No rest for the wicked. Rookie Camp opened on Wednesday with the dreaded Wingate test, then a few dozen Kings prospects hit the ice for two-a-day practices on Thursday and Friday…and now it’s game time!
Tonight in Anaheim, the Kings will face off with the Ducks in Game 1 of a series that will also involve a re-match Monday night in El Segundo.
The Ducks are allowing fans into the building for free tonight beginning at 5pm and the game will start at 6pm. It will be a regular style contest, featuring three periods and normal intermissions. If you can’t make it to the OC to see things in person, it will be streamed online as well (we’ll tweet out a link closer to faceoff).
Due to the lockout in 2012, Los Angeles didn’t hold Rookie Camp, thus the Kings also didn’t get a chance to test their top prospects against another team from the Pacific Division. However, two years ago they played a pair of games vs. the Coyotes.
“The thing I remember the most is how much information that you have to impart in such a short amount of time,” said Manchester Monarchs coach Mark Morris, speaking about those games with Phoenix. “You’ll be in the middle of a game and say, ‘Oops, we haven’t covered that yet. We really haven’t had enough time to really get into the detail of the game and the structure…Nothing can replace a scrimmage or a game-like atmosphere. You can do drills all day long, but until the puck drops and you’re against an outside shirt, you really don’t know what you’ve got. And I’ve seen a lot of guys that are great practice players that get into a game and are a totally different player, or vice versa – practice players that really struggle or fumble pucks, and you put them in a game and all of a sudden they compete their tails off. It varies from player to player.”
Obviously Morris knows most of the ‘big names’ in camp – like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Andy Andreoff – having coached them in the AHL, but there are also plenty of junior level players in camp that he hardly knows. So, how will he put together the line combinations tonight?
“Well, we kicked it around,” he began. “I talked to the development guys, I talked to the scouts and I talked to Darryl [Sutter], and what we ultimately decided was that if we put Vey and Toffoli and Pearson together along with, say, Nic Deslauriers, here are some guys that are familiar with our drills, familiar with what we’re asking. If they’re the first in line, then it’s going to be easier for some of the guys. But if you split them up, then you’ve got a lot of scrambly play. So that’s kind of how we chose that line. And then Andreoff and Kozun and Robbie Czarnik – those are guys that have been around for a little bit, so they’re accustomed to what we’re looking for, and it just brings a little bit better focus for us and expedites the learning process.”
In just a short period of time since making those comments Morris and the staff have had a slight change of heart. Czarnik has not only been bumped from that spot, he’s going to be a healthy scratch in tonight’s game. The second line will now see Andreoff slide over to play center and feature 2013 draftee Valentin Kykov of on the left side.
“Andreoff can play center, he can play wing,” remarked Morris. “Some guys see him as a wing, some guys see him as a center. I’ve seen him as both and like him both places.”
This is the significant, at least in the sense that the coaches and management now want to give Andreoff a longer look at center. Most recently it was believed Andreoff could challenge for an NHL roster spot at left wing. Using him up the middle also will provide many different options once main camp gets underway in less than a week.
Meanwhile, the Monarchs top line from last year has been reunited for Game 1, and for Morris, it feels so good.
“That line of Vey, Toffoli and Pearson, they’re a pretty special combination,” he remarked. “They think alike. They like playing with each other. Their strengths match up very well. They played against some of the top lines in the American League last year and were very good together, and if it’s working, why try and reinvent the wheel?”
Morris also had some praise for a few of his other players while speaking how he’s going to put the line-up together for Game 1 in Anaheim.
“Brandon Kozun – he’s getting better every year. I think that his game and his maturity has really made the turn for the better. He just seems to be more in step with what we need from him, and in order for his game to grow. Jordan Weal – unbelievable on faceoffs last year. A guy that you can see the difference in strength that he has. Nic Deslauriers – he did a lot of work with Mike O’Connell and deserves a lot of credit for his maturity along the way. He has a real good understanding now as to what it takes to be a pro. All those things add up, and we’re doing our best to try and give these guys the best opportunity to show their potential.”
Kozun has also been scratched for Game 1 and will not play. His spot will be filled by camp invitee Cam Maclise (see his MayorsManor interview here),
Here’s how the Kings skaters will likely look tonight…
Tanner Pearson – Linden Vey – Tyler Toffoli
Valentin Zykov – Andy Andreoff - Cam Maclise
Dominik Kubalik – Nick Shore – Justin Auger
Maxim Kitsyn – Jordan Weal – Scott Sabourin
Alex Roach – Nick Deslauriers
Derek Forbort – Collin Miller
Zac Leslie –
Nick Ebert Kurtis MacDermid
JF Berube will play the first two periods
Matthias Niederberger will play the third period
SCRATCHES: Patrik Bartosak, Matt Campagna, Robbie Czarnik, Nick Ebert, Brandon Kozun, Marcus McIvor, Brian O’Neill
To see the just released rankings of the Kings Top 10 prospects, click here.
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