bad. [...]However, when Hickey is healthy, he is a complete leader on the ice and there's a reason why he was expected to be drafted in the top 12.
I would be surprised if Hickey is dealt before he plays even one game for the Kings. This is the last year of his ELC, and I think it's more likely we'll be seeing him this season. In fact, I have a plan for this.
Vito Voynov (yes, I'm calling him Vito) has threatened to bolt to the KHL and with the Kings top 6 already settled, Voynov would be battling Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin for the 7th D-man slot.
Voynov, Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Hickey and Nicolas Deslauriers (oh, and Drewiske) are all in the mix for one third-pairing spot and one seat in the press box (that's how I look at it, anyway). Martinez has the edge over everyone for the spot next to Matt Greene, and Drewiske has the inside track on the press box, just because he's so scratchable. The Kings, could, of course, carry eight defensemen, and might well do this to start the season.
p.s. I'm not sure we ever got a real report that Voynov has "threatened to bolt." But it seems like common sense to worry about it.
Another year in Manchester or being a healthy scratch isn't going to sit well with [Voynov]. Anyone who has seen him play says he's NHL ready. Lombardi is without a 2nd round pick in 2012 (see: Mike Richards) and may not have his 3rd either (see: Dustin Penner deal). My problem is, having "developed" these two over the past 3-4 years, only to draft another player to develop 3-4 years, doesn't fit the Lombardi M.O. and doesn't make a lot of sense unless the Islanders are willing to throw in a prospect or two.
Voynov for a pick would be a disaster. Voynov for a pick and prospect...obviously that depends. But if I had to bet, I would bet in favor of seeing Voynov this season, too. A cup of coffee at minimum.
The Kings are stocked with defensive prospects. They absolutely love Andrew Campbell and Nic Deslauriers is a keeper. Lets not forget Derek Forbort either. It's a good problem to have and Kings fans haven't been able to say that in over 40+ years.
I didn't know the Kings loved Andrew Campbell. I haven't seen a lot of him, but he appears to have been progressing steadily if slowly. Having dealt Teubert -- and with Forbort still a few years off -- he's the only big body left in the pipeline.
Deslauriers, as I have been saying for awhile now, might make the team next month. I'm not going to say it's likely, but I expect a lot of people to be "surprised" by him. Put it this way: I expect him to play well enough that it's at least a tough decision for Lombardi.
This is probably a pretty good time to look at the Kings defensive depth chart, to see where if anywhere these prospects can fit long-term. (That's my idea of a transition. The truth is, I have this stupid chart, and I need to use it...)
This -- in chart form -- is one way I think about d when I think about d. It assumes that Lombardi is not going to intentionally leave the defense without at least two and ideally three veterans, whose jobs it is to anchor the crazy kids and provide some stability, shut-down capability, balance, all that good stuff.
|CUP OF COFFEE||Martinez||Muzzin||Voynov/Hickey|
Don't take this chart too literally. It's mostly my attempt to organize these chess pieces into a coherent plan of attack. The assumptions are as follows:
- At some point Doughty and Johnson will segue from being crazy kids to being responsible grown-ups.
- Lombardi is not going to ship out (or let walk) multiple veterans at once.
- There will likely be a loss of one veteran each season.
- If none of Muzzin, Deslauriers, Hickey or Voynov are ready to step in, in 2012, then Mitchell might get re-signed. Otherwise, 2011-12 will be his last Kings' season.
- In 2013-14, it will be time for one of Scuderi or Greene to go. Scuderi would have to be re-signed, and Greene will still have a year left on his contract. Still, I think it will be Greene who moves on, via trade.
- At which point, Scuderi is left as the Obi-Wan figure.
- As we have discussed many times, Hickey, Voynov, Muzzin, Martinez and (now) Deslauriers all (varying degrees of) hope that they can make the team now. The only available spots are the third-pair with Matt Greene, the press box seats, and an extra opening should Doughty opt to stay home for a few weeks.
- To this point, I have held to the belief that it would be a waste to promote Hickey or Voynov only to stick him in the press box more often than not. Now I'm starting to wonder about that. Why not jettison Drewiske and shuttle Hickey, Voynov and/or Deslauriers back and forth from Manchester all year. They're all waiver-exempt. They can soak up the system. Drewiske is 26 (or something). His upside is, well he doesn't have one really. What you see is probably what you get. But it's worth it to see what these kids can do, especially since their upsides are so big. (And especially with the Voynov "flight risk".)
- The Kings will never have a defense of Doughty, Johnson, Hickey, Deslauriers, Muzzin, Voynov and Martinez -- although on some level that would be insane and hilarious. The thing is, the jury is still out, in one way or another, on every one of those guys. We don't know if Doughty is Bourque or Hamrlik. We don't know if Johnson is ever going to mature (he'll always be skilled; but will he be a trust-worthy veteran, etc.?). Deslauriers could turn out to be better than Johnson, in which case...see why avoiding NTCs is a good thing? Voynov, he could be Visnovsky....or Yachmanev. Hickey? He could still turn out to be Scott Neidermayer.
- Lombardi needs to hang on to all these guys for a couple more years, at which point we'll know a lot more.
- Is that possible? Hickey and Muzzin have one year left on their deals, Voynov and Martinez have two, Deslauriers has three. Voynov is the wild-card, if the persistent "KHL" rumors mean anything. Since he's maybe the fastest hockey player on the planet, I hope he shows up week after next and blows everyone away. Of course, if he sucks, that could be clarifying, also.
- I can't wait for camp.