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Eisbaren four got royal treatment from Kings

by Dan Rosen
Just like another out-of-town entourage primed to take Hollywood by storm, four of Eisbaren Berlin's finest young skaters soaked in the glitz and glamour of the entertainment capital for 10 days this summer.

They left with first-hand knowledge of what NHL life could be like.

Florian Busch, Andre Rankel, Alexander Weiss and Frank Hordler participated in the Los Angeles Kings' Prospect Development Camp from July 8-18. While most of their time was spent inside the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, the quartet attended a Los Angeles Dodgers game, played volleyball on the sand in Manhattan Beach and had time to tool around town like regular tourists.

They'll have an opportunity to show the Tampa Bay Lightning some of what they learned during the on-ice portion of their trip to L.A. when the Eisbaren host the NHL squad on Sept. 28 as part of the NHL Challenge.

"All four of them were like sponges," Eisbaren General Manager Peter Lee told "They were happy to be there. They had wide-open eyes, like a child going into a candy shop for the first time. It was an unbelievable experience for them."

Lee said it's rare for an NHL team to devote a full-time scout to Germany, but the Eisbaren and the Kings have a unique advantage in that the Anschutz Entertainment Group, led by Philip F. Anschutz, has a stake in each organization.

"Mr. Anschutz owns both teams and he pretty well allowed us to share resources," Lee said. "They have an opportunity, through us, to scout Germany. That's a connection that helped them."

It's unknown if it will help Busch, Rankel, Weiss or Hordler land NHL gigs any time soon, but Kings scout Rob Laird, who worked with Lee to bring the German players to Los Angeles, said they acquitted themselves quite well.

"Our development camp is more about skill development and in all the drills and the one scrimmage they were right there with the rest of (the prospects), no question about it," Laird told "Size-wise they were there. All four can skate. Overall, I thought they handled themselves real well. It was a good experience for them, and it was good for us to see where they're at."

Laird said the Kings' scouting staff has been taking stock of Eisbaren Berlin players for a few years, including the junior-aged players in the Berlin program. They have worked in conjunction with Lee and coach Don Jackson to get progress reports on each potential prospect, and even used a sixth-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft on Constantin Braun, who still plays for the Eisbaren and remains a Kings prospect.

Braun did not participate in the Kings' development camp because he was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

"We have a lot of faith and trust in Peter Lee and Don Jackson; they are very astute hockey men and we feel we can get good information on them," Laird said. "Our staff does spend time in Germany, as do most staffs right now, but it makes it easier if you have quality people over there that can help identify players. Germany is not the hotbed of Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland or Switzerland, but it's growing and I think there is going to be more scouts looking at German players."

Scouting Germany is nothing new for Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

As the GM of the San Jose Sharks, Lombardi's first three picks of the 2001 Entry Draft were of German descent: Marcel Goc, Christian Ehrhoff and Dimitri Patzold, who was born in Kazakhstan but holds German citizenship and has played internationally for Germany.

Lombardi selected Braun with the Kings' last pick of the 2006 draft, his first with the organization.

While none of the four players who camped in Los Angeles were drafted, Laird said their international experience and the progress reports from Lee and Jackson made them prospects worthy of a long look.

Busch, Rankel and Hordler played for Germany at the last two World Championships. Busch scored 5 points in 6 games this past spring when Germany was 2-4, including a 6-4 loss to the U.S. and a 10-1 trouncing against Canada.

"Our development camp is more about skill development and in all the drills and the one scrimmage they were right there with the rest of (the prospects), no question about it."

-- Kings scout Rob Laird

"I saw how they stacked up against the best in North America," Laird said. "They're not at that level, but they handled themselves nicely."

While Laird wouldn't say which player piqued the Kings' interest the most, Lee said it had to be Busch. The 23-year-old forward, who checks in at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, is one of the Eisbaren's top skaters and he's good with the puck, Lee said.

"They liked Busch, like a lot of teams do," Lee said of the forward who had 41 points in 54 games last season. "He has to put some muscle on his body, but they'll be watching. If another team jumps in they'll be ready to go, too. I told Florian he's getting good development here in Germany. Sometimes it's better to stay and develop than to just go over and fill an American (Hockey) League roster. These guys aren't finished products. They still need to train and get stronger."

Despite their age, Laird said it's normal for German players to be in the development stage at 22 or 23 years old. It correlates with the competition they face on a regular basis compared to that of North American players.

"North American players are playing against a high level of competition at a young age, and it's not quite as high a level over there," he said. "We've had a first-hand opportunity to watch them develop over the years and now they're at that age where we wanted to see them stacked against other North American prospects."

Come Sept. 28, their competition level will take a significant step up, but the game against Tampa Bay gives prospects like Busch, Rankel, Hordler, Weiss and even Braun another opportunity to impress NHL team personnel.

"They did come in with eyes wide open and they received great instruction and probably learned some new things, in particular what the important ingredients are to be successful in North America," Laird said. "I really do believe there is going to be more German players playing in the NHL in the future, and of this group there are some guys, with continued development, who have a chance."

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