Even coach Darryl Sutter acknowledged it after a recent practice session at the team’s training facility in El Segundo.
“If we’re healthy, nobody’s taking Drew’s place,” he began. “Nobody’s taking Slava’s place. Nobody’s taking Greener’s place. Nobody’s taking Robyn’s place. After that, there’s holes there. There’s boxes that don’t have a name in there yet. So, who’s going to be Drew’s partner? Who’s going to be Slava’s partner? Who’s going to be Greener’s partner, and who’s going to be our seventh guy, and who’s going to be our eighth guy? Because you can’t have nine.”
No, you can’t have nine. And, yes, the Kings are presumed to be starting the season with eight defensemen instead of the usual seven (meaning they’ll also carry one less forward), as a precautionary measure against Willie Mitchell’s knee. While nobody has put a timetable on it, if the knee is holding up just fine – say, after 10 games or so – they’d likely return to a ‘normal’ roster of 14 forwards and seven defensemen.
But, that’s all well down the road. For now, the central debate is just what Sutter was laying out – who will join Doughty and crew on the Kings blueline?
To the surprise of some, GM Dean Lombardi re-signed Keaton Ellerby earlier this summer. He also added another big body in 6-foot-6 Jeff Schultz, inking him to a one-year contract. So, when you consider Alec Martinez and Mitchell into the mix, that gives LA at least nine different options.
While you’re at it though, Andrew Bodnarchuk would like to make sure his name is thrown into the hat too.
Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2006, he played five games for the B’s in 2010. Bodnarchuk has also suited up for 339 games in the AHL, including 69 last season with the Manchester Monarchs.
“Ron Hextall was the guy who pursued me,” said the 25-year old Canadian, when speaking about the free agent offer he first received in the summer of 2012. “It came really quickly after I became unrestricted and I think Hextall was the guy who always had great, great words and high hopes for me. He was the one who brought me into the organization.”
Even with Hextall having moved on to the Flyers, Kings management still thought highly enough of the stocky, left-shooting defender to extend a new two-year contract offer a few months back.
“I was actually surprised,” Bodnarchuk told MayorsManor. “We took some time to have our first talk after the qualifying offers were sent off. They had to take care of some of their other players quickly, but when we first talked, they came with the two-year proposal right away when I thought it might have been a one-year. It was something they were interested in and after talking to them it was something that we were interested in, as well.”
His 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) were third most among defensemen in Manchester last season. Still, it was nice to get confirmation that Lombardi and Kings management valued what he brought to the team.
“You just want to be reassured, more-so than the money, you want to be reassured that you’re valued within their system and you want to hear from them, that they say they see you as someone who can be in their line-up someday. So, as soon as you hear those things, you get excited and everything else falls into place after that.”
Last year was an adjustment period as well. After spending so many years in the Bruins organization, Bodnarchuk had to change his way of thinking and adapt to a whole new way of approaching pro hockey.
“I had no idea what to expect, but it was a lot different,” he noted. “I wouldn’t even say it’s a communication factor [with the coach], it’s more or less feeling each other out and seeing how the deal with certain situations. I think a lot of times, whether it’s a new coach in a new system or whether there’s a coaching change mid-year, you go in and try to earn the respect of the coach more or less from the way you play and carry yourself rather than verbally.”
Off the ice was where he felt things came together rather quickly, as the Monarchs D-core was an inviting group who welcomed him with open arms. Although he bonded with guys like Andrew Campbell early on, it was Nick Deslauriers who he was most happy about having as a teammate.
“I played against Deslauriers before,” he said with a laugh. “So I remember a time or two I used to get him wound up. He’s the guy that if you say or do the right things, you can get him going. He’s like The Hulk, in the sense that he can turn green pretty quickly. He’s a big kid is basically what it is. Just a giant kid. He has a short fuse on the ice which is something I think he can use to his advantage too.”
As one of the older guys among the Kings prospects, Bodbarchuk works to find the balance between be-friending and competing against younger guys attending training camp.
“It’s kind of funny how that works. Ultimately though, to get the best out of yourself or the best out of them, you really have to bind to a team system. That’s something I think that people who are successful learn quickly – is that the better you’re playing or the better you make them play, the better it makes you look. It doesn’t matter where, we’re all trying to make the NHL. While you’re in the LA system, you’re trying to make LA, but there is always eyes on you. So you try to make that player as good as they can be because it’s only going to shine better on you.”
One of those pairs of eyes will be Manchester coach Mark Morris, somebody Bodnarchuk grew to admire last season.
“Mark really wants to see everyone succeed and you can really tell that he cares about the development of the player and everyone in the organization. He’s the type of guy that it kills him if he has to healthy scratch someone, he really wants to see everyone succeed, especially a guy that puts his best foot forward every night. I think he had a lot of respect for my game as far as my output night in and night out. Simplifying my game is always something I’ve talked about with him and I think it’s something he’d like to see more.”
He wouldn’t mind letting Morris watch him from afar though.
“This summer I’ve kind of put Manchester in the back of my mind. It’s probably been, personally, the best year of training I’ve had and probably the best I’ve felt on the ice and most confident I’ve been heading into camp. I’ve had a little taste and I’ve seen what it is and I’m feeling really hungry for it. I’m confident in my game and confident in what I can do and I know given the right opportunity or the right chance, I’ll be able to play my game at that level. I’m not here for a quick visit or to get into shape for Manchester. I’m here to make an impression and show that I’m ready to be here.”
Like most of the Kings defensemen, he also has high praise for Sutter’s tough-love and always-honest approach to coaching.
“He’s awesome,” Bodnarchuk exclaimed. “When I was with the team last year as a healthy scratch and during the playoffs, just being around him, he’s an awesome guy. He demands the best out of everyone and you can see that. He’s an emotional guy. You would think he’s intimidating, but when he grabs you and he’s one-on-one with you, he’s really down to earth. He’s the type of guy, whenever he opens his mouth, you shut yours and listen.”
So, while the majority of eyes focus on guys like Schultz and Ellerby during camp, that’s just fine with Bodnarchuk. He was arguably one of the best defensemen to dress for the Kings on Sunday night in LA. Until told otherwise, he’ll just keep plugging away and hoping management takes notice.
“Looking at the numbers, you can easily count yourself out,” he explained. “But ultimately, I’m in on a two-year deal and I think I’m at a cheap price in this cap era. I think that they see there is an opportunity there, as well. Looking at how many guys there are, you can get scared off quick, but I wouldn’t have signed for two years if I didn’t think there was a chance I could make this team at some point. I’m confident that with the right chance or opening I can jump in.”
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