Season opener Saturday
Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs' edge is youthful experience
MANCHESTER MONARCHS head coach Mark Morris has some pleasant surprises on his roster.
Manchester, which opens the AHL season at Springfield Saturday at 7 p.m., will have its entire top scoring line back as well as a veteran NHL defenseman to help with a young roster.
The Los Angeles Kings sent Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey to Manchester last week, along with Jeff Schultz.
The trio up front did not appear destined for Manchester. Toffoli had a strong playoff run with L.A. last year while Pearson made a strong case for himself in camp last month.
“Obviously, it’s an infusion of talent and experience that is welcome,” Morris said. “At the same time, we realize how close they are to making the Kings lineup. We’ll pick up where we left off with them and continue their development.”
Vey was the Monarchs’ leading scorer last season with 22 goals and 45 assists for 67 points in 74 games. He played with Toffoli (28-23-51 in 58 games) and Pearson (19-28-47 in 64 games) when all three were in the lineup at the same time.
Manchester also has second-leading scorer Brandon Kozun (26-30-56 in 74 games) back.
Other players to watch up front include Scott Sabourin, rookie Maxim Kitsyn and Sean Backman as well as returning hands such as Andy Andreoff, Jordan Weal, Hunter Bishop, Brian O’Neill and Robbie Czarnik.
Back at the blue line, Schultz, 27, brings 399 games of NHL know-how to town. According to Morris, the 6-foot-6 Schultz arrived with the right attitude.
“Jeff is a class act. He wasted no time arriving in Manchester. Most guys would have taken their time, but he showed up ready to work,” Morris said. “I’m sure he’s anxious to get back to the NHL, but he said he’d do what he needs to do to help out and be a mentor.”
Schultz will add to a defensive corps that has a strong foundation in Andrew Campbell, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Nick Deslauriers and Vincent LoVerde.
Rookies Colin Miller, Alex Roach and highly touted prospect Derek Forbort will all be vying for playing time.
In goal, Martin Jones is the clear starter while the job of backup is still being worked out. German import Mathias Neiderberger and J.F. Berube are battling and Morris indicated a decision would need to be made soon.
Manchester’s mix of returning contributors and intriguing newcomers looks like a mixture that should produce winning results.
“I think everyone is excited to be back in the routine and competing again,” Morris said. “These guys, with another year of experience under their belt, I’m sure we’ll start to see them reap the rewards as a team.”