by Tim Damour || AHL On The Beat Archive
One of the thrilling aspects of watching the Manchester Monarchs compete is knowing they are one call away from realizing their National Hockey League dreams. One day they are skating in Manchester, the next day they could be suiting up for the Kings and playing in revered hockey cities like Montreal, Toronto and Chicago.
This season, similar to years past, has been somewhat of a revolving door between Manchester and Los Angeles with players going up and down. With the parent club in a state of rebuilding, it has been an ideal time for the prospects to prove their worth.
Goaltender Erik Ersberg, who has backstopped the Monarchs in 30 games this season, could play out the string as the No. 1 in Los Angeles following netminder Jason LaBarbera’s sports hernia surgery. Ersberg made his NHL debut on Feb. 23 in relief of Dan Cloutier, leading the Kings through a four-goal comeback until they eventually lost in overtime to Chicago.
Ersberg would later make his first start for the Kings on Mar. 2, turning aside 33 of 35 shots in an overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild. Ersberg’s first NHL win and shutout came on Mar. 6, as the rookie stopped all 40 shots he faced in the Kings’ 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick appeared in three games with the Kings this season, winning his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 6. After spending most of the season with Reading of the ECHL, Quick now shares Manchester’s goaltending responsibility with Daniel Taylor as the Monarchs make a run for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
A breakthrough performance with the Monarchs has put right wing Teddy Purcell’s name on the prospect map and earned him 10 games so far with the Kings. In that time, Purcell has tallied four points including one goal, the first of his NHL career, scored on Feb. 15 against the Calgary Flames. The Kings management likes Purcell’s size, his playmaking ability and his deceptively quick shot, which round out an impressive set of hockey tools that will make him a mainstay on the Los Angeles roster in the future.
The AHL’s leading rookie scorer and 2008 AHL All-Star Game MVP explains the things he’s focusing on to make it back to the Kings: “They’ve had me working on my play away from the puck, forechecking and two-way play.”
Left wing Matt Moulson was one of the Kings’ earliest call-ups and he immediately showed that he can play at the NHL level. Skating in 22 contests with Los Angeles, Moulson has collected nine points, five of which are goals. Selected in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Moulson ultimately signed with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent. Moulson’s path to the NHL has been paved with his emergence as a top-line forward with the Monarchs.
Rookie center Brian Boyle made an immediate impact with the Kings, tallying a goal and an assist in his first NHL game on Feb. 2 in New Jersey. Overall, Boyle notched four goals and an assist in eight games with the Kings.
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward-turned-defenseman-turned-forward has been a staple on Manchester’s power play, using his size to create an immoveable screen in front of the opposing goaltender while deflecting shots and banging home rebounds. It is his stature, along with surprisingly deft scoring touch for a big man that will bring him success in the NHL. For now, Boyle is back in Manchester and working to improve his game and return to the Kings lineup.
“I’m working on defensive awareness and my overall game, as well as helping the Monarchs make a playoff run,” said Boyle.
Peter Harrold proved to be one of the American Hockey League’s premier offensive defensemen and a key cog in Manchester’s league-leading power play. Harrold first served a brief stint with the Kings, but after the parent club traded defensemen Jaroslav Modry and Brad Stuart in trade-deadline deals, a permanent spot was opened up on the Los Angeles blue line. Harrold has played in 13 games with the Kings this year, collecting three points, including his first career NHL goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 23 in Los Angeles.
Left wing Jeff Giuliano, a perennial fan favorite in Manchester, has earned himself a spot on the Kings’ energy line. The Nashua, N.H., native is the picture of persistence, as he started his pro career as an undrafted player out of Boston College. Through his tenacious play in Manchester, Giuliano has carved himself a niche in the Kings organization, playing in 48 games with Los Angeles two seasons ago and 42 games so far this season.
Right wing John Zeiler’s path to the NHL has been remarkably similar to Giuliano’s. The agile, hard-hitting forward started out in the Phoenix Coyotes’ organization, but earned himself an NHL contract with the Kings after an impressive rookie year last season with the Monarchs. Zeiler has 57 NHL games to his credit over the last two seasons.
Centers Gabe Gauthier (three games) and Brady Murray (four games), right wing Lauri Tukonen (one game) and defenseman Jon Klemm (11 games) have also lent their services to the Kings at different points this season.
When asked about what he is working on in Manchester, Gauthier replied, “Defensive play, along with using my body as an advantage in guarding the puck.”
Tukonen, meanwhile, explains that it is all about “the little things like puck possession, forechecking and positioning.”
Monarchs alumni will always hold a special place in the heart of Monarchs Country. Center Mike Cammalleri, among Manchester’s all-time leading scorers, has become one of the NHL’s most dangerous snipers, while left wing Dustin Brown (29 goals in 79 games with the Monarchs in 2004-05) is blossoming into a power forward equally adept at potting goals as he is in dishing out punishing checks.
There are numerous other NHL regulars, like the Buffalo Sabres’ agitator Adam Mair, the Nashville Predators’ energizer Jerred Smithson and the Anaheim Ducks’ iconic enforcer George Parros, who will forever be linked to the Monarchs. Many of their Young Guns will become NHL regulars in the future. No matter where their careers take them, they will always share in the experience of playing in Manchester.