Yes, this is a misleading title. It’s 9:45 a.m., so we’re obviously not putting any kids to bed. And I don’t even have any kids, so this title just makes zero sense to begin with. But after rookie games last year, I used the same title, and so for the purpose of continuity, here’s a mid-morning refresher on the two rookie games that took place in Glendale, Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday.
-From the 2013 draft class, one player who appeared to show a good deal of improvement from last year to this year was Justin Auger, the 6-foot-7 behemoth who weighs 229 pounds. Though he played on an offensive juggernaut at OHL-Guelph last year, Auger hasn’t been able to consistently translate his size and tools into constant junior hockey production. He finished 16th on the Storm in scoring (!) with 11 goals and 23 points in 53 games last season, but in the two games in Glendale, he was among the most noticeable players on the ice on either team. He was using his size to protect the puck well, drive the net, play physically, and was constantly putting himself in areas on the ice where goals were scored – and was able to fire off several high quality opportunities. He skated at left wing opposite Valentin Zykov on Nic Dowd’s line for the two games, and after Auger acquitted himself well on Tuesday, the entire line’s play improved on Wednesday and was among effective in pushing play towards the attacking end. Though he was in the penalty box during the 5-on-3 kill on Tuesday, he was a valuable asset during a second period kill on Wednesday and earned himself a partial, angled breakaway while shorthanded. His shot was stopped by Brendan Burke, though he eventually earned an assist after Zykov left the penalty box and scored into an open net on a rebound. Auger is 20 years old and eligible to play in the AHL or return to the O for his overage season.
-He’s not a player that’s going to be lighting up the box score or creating fancy opportunities (though he did post a goal and an assist in a preseason game in Denver last year), but a player who seems to adhere to the Kings’ style and identity is center Nick Shore. This isn’t exactly late developing news; Shore has had the pedigree of a highly intelligent, two-way player capable of winning faceoffs for quite some time. But to see him put his continued development into practice in game settings while wearing an “A” on his jersey was impressive, and with his continued maturation, it would be interesting to watch him receive further opportunities during the upcoming preseason. He was excellent on the 5-on-3 kill on Tuesday, lunging to poke a puck out of the zone and disrupt an Arizona set-up. He showed patience and strong puck protection during several zone entries and even flashed some distribution skills behind the net in the third period yesterday while the Kings were on a power play.
-I’m wary of singling players out other than the two listed above, as I’m not privy to conversations in the dressing room or the instruction offered to individual players (or the group) by Mike Stothers, Chris Hajt and the development team. It’s also quite a bit for the players to ascertain and comprehend, as they’ve been subjected to a great deal of information on the team’s systems and practices since arriving in Southern California. But other players who stood out with several quality individual plays include defenseman Alex Lintuniemi, who issued several big hits Tuesday night and looked fine at one-on-one defending. Goaltender Patrik Bartosak looked good – and I’ll have more on him later. Really, all of the Kings’ goalies looked fine, with the experienced duo of Brandon Maxwell and Tony Capobianco providing quality minutes late in games.