Even though the Manchester Monarchs have already wrapped up home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, entering their final three games of the regular season this weekend, things are anything but calm around the team with the AHL’s be record.
Their 233 goals for are the second-most of any team in the Eastern Conference, and most by any team in the playoffs. Additionally, they’ve given up the second fewest goals in the entire league. Perhaps the rich are getting richer, though.
Defenseman Alex Lintuniemi, the Kings second round pick in 2014, debuted with the team last weekend, filling in for a “banged up” Jeff Schultz. He finished the night with an assist and a plus-1 rating. Now, college sniper Jonny Brodzinski has been cleared to play and could make his debut on right wing soon.
The even bigger story is forward Adrian Kempe. Last year’s first round draft pick, and the highest-rated prospect they have in the system, signed an entry level contract earlier this week and is set to make his North American debut later tonight.
After Kempe’s team, MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik, was eliminated from playoff consideration in Sweden, they had to play a relegation round to maintain their standing in the SHL’s top tier for next season. They won that round in four games, with Kempe picking up a goal and two assists in their four-game sweep. However, the 18-year-old winger still wasn’t ready to land stateside. First, MODO wanted him to help their junior team advance in the playoffs. He joined for two games, recording a goal and three assists, but they lost the best-of-three series.
“There was no real question that he was coming over this year; he’s communicated that almost all year long, at least from Christmas on,” Kings assistant GM Rob Blake told MayorsManor. “The contract was fairly simple and was done very quickly. He had some immigration issues that delayed things for about ten days, but we got him [to Manchester] on the weekend.”
Following a few practices this week, Kempe is now expected to suit up for the Monarchs tonight. Before anybody gets ahead of themselves, though, Blake confirmed what we’ve been reporting in the scouting reports provided in our prospect rankings – look for Kempe to play a season in the AHL, not join the Kings’ NHL roster coming out of training camp in October.
“I think that’s kind of the staple from this franchise,” he noted. “You look at Tanner [Pearson], Tyler [Toffoli], [Jordan] Nolan, [Dwight] King, all the guys – even [Jake] Muzzin, [Alec] Martinez, [Slava] Voynov – they’ve all spent time in the AHL. There was a stat the other day that 87 or 89 percent of opening day guys have been in the AHL. There is a period of adjustment, for sure, to see a step up from a junior or college kid; but he’s been playing pro for two years against men. Development-wise or talent-wise, he’s had to play against a different level. It’ll be interesting to see him in the AHL. The other thing is, he was excited to get over here and prove himself. We’ll get a real good look at him here this year.”
Several members of the Kings’ management group spent time in Europe this season watching Kempe and closely monitoring his play, as noted in our recent prospect profile for LAKings.com.
Now, with just a few practices under Kempe’s belt, Monarchs coach Mike Stothers will be saddled with the task of integrating another high-end prospect into his already deep line-up.
“He has impressed us with his skating; he’s a powerful skater,” said the Stothers, who was recently voted AHL Coach of the Year. “He looks like he has a real nice set of hands and a real hockey sense about him. He certainly seems to be aware in the offensive zone and around the net. When we were out on the ice with him, Chris [Hajt, assistant coach] and I were saying how we noticed he has some size and skill; now the only thing we need to see is his play away from the puck and his play in his own. This should be a real good test for him [tonight]. We’ll get him some game action, but it’s nice to see a kid of that size be able to skate as well as he does and handle the puck as well as he does.”
Stothers first indicated they would like to get Kempe into all three games this weekend, before pulling the classic coach swerve.
“I would never say yes or no,” quipped the usually all-business Sothers, followed by a good laugh. “We’ll try and get him in as many games as possible, how’s that?”
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com