Another day, another team to break down as we count down to the beginning of the hockey season. Iowa will be playing twenty games against the AHL’s Pacific Division and two of them will be against the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings), who will be beginning their third season of operations in the A after taking over for the Manchester Monarchs that were relegated to the ECHL.
For whatever reason, the Kings wanted their AHL club half an hour away from the Staples Center instead of in New Hampshire.
Friday, October 13th at Iowa (Wells Fargo Arena, 19:00 CST)
Saturday, February 3rd at Ontario (Citizens Business Bank Arena, 20:00 CST)
Once again, both teams will get a chance at home to best the other. Also like last season, the contests will be split up by the All-Star Break, so both rosters could look very different between games one and two.
So is the nature of the beast that is the AHL.
November 12th, 2016: Ontario 6 - 5 Iowa (SO)
February 15th, 2017: Ontario 3 - 1 Iowa
The LA Kings’ farm club has had a steady decline under Mike Stothers and will look to bounce back in the 2017-18 campaign. The former ECHL franchise went 36-21-11 (83 pts), with ten less points than 2015-16, and 26 points less than the AHL Champion Manchester Monarchs that garnered 109 points in Stothers’ first season.
Even more troubling is their decrease in production, as they scored 241 goals in 2014-15 with a differential of +65 and dropped to 192 (+54) in 2015-16. The Reign saw an increase in goal scoring last season with 199, but saw their differential plummet to just +9.
Biznasty also announced his retirement from professional hockey at the end of the season to add insult to injury.
A highlight, however, was the team’s resilience. Last season, the Reign broke the .500 mark on December 10th in a 5-2 win against Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) and never looked back. They never lost more than three straight and their longest winning-streak was capped at six games, stretching from December 16th to New Year’s Eve on the 31st.
Ontario also enjoyed success at the expense of the Baby Wild, taking both meetings, though with a goal differential of +3. The 6-5 shootout was just one of six games this past season where Iowa lit the lamp five times, their second in a losing effort (they also lost 6-5 to Grand Rapids in regulation on January 4th).
Of the top prospects on NHL.com, three spent time with the Reign last season: Paul LaDue (22 NHL GP), Adrian Kempe (25 NHL GP), Jonny Brodzinski (6 NHL GP). The first two guys are expected to have an expanded role for a King’s team that saw the departure of their GM and head coach at the end of last season. Ham Lake born and Blaine, Minnesota-native, and former St. Cloud State center, Jonny Brodzinski might be one of those fringe players fighting to establish his role as a depth NHLer.
Paul LaDue (6th round, #181 - 2012) will be turning 25 just before training camp and should be hitting his “prime” as a professional. What is not on his side is the aforementioned shake-up of the front office. However, LaDue is getting a chance to impress GM Rob Blake (a former defenseman himself) and head coach John Stevens (another former defenseman) after signing a one-year, two-way contract this summer. He finished the 2016-17 NHL season with the Kings, appearing in 22 contests with 8 apples and a -5 rating while playing bottom pairing minutes. He also had 12 giveaways compared to his 3 takeaways (woof).
The two-way status on the Kings’ books, however, might point to him bouncing between leagues this season. With age not on his side, it’ll be on LaDue to show what kind of player he is mentally with this pressure and if he’s up for the challenge in making a “re-building” roster in the City of Angels.
Adrian Kempe (1st round, #29 - 2014) holds the most expectations for the 2017-18 Kings as a first rounder who played in 25 games with LA, scoring 6 points (2G/4A) at the wing with third-line minutes. He’s big (6’2”/202) and proved his worth in his first season in the organization, scoring 9 points in 17 games during the Monarchs’ Calder Cup run (but that was three years ago).
The name of the game for Kempe, like many other players switching from Europe to the North American leagues, is consistency. The AHL is a big jump in aggressiveness, and Kempe had a World Junior hangover but appeared to bounce back to form towards the end of Ontario’s season. He’ll have a chance to impress at training camp, but if he can’t produce day-in-day-out, the Kramfors, Sweden-native will find himself down in the A as he tries to find the game that earned him “first round” status. When he’s on, he’s on:
Jonny Brodzinski (5th round, #148 - 2013) is reaching the realm of ageing out as a true “prospect,” having turned 24 earlier this summer with just six NHL appearances. Like LaDue, he’s getting a chance to impress a new head coach and a new GM with a two-year, two-way deal that is also waivers exempt. In 6 games with the Kings he found the scorers sheet with two assists on 17 shots. On the Reign, he contributed 49 points (27G/22A) in 59 games, improving 21 points from 2015-16 in 6 less games played.
It’s looking to be an uphill battle for the Minnesotan to crack the Kings’ roster with Kopitar and Carter occupying the top two lines. If you ask RotoWorld, Brodzinski will have to do a lot more than show up to training camp after being listed behind former St. Could Stater Nic Dowd, Nick Shore, and youngster Mike Amadio on the center depth chart.
At the AHL level, he’s an All-Star and has the combination of size (6’1”/218) and speed to make a competitive run at making the big club for 2017-18.
Another expectation would be to see Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan in Ontario following their respective junior seasons in the O and the WHL. A player that might be around and wasn’t mentioned by NHL.com is center Mike Amadio. A native of the Soo, Amadio had a great rookie season in Ontario, netting 16 goals and adding 25 assists for 41 points, four more than then top Wild prospect Alex Tuch (Amadio was drafted in the third round in 2014.
Up next: the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)