The Quest for a Different Cup
Last year’s Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings became the fifth team in NHL history to fail to qualify for the playoffs following a Stanley Cup Championship. A splash of cold water in the face assuring fans and players alike that the NHL season is a long one and nothing is guaranteed.
In addition to some Kings players still playing hockey in the IIHF this summer, there is something else that is happening at the forefront of the Kings organization and that is how the team’s AHL affiliate, Manchester Monarchs, are doing. Clinching the first round victory last week against the Portland Pirates, the Monarchs are in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Through the fog of disappointment and confusion of where the season went wrong for the Kings, the organization’s AHL affiliate team is chugging along in the Calder Cup playoffs with a beaming light in clear focus.
Stothers was not the only Monarch to receive an award. Right-winger Brian O’Neill was voted as the league’s most valuable player and given the Les Cunningham trophy for his play in 2014-2015 AHL regular season. O’Neill is twenty-six, on the smaller side at 5’8” (1.73 meters), and lead the Monarchs in scoring with eighty points in seventy-one games played. O’Neill is under contract with the Kings until the end of next year.
Los Angeles Kings prospect Jordan Weal is another small forward that is putting up gigantic numbers for the Manchester Monarchs as they are currently winning a best of seven series 2-0 against the Wilkes-Berry Scranton Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In seven games played, the former Regina Pats center has twelve points (1.71 PPG rate).
Weal was called up to the Los Angeles Kings in April, as roster capacity was not an issue, but did not see anytime before being sent back down to help the Monarchs with their journey towards the Calder Cup. Although, Weal, did not play any regular season games with the big-club this season, his playmaking ability and cerebral awareness for the game will definitely be pushing for a spot on the Kings roster come training camp. That is, if he decides to resign with the Kings as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Another forward that produced consistently through the regular season and continues to do so in the playoffs is Michael Mersch. Mersch is signed with the Kings through 2016-2017 and has eleven points in the seven-playoff games played by the Monarchs.
Last year’s first round draft pick, Adrian Kempe signed an entry-level contract with the Kings in April and recorded his first professional goal in the opening series of the AHL playoffs.
Monarchs Team Defense
Team defense is something the Kings have emphasized as soon as Dean Lombardi was appointed General Manager. In addition to a young core of defensemen Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin at the NHL level and the quick development of Brayden McNabb, the organizations defensive depth is in a good position.
Kings defensive prospects Colin Miller and former first-round draft pick Derek Forbort are holding down the back end for Manchester with a veteran presence in Jeff Schultz to provide experience needed for any playoff success. Miller had an outstanding regular season finishing tied for second in scoring for all defensemen in the AHL.
Both goalies played well during the regular season for the Monarchs. 2011 fifth-round draft pick Patrik Bartosak played a very small number of games when joining the Monarchs last season, but, gave a much better example with what he is capable of finishing top twenty in the league for save percentage and goals against average after playing twenty-eight games.
The majority of the goaltending time was given to twenty-three year old, Jean-Francois Berube. Berube split time between the AHL and ECHL in 2012-2013. Berube would be given the starting job in Manchester after Martin Jones took the back-up job in Los Angeles and he has seized the opportunity.
Looking Towards the Future
This success stems from the top of the Los Angeles Kings organization. Starting with Dean Lombardi, down to management and scouting. From the coaching and development to the players themselves that are doing what they can to win. The Los Angeles Kings have established their identity as a winning culture and this undoubtedly has had a ripple effect throughout the entire organization.
During the course of any NHL regular season, things can happen. Some things are completely unexpected and others are inevitable. Regardless, NHL teams must adapt to those situations and utilize the resources that are available. Yes, the Kings failed to qualify for the playoffs, however there is confidence that this team will move forward and sustain success.