Kevin Westgarth has made the biggest impression of the preseason so far…at least on David Koci. In the exhibition opener, Westgarth fought Colorado’s Koci, and Koci suffered a jaw injury (it’s being reported as a possible broken jaw. Westgarth also fought Phoenix’s Nolan Yonkman in Thursday’s preseason game, but a few days later, it’s the Koci fight that everyone is still talking about.
“It’s just one of those things,” Westgarth said. “You never wish for anybody to get hurt, but it’s part of the job, too. Anything that helps keep our team safe, and kind of scares away anybody who is going to take a run at our guys, it’s definitely helpful. So if they want it, they know they’ve got it.”
Westgarth, who measures 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, was unofficially credited (by the website hockeyfights.com) with 18 fights last season in the AHL, compared to 17 the previous season and 25 in 2007-08. I asked Westgarth if he had trouble finding fights in the AHL after a while.
“Somewhat, for sure,” Westgarth said. “That definitely allowed me to kind of expand the rest of my game. Last year, I think early on there were a couple of guys, but I had established myself pretty well in the AHL. There were a couple guys who wanted to test me out and try to get something going for themselves, but after the first few games, I think it calmed down. The only time I got tilts was basically if I ran somebody and they wanted to try to take a piece out of me, or definitely if somebody tried to take out one of our guys, they were going to hear about it.”
No doubt, Westgarth will find some challengers this season, as he is expected to make the Kings’ roster as a fourth-line winger. To be a solid contributor, though, Westgarth will need to do more than fight, and will need to do some of the things that his predecessor, Raitis Ivanans, struggled with, namely skating and not taking bad minor penalties.
“Westgarth has worked very hard in the summer time,” coach Terry Murray said. “You can see it in his test results, off-ice and on-ice. The skating test was phenomenal for him. His overall stride has improved. He’s more relaxed. He has worked hard during his time in Manchester. He spent a lot of time in the offseason going through power skating and giving that the focus that it needs. He’s doing the right stuff, and as a result, he’s here with the big team and I’m looking for him to be on the big team. He’s a heavyweight. He showed that in his game that he played in Colorado, and I believe that we need that kind of a player. He has paid his dues down in the minors, so he’s one of the players who will fill that spot as a fourth-line player.”