There’s really not much more Mike Mersch could have added to his preseason resume. In addition to ably battling along the boards and continuing to exhibit his net-front presence, the Chicago native also popped in a pair of goals to tie Nick Shore, Jordan Weal and Tyler Toffoli for the club’s preseason lead.
On top of that, he’s drawn some Darryl Sutter praise, which, though a bit lukewarm, doesn’t necessarily flow excessively towards developing players on the periphery of a National Hockey League roster.
So, is he happy with the case that he’s made to make the team?
“I hope so,” he said. “I worked hard every day, came to the rink, did the little things too, stayed on the ice extra after practice, but everybody is a great player on this team. Obviously they’ve won two cups in the past couple of years, so I’m just focusing on working hard and not trying to think too much about it.”
Mersch would not have to clear waivers if the Kings were to assign him to Ontario, so the earlier projection that he’d start the season in the AHL and become a mid-season call-up when needs arise most likely still stands, never mind his impressive September. He’ll have one more game to continue to state his case when he lines up alongside Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli for tonight’s preseason finale in Las Vegas.
“I think if you would have put me in that situation a year ago it would’ve probably been a bit more startling, but after a year, and being with these guys, being a little bit more comfortable, and kind of getting to know them a little more, and have them being a little more comfortable with me, it’s kind of opened things up and made it – and I don’t want to say we’re comfortable, again – but a little easier to play with,” Mersch said.
Not as easy: Filling out the final spots on the Kings’ roster. For the forwards, the preseason has served as an audition for the third and fourth line center roles, as well as an extra depth spot or two. Yesterday, Sutter said that it’s not as much as the “who” in regards the third line center, but rather, “how many.”
“That number, it’s not a name. That box right there has to be a number, meaning production, if you’re just basing it on that. It has to be a number,” he said. “…Last year, that box did not fill that number. It produced at the box-down number.”
In other words, the type of production Los Angeles received from its third line center was more befitting of a fourth line center.
This year, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Weal, Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff are battling for the third and fourth line center roles. Weal remained on the ice for extra work this morning and will most likely sit out the preseason finale, though the dynamic if undersized center who was named the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs did post several productive games early in the preseason. Andreoff has had a strong preseason, and his confidence with the puck has drawn notice.
“I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job so far, you know, 3rd, 4th line center,” Andreoff said. “I’ve just got to keep it simple, got to be good in the D-zone, got to be good in faceoffs, stuff like that that Darryl’s been kind of preaching on, so I just have to stick to the basics, be good in the systems, and hopefully I can crack the lineup and be good this season.”
Shore and Lewis are the safer and most reliable three-zone options.
“I think coming into camp, my goal, along with a lot of other guys, is just to show the coaching staff that you can contribute to this team winning, and in whatever role that is, it doesn’t really matter,” Shore said.
At the start of training camp, the Kings were more likely to be keeping 14 forwards and seven defensemen, but that expectation may be affected by the upper-body injuries suffered by Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene. Both defensemen skated Saturday morning. While Muzzin should be ready for opening night, it is unclear if Greene, who has played two periods of one preseason game and missed practice time last week due to illness, will be ready come Wednesday. 23-man rosters must be submitted to the league this Tuesday.
Up front, Brian O’Neill, last year’s regular season AHL MVP, would have to clear waivers. On the back end there’s also Derek Forbort, Jeff Schultz, Jamie McBain and Vincent LoVerde. Forbort, who would not have to clear waivers to be assigned to Ontario, was partnered with Drew Doughty at this morning’s skate. Schultz, McBain and LoVerde would all have to clear.
Remaining in camp:
Goalies (3): Enroth, Quick, Berube
Defense (10): Greene, McNabb, McBain, Muzzin, Doughty, Martinez, Ehrhoff, LoVerde, Schultz, Forbort*
Forwards (17): Kopitar, Gaborik, Clifford, Andreoff, Lucic, Lewis, Brown, O’Neill, Shore*, Mersch*, Weal, Lowry*^, Pearson, Nolan, Toffoli, King, Carter
*Would not have to clear waivers to be assigned to AHL-Ontario
^Progressing from back surgery
Michael Mersch, on scoring twice from a deeper range this preseason:
I think the puck just found me in that area, I’m sure I’ll score closer ones that those, but it’s just kind of about how the game flows, they do the systems here a little more different, you try to be a little more detailed in those things, you’re over the top of pucks more, so that’s why I’ve probably been farther out, but that’s the only reason I could see behind that.
Mersch, on returning to the left wing, and how that differs from the right side:
Well on the right side, it’s a lot of backhand to forward passes, so it’s that one extra step compared to when you’re on your left side you just have the puck on your forehand the entire time, you can make quicker plays, so you just have to be a little quicker, know your next play all of the time on the right side, but it doesn’t really matter for me, I’m just trying to fit in wherever I can here, so I don’t think too much about it and go out there and play.
Mersch, on how he has developed in the past year:
Well I think everybody in this organization is always harping on me, to, you know, trying to help me get better at skating, my first three steps, getting up the ice quicker, and it’s helped tremendously. That’s probably the biggest thing, and it’s helped me a lot in my game too, so, you know, being able to do that and keeping up with the guys – I think that was one of the things they were kind of debating about – but, doing that type of stuff, shooting the puck, figuring out my game and how it fits into the system and how I can help the team.
Mersch, on how the shortened summer affected his preparations:
Well, it was a good season, a long season last year. When you’re at this level, there’s no burning out; for me, it’s been a great experience so far. It’s the NHL, it’s a dream come true for anybody, so you’re going to go out every day and give it your best effort, no burnout.
Nick Shore, on whether he’s put a good case forward for himself this preseason:
I think it’s a continuous effort to take the opportunities you’re given and make the most of them, you want to get better every day and try to show that you can contribute to this team winning.
Shore, on what his goal was this preseason:
Everything, I think for me, it’s big to play that 200-foot game, be good in the dots, take care of your own end, and be able to chip in offensively. I think anytime you can contribute it’s going to be a big help.
Shore, on what he sees his role being when alongside Brown and King:
Yeah, we played together in the first Colorado game, and I thought we were able to do a lot of good things in that game, coming out of our zone especially, creating a lot of good chances off the rush, so I think we definitely want to build on that, and work toward spending a little more time in their end.
Andy Andreoff, on whether he’s felt good recently with the puck on his stick:
I mean, it helped last year, get a year under my belt, get a little confidence, so hopefully if I’m in and out of the lineup I can keep the confidence up.
Andreoff, on the ideal type of role he sees himself playing:
Energy guy, grinder, 3rd-4th line Center, good forecheck, finishing my checks, being good on faceoffs, keeping it simple.
Andreoff, on whether any changes when he plays center, versus wing:
Just kind of making a simple play, being smart, confident, being tough on the walls, being smart in the D-zone, helping out defensemen, helping out the goalie, stuff like that.