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TAKING THEIR BEST SHOT

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Back in 2003, when the Kings hosted the inaugural Pacific Division Shootout in El Segundo, forwards Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri and defenseman Tim Gleason were among the high-end prospects who suited up in the purple and black.


Since that time, the highly successful tournament has made stops at Anaheim and San Jose. Meanwhile Cammalleri, Gleason and Frolov have transformed into key components for their Kings, not only for the upcoming NHL season but for the next several years to come.

Next month, the Shootout comes full-circle with the Kings again hosting the Ducks, Sharks and Coyotes at the Toyota Sports Center from September 8-12. With Frolov (45 goals the last two seasons), Gleason (a rugged defensive-minded rearguard) and Cammalleri (a Kings-high 26 goals in 2005-06) entrenched on L.A.'s roster, another wave of Kings youngsters hope to use the tournament as a springboard to STAPLES Center as they continue along the development path.

Headlining this year's Kings roster will be past first-round draft choices Jonathan Bernier, Anze Kopitar, Trevor Lewis and Lauri Tukonen. In addition to their desire to earn L.A. its first ever Shootout title, the organization's youth are looking forward to playing in front of their home fans.

"It should be fun here in LA," said Kopitar. "The fans will be great. I'm looking forward to it."

Kopitar was one of the Kings on the long bus ride to San Jose last year. Selected by the Kings in the first-round (11th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Kopitar said that the games he played there are not contests he will soon forget.

"That was my first chance to play in North America," said Kopitar, who has played the past few years in the Swedish Elite League. "For me, it was a chance to get used to all the new rules here in North America and the smaller rinks as well. The game is much faster than in Europe, so that also took getting used to."

A native of Slovenia, Kopitar will be joined on this year's team by fellow Europeans Konstantin Pushkarev (Kazakhstan) and Tukonen (Finland) as well as goalie Yutaka Fukufuji, who is from Japan.

The bulk of the remainder of the Kings roster is from North America. For many of the players, including American-born defensemen Peter Harrold and Joey Ryan, the 2006 Pacific Division Shootout will be the first time they represent the Kings in competition.

"Well this is the first time in professional hockey for me so it's obviously a big deal," said Harrold, who played for Boston College last season and signed a two-year entry level contract with the Kings in April.

"It's also pretty cool that you get to play your division rivals and guys that you'll be playing against, maybe in the AHL, so it's a really good thing to do. I actually know a couple of the guys that I'll be playing against, so it should be really fun."

As a second-round (48th overall) of this year's NHL Entry Draft, Ryan was one of the first players acquired by new Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and the Kings' revamped hockey operations staff. He knows his play here next month can really get him off to a great start with his new organization.

"I'm really excited about the rookie camp," Ryan said. "They said if I go into the tournament and work hard I have a good chance of possibly making the team. I've been working out like crazy this summer and when I go to L.A. I'm going to go all out."

In addition to Lombardi and Kings Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall, the entire collection of new Kings coaches – Marc Crawford, Mike Johnston, Jamie Kompon, Nelson Emerson and Bill Ranford – will be on hand to watch and observe closely their youngsters.

"I think the best thing about the event is that you're seeing your prospects against the other three team's prospects," said head Coach Marc Crawford. "From an age and capability level, you're getting to see the best at that age from the best in the other organizations at that age.

"It really is a great viewing format for us to see how our players stack up."

For some, the chance to play in this tournament in Los Angeles is the ultimate home-ice advantage. Center Gabe Gauther was born in Buena Park. He recently capped off a four-year standout career at Denver University by signing a multi-year pro contract with the Kings.

A veteran of the tournament, goaltender Barry Brust had nothing but good things to say about his Shootout days.

"It's a great experience for the new guys and it's a great chance to make an impression, especially this year with the new regime," Brust said. "For some guys, it's a little bit higher level than juniors, and everybody takes it really seriously. It's nice to play against the elite level players and see who stands out."

Playing against top-level talent allows a player, especially a young player, to gauge himself on the ice against his peers. It also lets the players further work on the skills they worked on during the recent Kings Development Camp.

But the goal of winning the Shootout remains on every player's mind.

"We had a pretty good showing last year, making it all the way to the finals," said Brust. "Hopefully the Kings can win it this year."

Brust's thoughts on winning were echoed by Kopitar.

"We did pretty good," Kopitar said of last year's Kings entry. "We made the finals and lost to Anaheim. But it was a good tournament for us overall, and I'm looking forward to playing in the tournament again this year."

For Kopitar and others, the wait now for the fourth installment of this round-robin tournament is not very long at all.

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