So, right in the middle of the NHL playoffs – and just as the Blackhawks and Red Wings were set to face off in Game 7 – we were on the phone with Kings Vice President and Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall.
Why would we be talking prospects now and not later, you ask?
Well, there’s a critical deadline coming up on Saturday for all NHL teams. They need to get all unsigned 2011 draft picks (playing junior hockey) under contract by then, or the players are released and become eligible to re-enter the 2013 Draft.
And there’s a bit of a shocker here.
To quickly jog your memory though, the Kings didn’t have a first round selection that year. It had been dealt to Edmonton as part of the Dustin Penner trade a few months earlier. So, LA’s first march to the podium came in the second round, 49th overall, where they took goaltender Christopher Gibson out of the QMJHL.
It was a move that turned more than a few heads, because although the saying is ‘take the best player available,’ the last thing the Kings needed at the time was a high-end goaltending prospect. Still, GM Dean Lombardi has always done things his own way on draft day.
And given the Kings’ rich prospect pool since he took over the team in 2006, it’s hard to knock the moves of what may sometimes look like the work of a mad genius.
Fast forward two years and we now what appears to be the final chapter in the Gibson book.
Hextall confirmed to MayorsManor that the Kings will not be signing him.
Interestingly, Gibson, a native of Finland, had recently tweeted this:
— Christopher Gibson (@CGibber37) May 27, 2013
However, Hextall said that the young netminder’s military commitment was a “side issue” and not the key reason they’ll pass up the opportunity to get him signed.
After posting a 2.42 goals against average the year he was drafted, Gibson has followed that up with campaigns of 2.97 and 3.08 GAA for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec junior league. His save percentage also dipped from a career-best 9.20 in 2011 to .893 and .902 the past two seasons.
That same draft year, the Kings also selected Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore in the third round – both players are under contract. Two other picks, Michael Mersch (fourth round) and Joel Lowry (fifth round) remain in US college programs and can be signed at a later date.
Which leaves Michael Schumacher (seventh round) as the only other player who needs to be signed by this weekend.
“I don’t believe we’re going to sign either player,” Hextall said, referencing both Gibson and Schumacher. “They’ll probably re-enter the draft and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Like Gibson, Schumacher brings his own interesting story and it may be just as surprising that the team is willing to walk away from a 6-foot-5 potential power forward.
He posted 26 and 20 goal campaigns with the OHL’s Sault St. Marie Greyhounds over the past two years.
Apparently that wasn’t enough though.
“We can only have 50 NHL contracts,” Hextall explained. “As much as that sounds like a lot, and a lot of teams are right at the 50 max, we like to keep around 47 just in case during the year you have a two-for-one deal and you have to be able to take a contract on. So we like to keep around 46 or 47, 48 at the most. So, when you’re making a three-year commitment to a kid you have to be sure that the level of prospect is an acceptable level. With Michael, he hasn’t progressed the way that we probably hoped that he would. With the contract issue, for some reason if he went through the draft (and wasn’t claimed), we would certainly be willing to talk to him and bring him into the organization. But, not under an NHL contract.”
Gibson had been expected to be the starting goaltender for the Ontario Reign next season, the Kings’ ECHL affiliate. Clearly that’s not happening. And with JF Berube’s likely assignment to Manchester next season, it remains unclear if any Kings prospects will be assigned there. More on that front later this summer.
For now though, we do have one other interesting prospect update.
Left wing Maxim Kitsyn looks to be returning to North America. The highly skilled forward opened a lot of eyes while playing for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (OHL) in 2011 before returning to Russia to honor previous commitments.
Hextall says the Kings can sign him in July and all indications are a deal will be announced at that time.
If so, the 6-foot-2 forward will most likely be assigned to Manchester (AHL) next season.
“There’s training camp for everybody, but that would be our thought process at that point,” Hextall noted. “If any player comes in and lights it up at training camp, things can change. But, that would be our thought process.”
Gibson and Schumacher out, Kitsyn most likely in.
That’s your Kings prospect news for today.
Now back to the regularly scheduled NHL playoffs.
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