Unless you follow international hockey pretty seriously, getting a pro hockey fix these days is not easy. Kings fans especially will bemoan the delay of the 2012-2013 NHL season. The team’s home opener against New York would have been tomorrow, and those in attendance would have seen a black and white championship banner finally join the STAPLES Center rafters alongside the many tributes to the Lakers. Instead, hockey fans can anticipate the puck dropping Friday to begin the American Hockey League season. In a situation much similar to the one eight years ago, young NHL talent will bolster the minor league clubs’ rosters, making for a quite competitive and exciting year.
To preview things from a Los Angeles perspective, the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, figure to be quite competitive a year after bowing out in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They will gain the services of Jordan Nolan and Slava Voynov, both of whom played an integral role in the parent club’s Stanley Cup Playoff run last spring. Adding them to an already talented and experienced roster should position the Monarchs well to improve upon their 6th place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference last year.
In terms of returning players, goaltender Martin Jones figures to get most of the work between the pipes. Considered the Kings’ most talented goaltending prospect, Jones played in a platoon situation with teammate Jeff Zatkoff in 2011-2012. But with Zatkoff’s departure in the offseason, Jones should takeover as the Monarchs’ number one netminder.
Up front, Manchester lost its top scorer from a year ago, Justin Azevedo, to the Finnish League. The team will miss the diminutive but skilled forward; however, it returns its next four highest scorers. The most promising addition to this group will be Tyler Toffoli. This pure goal-scorer (he notched consecutive 50-goal seasons in the Ontario Hockey League the past two years) is of-age to play pro hockey, so he will provide immediate scoring help to the forward corps. Also on the roster is this year’s first-round draft pick, Tanner Pearson. The 20-year old winger, like Toffoli, will be making the transition to pro hockey so he will have to adjust to the more demanding schedule and competition.
Finally, besides adding a top-pair NHL defenseman in Voynov, the backend looks to be fairly strong this year. Jake Muzzin, Andrew Campbell, and Thomas Hickey are all seasoned AHL players and, with the exception of Campbell, can be counted on for their offensive ability as well.
While fans will not get to enjoy the NHL for a while, this should be an exciting minor hockey league season. Young NHL talent will add flare and high-level ability to an already competitive league when the 2012-2013 campaign begins tomorrow.