Kings aren't born, they're made.
And in the case of the Los Angeles Kings, they're made in the Queen City: Manchester, New Hampshire.
No matter that they're 3,000 miles apart, the Kings and their primary affiliate, the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs, have discovered a winning formula for player development.
Bolstered by last year's Stanley Cup victory, this year's Kings roster is packed with AHL talent. Nearly every regular on the roster developed in the AHL, more than half coming through the Monarchs.
"We take a lot of pride in the success that our players are having at the NHL level," said Mark Morris, who has been Monarchs head coach since 2006. His players through the years have included 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, and five current L.A. players who were in Manchester this season: Tyler Toffoli, Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, and Jake Muzzin.
Muzzin, who made his professional debut with Manchester in 2010 after four years with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL, said, "Junior to pros is a big jump. The Monarchs helped me learn how to be a pro on and off the ice … how to eat, dress and act like a professional. I was also able to get used to the system that L.A. uses."
By adopting the system of the parent club, Morris said the Monarchs are able to create a seamless transition for their graduates.
"In conjunction with our development team, our staff in Manchester really focuses on creating an environment which simulates the Kings' style of play," he said. "We work on the foundation of players' games to make sure that when they get the call, they're ready to step in and understand their roles and the demands of playing at the highest level."
One such player is Toffoli, a 21-year-old who won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding rookie for the 2012-13 season. Toffoli, who logged 58 games (28-23-51) and an appearance at the 2013 AHL All-Star Classic, joined the Kings in March and has been making his mark since.
"The American League is the second-best league in the world," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, himself a former AHL Rookie of the Year (1980). "[Toffoli's] a good player. He just needs to watch, practice, and play, and it'll be productive for him."
Toffoli had five points in 10 regular-season games with Los Angeles and has a goal and an assist in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games.
With Morris at the helm, the Monarchs have made the Calder Cup Playoffs six times in seven seasons, reaching the conference finals in 2007 and 2010. Armed with that winning tradition, many of the players go on to thrive under the high-pressure atmosphere of the NHL postseason.
"The biggest challenge is trying to create a winning environment, and at the same time allowing younger players the opportunities to grow their games," Morris said.
Muzzin, who played 23 postseason games in the AHL before making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut this spring, said, "The intensity and having to up your game for playoff games is where I think my Calder Cup Playoff experience helped. I was fortunate to have some of that experience with Manchester, and that prepared me for the NHL regular season and playoffs."
"It's nice to see the guys last year that had a hand in L.A.'s success, and the new guys that have had the opportunity this year to really make their mark and to be valuable contributors," Morris said.
"It validates our jobs in the American Hockey League."
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