Kings head coach Marc Crawford has obviously been a big part of Kings rookie camp over the past week. Crawford took some time off from his busy schedule to give his thoughts on what he has seen as we conclude day four of camp on Thursday.
“We are very pleased with the guys we thought would be our top guys, we came in with a certain expectation on a number of players. Jack Johnson we expect to be a good player and he is a good player.
“He is a cut above anyone else out there at rookie camp and that was not a surprise.”
Johnson, of course, is the highly touted defenseman out of the University of Michigan. Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes with the third pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Kings obtained his rights from Carolina along with defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky in exchange for center Eric Belanger and defenseman Tim Gleason on Sept. 29, 2006.
He signed an entry-level contract with the Kings on March 27, 2007 and skated in the last five games of the year going scoreless with five shots on goal and 18 PIMs.
Another kid that has impressed Crawford and could possibly challenge for a spot on the Kings roster is Brady Murray.
“Brady Murray looks ready to challenge for a spot. He is a guy who has been through a lot of camps and our expectations are high of him”
Murray, the son of former Kings head coach Andy Murray, was Los Angeles' 5th round choice, 152nd overall, in 2003. After two years at the University of North Dakota, Murray has played the last two seasons in Switzerland.
“We have the two young goaltenders who will probably play in Manchester this year in Jon Quick and Eric Ersberg. We are very pleased when we watch them both right now. Quick has a good presence and Ersberg has really good feet and his movement in the net is noticeable, crisp and sharp.
“We are very pleased with those two goaltenders.”
Los Angeles' 3rd round choice, 72nd overall, in 2005, Quick has played the last two seasons for the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, leading the team to their first-ever NCAA tournament bid while posting team records for wins (19), appearances (37), saves (1,046) and minutes played (2,224) in one season.
Ersberg, meanwhile was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on May 31, 2007. Last season he spent with HV 71 of the Swedish Elite League and had a 2.39 GAA and a .908 SV% winning the Elitserien Honken Trophy as Goalie of the Year.
The last goalie at camp was 2007 fifth-round draft choice Linden Rowat from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
“The young goalie Rowat is an 18-year old and it is amazing to see where he is at, at just 18 years of age.”
Besides Johnson, there was another defenseman at rookie camp that saw action at the NHL level last year and fans will be familiar with the name, Joe Piskula.
“I am very impressed with the improvement of Joe Piskula. We all thought that Joe was going to have a great chance to play and we all still think he has a great chance to play.”
Piskula, like Johnson, saw action in five games with the Kings last season after signing as a free agent on March 21, 2007. Piskula made his Kings debut on March 23 vs. Chicago, and interestingly enough, has not played at STAPLES Center as all five games were on the road.
Prior to signing with the Kings, Piskula played three seasons in Wisconsin.
“Patrick Hersley has shown nice growth over the summer. He looks like he has better balance and a better understanding of how we play.”
Hersley, like Ersberg, was playing in the Swedish Elite League last season, scoring his first-ever goal in Sweden’s top league.
“Joe Ryan looks like he will challenge for a spot in the American Hockey League and that is what we wanted from him.”
Ryan has played the last four seasons with Quebec of the QMJHL, having scored 11-35-=46 with 327 PIMs over the last two seasons.
Then there is the 6-6 Brian Boyle, in the process of moving from center to defense.
“Brian Boyle has accepted the challenge of learning the new position of defense. He is looking more and more comfortable and I think he is going to be a great prospect for us. With his size and his offensive ability and his strength, we really believe that this is a good experiment and hopefully he will continue to progress.”
Boyle spent the last four seasons at Boston College and captained the team to the NCAA Championship game his senior year. He made his pro debut with the Monarchs this past season playing in two regular season games with the club and 16 games in the post season, scoring 3-5=8, including a series-clinching goal.
“Josh Kidd from our past draft, is big and strong; is a right shot and he has a presence and we are every pleased with his progression.”
Kidd, picked with the Kings ninth choice, 184th overall in 2007, Kidd has played the last three seasons in the OHL with the Erie Otters, seeing his goals, assist and point totals increase every year.
“Drew Bagnall is a guy we signed out of St. Lawrence University. He is a big presence, he has an energy on the ice and he translates that energy into his play. He plays forcefully and robust with a lot of hitting and a physical nature to his play, and we don’t have a lot of that type of guy.
“You could see where he could possibly fit in with our group as he continues to learn and get more experience.”
Bagnall was signed on Aug. 23 after four years at St. Lawrence University. As a senior, Bagnall earned first-team All America kudos, was the ECAC Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker Finalist.
“We feel like we have a good group of defenseman at this camp.”
ON THE GUYS WHO MISSED CAMP
Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Hickey are playing with Team Canada in the Super Series, pitting Russia vs. Canada in a best-of-eight series that Canada currently leads, 6-0-0.
“Jonathan Bernier has had a great tournament. He has played in two games and has only allowed one goal. He has been the star of the game in both games he has played in. They were out shot by the Russians in the second game and he made seven or eight great saves.
“In the first game he as not tested as much but the shots that he had that were tough, he ended up being a wall back there for team Canada. We know we have the best goaltender in major junior right now and that is great, of those three leagues, the top Canadian goaltender belongs to the Los Angeles Kings.”
Bernier, the Kings first pick, 11th overall, has played the last three seasons with Lewiston of the QMJHL.
And of course the Kings first pick, fourth overall this season, in the defenseman Hickey.
“My feeling with Thomas Hickey is that the more he is exposed to high level competition, the quicker he is going to adapt. We know this guy is going to be a good player, a Lubomir Visnovsky type player. We will be nicely fitted there with good, young defensemen.”
ON THE FORWARDS
In addition to Murray, some forwards have caught the eye of the second-year Kings coach.
“We are very excited about Marc Andre Cliché. We got the chance to see him and see his determination and see his puck poise and his understanding of the game and we are very excited about him.”
Cliché, who was acquired with Jason Ward and Jan Marek from the Rangers in the Sean Avery trade on Feb. 5, 2007, has played the last four seasons with the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL, scoring 61-75=136 in his last 118 games.
“Trevor Lewis also has taken a step and is much better.”
Lewis, the Kings first round pick, 17th overall in 2006, made his professional debut with the Monarchs last season scoring 4-2=6 in eight games with Manchester last year after scoring 29-44=73 in 62 games with the Owen Sound Attack.
Another player that Crawford was impressed with was Valdimir Dravecky.
“Dravecky is a nice player. He has tremendous skill and when he understand the language and takes that step in his development and learns how to play in North America, I think he is going to be a prospect.”
Dravecky was also signed as a free agent in May of this year, playing in the Slovak Extraliga. One of the numerous college prospects at camp, Teddy Purcell has also garnered some attention.
“Teddy Purcell looks like a great offensive player. He will probably start in the minors but it won’t be long before he challenges for a spot here.”
Purcell skated at the University of Maine scoring 16-27=43 in 40 games and was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year last season.
AND THE DRAFT PICKS…
“All of our draft picks have been impressive, Wayne Simmonds I have been pleased with; Dwight King looks like a player in that he protects the puck extremely well, he is big and he is strong and he skates pretty well; David Meckler has got great hands. His hands are at an NHL level, if the rest of his game can get there, we will have an NHL player.
“We have been really pleased with Oscar Moller, you see why he was picked as high as he was. He is a determined young man, he always has a smile on his face and he works extremely hard.”
If they keep working, you will see a lot of these guys in a Kings jersey in the future.
“We want to avoid guys sliding and keep these guys developing and getting the tools that will allow them to play for the Los Angeles Kings.”