The competition and level of play in the AHL - already second best in North America - is expected to be a notch or two above normal when the season kicks off later this week, as most clubs stand to benefit greatly from the NHL lockout.
Just a few days ago, coach Mark Morris told us he thinks this might be the most talented Monarchs team he’s had in the six-plus years he’s been behind the bench in Manchester.
In addition to names like Andrei Loktionov, Jordan Nolan and Slava Voynov returning to the AHL for the time-being, Manchester’s also adding several of the Kings’ high-end prospects this season – including Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Nicolay Prokhorkin.
If their three game exhibition schedule is any indication, Morris has the entire group headed in the right direction.
They opened up the pre-season with a 2-0 win on Friday, getting goals from Nolan and Loktionov to support the shared-shutout posted by Martin Jones and JF Berube in net.
Yesterday, they used a third period rally to spark a comeback and then won the game 4-3 in overtime.
Finally, earlier this afternoon, they closed out the pre-season with a 7-1 thrashing of the Portland Pirates on an Olympic-sized rink in Salem, New Hampshire.
Second year forward – and former WHL scoring champion – Linden Vey opened things up on the power play, assisted by Toffoli and Brandon Kozun. Then, early in the second period Toffoli blasted a shot set up by Voynov and Vey, putting the Monarchs up by a pair of goals.
But, they weren’t even close to being done yet.
Midway through the middle frame Manchester picked up two more in a 15-second span. The first one came from Jordan Weal (assisted by Voynov), then he set up defenseman David Kolomatis for the team’s fourth goal of the game.
They took a 5-0 lead when AHL rookie Andy Andreoff finished off another beautiful pass from Voynov (his third point of the game) during a 5-on-3 advantage. Jake Muzzin also assisted on the goal.
Voynov then scored a goal of his own just past the seven minute mark of the third period. Prokhorkin and Vey picked up the assists on that one.
Kozun, playing with Robbie Czarnik and Andreoff today (due to Loktionov and Nolan being given the day off), concluded the Monarchs offensive outburst when he scored on a wraparound.
In total, Manchester out-shot Portland 40-18 and the Pirates’ lone goal was actually the first one Jones had let by all pre-season.
Next up, the Monarchs will officially open the 2012-13 season with a pair of road games this coming weekend – they’ll play the Providence Bruins on Friday and then travel to Albany, where they’ll meet up with Scott Parse and the Devils on Saturday.
We’re expecting to have Nolan on the MayorsManor radio show later this week. If you have a question for him, be sure to send it over soon.
Until then, if you haven’t made time for it yet, be sure to check out last week’s show with Monarchs coach Mark Morris – he talks at length about all the players discussed above and gives you some insight as to who’s ready for the NHL and who still needs some polish.