It's been a tough stretch for the Los Angeles Kings
. Five non-playoff seasons have left the franchise reeling, and a last-place finish in the Western Conference cost coach Marc Crawford
Most of the Kings' problems have come in their own zone. While Los Angeles has an excellent group of young forwards, the defense has been inconsistent and the goaltending unsettled.
But between this year's Entry Draft and a talented group in the minors and amateur hockey, things may be turning around. The Kings had two of the top 13 picks in 2008 and used them both on defensemen. They also have last year's first-rounder, Thomas Hickey
, who's a year closer to helping at the NHL level.
Goaltending has also been a problem. Jonathan Bernier
, the Kings' No. 1 pick in 2006, won the season opener against Anaheim in London, but was soon back in juniors. The Kings finished the season having used a League-high six goaltenders.
There are jobs to be won, Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall
"We've left some spots open for the kids," he told NHL.com. "Also, the defense needed to be rebuilt, and we think we're on the way to getting that done."
Here's a look at the Kings' player development system entering the 2008-09 season.
-- The Kings' second first-round pick (No. 17) in 2007, Lewis had his ups and downs in his first full professional season, finishing with 12 goals, 28 points and 73 penalty minutes with the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester. At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, he needs to get bigger and stronger, but the Kings have high hopes for him.
"He struggled a bit in his first season," Hextall said. "But we think he's going to be good. He'll need a little more time. His shot and his speed are two of his biggest strengths. We like the package. He's a pretty well-rounded package at both ends of the ice."
-- There are few forwards bigger than Boyle, who checks in at 6-7 and 250 pounds. The former Boston College star, taken in the first round (No. 26) in 2003, impressed the Kings both at Manchester, where he had 31 goals and 62 points, and in a brief stint in Los Angeles, where he had four goals and an assist in eight games and was plus-4.
"He's big and he's skilled," Hextall said. "He was very impressive when he was in Los Angeles and had a good first pro season. He'll have a chance to make the roster this season."
-- The former University of Maine star, signed as a free agent in 2007, had a tremendous pro debut, finishing third in the AHL in scoring with 83 points in 67 games and scoring three times in the All-Star Game. He also had a goal and two assists in 10 games during a brief stint with the Kings.
At 6-3 and 195 pounds, the 22-year-old right wing is a power forward with room to grow and figures to be first in line for any openings on the wing.
"He had a tremendous first season coming out of college," Hextall said of the 206-07 Hockey East Rookie of the Year. "He's got good size and good hands. He has to get a little stronger, but he should contend for a roster spot this year."
-- The Kings signed Moller, their second-round pick (No. 52) in 2007, to an entry-level contract in April after a second solid season with Chilliwack of the Western Hockey League. The 5-11, 179-pounder had 39 goals and 82 points, putting him seventh in the WHL in goals and 10th in points. He was also captain of Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships, and his three goals and five points in six games helped the Swedes to the bronze medal.
Moller got his first taste of pro hockey when he dressed for two AHL playoff games with Manchester, earning one assist.
"We love his energy and the way he competes," Hextall said. "He probably needs another year in juniors, but he has the skill to compensate for his lack of size. We think he can fit in with our core group of young forwards.
-- Moulson, 24, was originally drafted in the ninth round (No. 263) by Pittsburgh in 2003, but signed with the Kings as a free agent in the summer of 2006 after graduating from Cornell. The 6-1, 210-pound forward put up a pair of solid seasons for Manchester and got a long look from the Kings in 2007-08, scoring five goals and nine points in 22 games.
"I love the way he competes," Hextall said. "He goes to the net and does the dirty work. He's made himself into a prospect coming out of Cornell. He was impressive in his time with us last season, and he'll have a shot at a job in the fall."
-- After Tampa Bay took Steve Stamkos with the No. 1 overall pick in June's Entry Draft, the Kings wasted little time choosing Doughty with the second pick. At six feet and 219 pounds, Doughty has plenty of size, but he's also skilled enough to generate 13 goals and 50 points for Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. Hextall feels he could be in Los Angeles this fall.
"His understanding of the game is tremendous," Hextall said. "He's got to learn how to be a pro, but it looks like he has the chance to be a really elite player. We have spots available, so we will see where he's at. We're not going to promise anything either way, but he'll have a chance to come in and earn a job."
-- The Kings shocked a lot of people last year when they took Hickey with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft. Hockey was coming off his third season with Seattle of the Western Hockey League, in which he scored nine goals and finished with 50 points.
Hickey, now 19, went back to Seattle, finishing with 11 goals and 45 points in the regular season and a goal and 10 points in nine postseason games before going down with a concussion and later requiring ankle surgery that kept him from taking part in development camp in July. Hextall said the 5-10, 182-pound native of Calgary will have a chance to make the Kings at training camp.
"He made very good progress," Hextall said. "He moves the puck well. There's no guarantee he'll make the team, but he has a chance. We have some holes back there. With Thomas, it's just a matter of adding maturity to his game. Like most young guys, he needs to get bigger and stronger, but overall we really like the package he brings."
-- The Kings traded up to the 13th spot in the first round of last month's Entry Draft to select Teubert, a 6-3, 185-pounder who had seven goals, 23 points and 135 penalty minutes with Regina of the WHL.
While Doughty and Hickey are slick puck-movers, Teubert will make his living in the NHL by keeping the area in front of his own team's net clear.
"He's a big guy who plays tough," Hextall said. "He has to fill out a little bit, but he'll provide some toughness, which is something we haven't always had."
-- At 5-11 and 195 pounds, the 25-year-old, signed by the Kings as an undrafted free agent in April 2006 after four seasons at Boston College, isn't big but he does have the puck-moving skills needed to succeed in the new NHL. He made his NHL debut last November, getting two assists in eight games. At the AHL level, he's a two-time All-Star who had seven goals and 43 points in 49 games last season. There's not a lot left for him to prove in the minors, and with openings on the blue line, Harrold will get a chance to show he can play at the next level.
"He's not the biggest guy, but he plays with a lot of heart," Hextall said. "He can move the puck and generate offense. He did OK when he was here, and he's been really solid at Manchester. We want to see more of him."
-- Bernier, the Kings' No. 1 pick (No. 11) in the 2006 Entry Draft, was impressive enough in training camp to earn the starting job for the season-opening game in London -- and was the No. 2 star in the Kings' 4-1 win over Anaheim. But he struggled after that and quickly was sent back to juniors to avoid destroying his confidence behind the Kings' porous defense.
He was 1-3-0 with a 4.03 goals-against average with the Kings, then went 18-12-3 with Lewiston of the QMJHL and 1-1-1 with the Kings' AHL farm team in Manchester.
At age 20, the Kings are hoping he's ready.
"We don't want to rush him, but we have high expectations for Jonathan," Hextall said. "He's got the skills to be an elite goaltender. He's a very athletic goaltender with good quickness, and he's very willing to learn."
-- The 26-year-old veteran signed with the Kings as a free agent after being named the Swedish Elite League's top goalie in 2007. He started the season in Manchester, but got a chance to show his stuff in Los Angeles later in the season and made a positive impression. Ersberg was 6-5-3 in 14 games with a 2.48 goals-against average and a pair of shutouts in L.A. after going 10-13-0 with a 2.92 GAA for Manchester.
"He was actually better in Los Angeles than he was in the minors. He came up at the end of the season when we weren't really playing for anything and played well."
-- Ron Hextall talking about Eric Ersberg
"He was actually better in Los Angeles than he was in the minors," Hextall said. "He came up at the end of the season when we weren't really playing for anything and played well."
-- The Kings' third-round pick (No. 72) in 2005 also got a chance to play briefly in Los Angeles, going 1-2-0 with a 3.84 goals-against average and a .855 save percentage. He spent most of the season with Reading of the ECHL, going 23-11-3 with a 2.79 GAA, one shutout and .905 save percentage. That earned him a promotion to Manchester, where he was 11-8-0 with a 2.32 GAA, three shutouts and a .905 save percentage.
Though there are players ahead of him, Hextall feels Quick has a chance to make it in the NHL.
"He didn't look overwhelmed when he was up here," said Hextall, a former goaltender. "We still think of him as a prospect, though he's probably not ready yet."