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Kings' affiliate begins Reign in Ontario

by Patrick Williams / Los Angeles Kings

The Ontario Reign completed a cross-country move this summer, and they brought a Calder Cup pedigree with them.

Playing as the Manchester Monarchs last season, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings won the Calder Cup before relocating to California. The move from New Hampshire put the Reign less than an hour from Staples Center, making for much easier player recalls and regular access for Kings management to keep an eye on its AHL prospects.

The move west has already started to pay off for the Los Angeles organization logistically.

"We've had a lot of communication with the Kings," Ontario coach Michael Stothers said. "It's a lot easier for [management] to get in and just even see a couple of practices. We have [Kings assistant general manager] Rob Blake coming in, [vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel] Mike Futa coming in, as well as our developmental [staff]."

Ontario is off to a 3-0-0-0 start and has allowed one goal. Imprinting the Kings' identity on AHL prospects remains a key organization point of emphasis.

"We want to play and conduct ourselves with the Kings' mentality where we're hard to play against every game, we play a heavy game, we play in all three zones and we've got five guys on the ice connected," Stothers said.

That mentality trickles down to the dressing room.

"The communication is much more frequent," captain Vincent LoVerde said. "You can get a little more feedback from all of the staff. We run the same exact systems. We try to play the same game."

Several players have departed since last season. AHL most valuable player Brian O'Neill was traded to the New Jersey Devils and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders. Defenseman Colin Miller was traded to the Boston Bruins. Centers Nick Shore and Jordan Weal earned jobs with the Kings in training camp.

But the Reign return 13 players from the 2015 playoff roster, setting a foundation for incoming prospects.

"Even though we're not the same team as we were last year, that formula is in place," forward Sean Backman said. "We want to take that formula, which is a lot of hard work, a lot of team-first guys, and want to instill that into this season."

At forward, the Reign have several top prospects. Left wing Adrian Kempe, a first-round pick (No. 29) in the 2014 NHL Draft, had nine goals in 17 playoff games last season as an AHL rookie. Valentin Zykov, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 37), will be counted on to produce offensively. Power forward Michael Mersch, a 2011 fourth-round pick (No. 110), had 22 goals as a rookie last season.

Injured goaltender Patrik Bartosak played a key role in the Monarchs' postseason run and defenseman Kevin Gravel is an intriguing prospect.

However, Ontario also possesses a pair of 30-and-up goaltenders in NHL veterans Peter Budaj and Ray Emery, something that is rare in the prospect-oriented AHL. The two have a combined 587 NHL games. Budaj has two shutouts in three games this season, making a total of 41 saves in the two wins.

NHL veterans Jamie McBain and Jeff Schultz further firm up the blue line.

"The guys we have form a good nucleus," Stothers said. "I think we'll have a different look. We might not be as high-powered offensively as maybe we were at times last season, but that's a good thing too. A guy like Mersch can continue to expand and develop into the player we know he is going to be and possibly be playing with the Kings sooner rather than later."

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