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January 06. 2013 10:42PM

Monarchs play waiting game as NHL strike winds up

The NHL lockout is over and most hockey fans - at least those willing to forgive the lost games, lost Winter Classic and lost All-Star Game - are eager to see their teams back on the ice.

But the good news brings with it some uncertainty for the AHL teams such as the Manchester Monarchs. With NHL training camps likely to open sometime in the coming week, just what the roster situation will be for teams like the Monarchs remains to be seen.

"I can only speculate like everybody else," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I haven't received any news from the Kings yet as far as the game plan."

Monarchs director of hockey operations Hubie McDonough echoed Morris' feelings that Manchester would have to wait and see what happens and said that no word from L.A. had been sent down to him.

While the obvious names for call-up to L.A. would be the four players who were with the Kings during the Stanley Cup run - Andrei Loktionov, Slava Voynov, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan - their play during the AHL season and the rise of other Monarchs means that the slots in L.A. might not be set in stone for anyone.

"We're not quite sure what to expect," Morris said. "We've had an opportunity as an organization to evaluate some of the guys that were up at the end of last year and compare them with some of the newcomers that have obviously made some strides and made an impression with the evaluators and scouts that have been in the building."

The Kings have maintained a presence in Manchester throughout the lockout, with everyone from L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi to Kings assistant coach John Stevens spending time watching the farm team.

The play of the four Cup winners has not been exceptional in Manchester. Each of them has shown flashes from time to time, but none has played at the high level that was expected coming off so much time spent with the Kings last season.

Loktionov has six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 26 games. King has 5-12-17 in 28. Nolan, who was injured earlier in the season, has just 2-4-6 in 21 games. The defenseman Voynov has 7-9-16 in 35 games.

Meanwhile, other young players in Manchester have stepped up and could get a chance with L.A. sooner than expected.

The entire line of second-year man Linden Vey (8-19-27 to lead Manchester) and rookies Tanner Pearson (7-15-22 in 34 games) and Tyler Toffoli (team-high 16 goals with 10 assists in 34 games) should expect some consideration, as might Brandon Kozun (9-14-23 in 33 games).

Additionally, a veteran like captain Marc-Andre Cliche should get a look from the Kings.

A workhorse who can play in all phases of the game, Cliche is overdue for a chance to expand on his single game of NHL experience.

It could also finally be time for defenseman Thomas Hickey, a Kings first-round pick in 2007 (fourth overall) who has overcome early career injury woes to develop into a steady and reliable blue-liner and leader.

Kings standout Anze Kopitar, who was playing in Sweden during the lockout, suffered a knee injury and could be out for a few weeks, meaning the Kings will need another body.

But just which bodies make the trip west will have to be sorted out soon. Fortunately for the Monarchs, they are healthy and have extra bodies so while the talent headed west will be missed, the numbers themselves will be replaceable.

iclark@unionleader.com


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