WHY does one player become an everyday player in the NHL and another just can't stick?
For hockey fans, that question can be perplexing. But for Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, who makes those decisions on Manchester Monarchs players all year long, it comes down to being a complete player upon arrival.
"This is different than any other league and the fact that you're not playing 19-to- 20-year olds against 20-year-olds," Sutter said. "I'm playing somebody better than you against (the opposition) because we have a chance of (winning). I'm not watching to see if you're developing. You're not developing during a game."
Sutter doesn't want works in progress. To him, if you're playing, you better be playing the style of hockey that will define your career.
"I tell them I'm not going to play them eight minutes. They're either going to play and they're going to play the role they're going to eventually play into or they're not going to play," Sutter said. "We're lucky to be able to do that here. Because they're entry level, it's good for them."
Sutter pointed out two current L.A. Kings who have made the transition to full-time NHL players. Dwight King played more than 200 games with Manchester in the AHL. Kyle Clifford played just seven in the playoffs in 2010.
The difference is apparent, Sutter said.
"Dwight King is a complete player. How long did he play in the American Hockey League? And you look at a guy like Cliffy, who's struggling now. He didn't play enough time in the American Hockey League," Sutter said. "He probably didn't play enough time and now he's in his third year and probably his best year as an NHLer was his first year. Now he's in his third or fourth year and he's kind of reset. It's valuable."
The topic is especially pertinent this season where three players have found themselves in a seemingly constant revolving door of call-ups to L.A. and send-downs to Manchester.
Those players are Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson (currently with the Kings, but both were healthy scratches Monday against Boston) and Tyler Toffoli, who is back with the Monarchs after sitting in L.A. in recent weeks.
Toffoli made a splash in the NHL playoffs last season, scoring two goals and four assists in 12 postseason games. He has nine goals and eight assists for 17 points in 33 NHL games this year and Sutter made it clear that his demotion was production-based.
Vey has five assists in 14 games with L.A. this year and Pearson has one goal in seven games. All three of them are scoring at higher paces during AHL play, but Sutter doesn't pay attention to that (and was not aware of Toffoli's hat trick in St. John's over the weekend) and says the up-and-down is a good experience in the long run.
"I did that too and I remember going up and down, up and down, up and down until finally I was able to stick," Sutter said. "If they continue to work, they're going to have good careers."
And of course, rookie goalie Martin Jones made sure his NHL introduction was a good one as he played himself right into the backup role in L.A.
Sutter might take the two-week NHL break for the Olympics as an opportunity to see the Monarchs in person to find that next complete player.
"There's lots of guys down there," Sutter said. "There's a couple other kids that are having pretty good years too."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is email@example.com.