Kings AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By David A. Rainer

The Manchester Monarchs witnessed a steady stream of new and old faces during the 2005-06 season. As the Los Angeles Kings continued to draw upon their AHL affiliate for injury replacement players, the Monarchs and the Reading Royals of the ECHL worked together shuffling players up and down the system pipeline to fill voids on the rosters. As a result, only Lauri Tukonen, Brad Fast, Joey Mormina and Ryan Munce would spend their entire seasons with the team to which they were assigned at the start of the season. Unfortunately for Monarch fans, Manchester would again finish the season with a disappointing first round loss in the playoffs.

Forwards

Seventeen Kings prospects were playing in the professional minor leagues last season, 11 of whom were forwards. The group is headlined by Lauri Tukonen, who was signed by the Los Angeles Kings during the offseason and brought to North America from Finland. Considering his age (19), Tukonen had a quality season for Manchester. He would finish only seventh on the team in scoring with 36 points in 62 games, but as his first in North America, he had to adapt to the cultural changes. Tukonen was one of the few forwards who did not receive a call-up to Los Angeles as the organization was more inclined to allow him to learn slowly in a scoring role than to rush him into NHL service at such a young age.

Several forwards appeared in both Manchester and Los Angeles jerseys. Noah Clarke continued his steady play for Manchester, finishing with 44 points and setting a new career high with 30 assists. With three full AHL seasons under his belt, Clarke’s time is running out as a legitimate NHL prospect as other prospects are moving ahead of him on the organizational depth chart.

One of those players is Petr Kanko. Kanko received his first playing time in the NHL this season, but not before contributing 27 points on 15 goals to Manchester in 60 games, his second full season in a Monarchs jersey. Kanko is on the brink of making the NHL roster full time next season and likely will not see much more of Manchester in the coming years.

Other prospects that contributed solid play to Manchester to be rewarded with a call-up to Los Angeles were Konstantin Pushkarev, Connor James and Matt Ryan. After the trade of Jeff Tambellini to the New York Islanders and Brad Smyth to the Hartford Wolfpack, Pushkarev would finish the season as the team’s leading scorer with 19 goals in his first season in professional hockey. He would show some progress over the season, including an impressive hat trick against San Antonio just four days before his 21st birthday, and can be looked to as one of the more intriguing prospects to keep an eye on for the 2006-07 season.

Matt Ryan was the first to be called up to Los Angeles, but was sent back to Manchester after 12 unproductive games in Los Angeles. Ryan played largely in an energy role, scoring only 24 points in 68 games. Unfortunately for Manchester, this was largely the theme for forward prospects this season. Many of the forward prospects would score approximately a half of a point per game on average and not contribute much in the way of top performances. Connor James would add 42 points in 77 games, also from an energy role. Greg Hogeboom tallied 19 points in 42 games and 27 points in 19 games for the Reading Royals, bouncing back from several injuries that drastically limited his play in 2004-05. Eric Neilson spent the entire season with Bakersfield of the ECHL, scoring four points in 47 games. But Neilson is better known for his fighting skills and his 164 penalty minutes were second on the team.

Dany Roussin added six points in 29 games for Manchester but excelled with 45 points in 41 games for Reading. Roussin is another intriguing prospect to watch in 2006-07 as there is now more scrutiny on him as a prospect, and the organization which drafted him in the second round of the entry draft, to perform when not matched on a line with Sidney Crosby after his disappointing 2005-06 AHL season.

Tim Jackman was a trade deadline acquisition, from Phoenix for center Yanick Lehoux (PHO), and added five points in his 18 games for Manchester. This former second round pick is running out of opportunities to stick with an organization, and more importantly, earn a regular NHL roster spot. Shay Stephenson was an offseason signee, spending all but six games with Reading where the big left-winger would score 41 points in 62 games. If Jackman is not brought back to the Kings organization next season and some of the better forward prospects make the Los Angeles roster, Stephenson might earn himself a regular shift in the AHL.

Defensemen

While 11 forwards fill the Kings’ minor league depth charts, only three defensemen have reached this same level. Brad Fast and Joey Mormina were offseason acquisitions and spent the entire season in Manchester. An alumnus of Michigan St., Fast contributed 18 points in 62 games. At 6’5 and 223lbs, Mormina added tremendous physical play to his 13 points. Both were brought in to add depth to the blue line in Manchester and provided just that. While other players came and went over the season, only Fast and Mormina were present every night when not recuperating from injuries.

Richard Petiot would prove to be the best defenseman on the ice for Manchester, when not summoned to Los Angeles by the organization. Petiot spent a great deal of the season traveling back and forth between Manchester and Los Angeles, receiving four separate assignments to the NHL team to only skate in two games. But when the physical defenseman was present in Manchester, his influence was apparent. Petiot tallied 14 points in 63 games and led the team with a plus/minus of +15, indicative of his steadying influence on the blue line.

Goaltenders

Barry Brust spent the majority of the season as the backup to Adam Hauser in Manchester, but as the season wore on, Brust would eventually earn the trust of the head coaches and take over the starting duties by the time the playoffs began. In 35 games, Brust finished with a 19-14-1 record with a 2.71 goals against average, a save percentage of .916 and two shutouts in the regular season and a third in the playoffs. With a number of goaltender prospects pushing up the depth charts from below, Hauser may be pushed out of the organization next season while Brust assumes the regular starting duties to begin the season.

Yutaka Fukufuji saw action in two games for Manchester while spending the remainder of the season with Reading. In 29 games, Fukufuji went 15-9-4 with a 2.91 goals against average and a save percentage of .917. Fukufuji never nailed down No. 1 goaltender spot for Reading. Meanwhile, Ryan Munce excelled in that role for the Bakersfield Condors. In 55 games, Munce finished with a record of 30-18-5, with a goals against average of 2.78 and a save percentage of .919. Munce was impressive playing close to Los Angeles in 2005-06 and will battle Fukufuji next season for a spot in Manchester.



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