Aside from the Philadelphia Flyers, the biggest disappointment in the NHL this season might well be the Los Angeles Kings, an 89-point team last season that could very well end up ahead of only the Flyers once the season ends.
After an injury-plagued season in which they almost made the playoffs, the Kings fired both GM Dave Taylor and coach Andy Murray. It’s fitting then, that Murray and his rejuvenated St. Louis Blues (8-4-3 since Murray took over) could move ahead of the Kings in the standings when the two teams meet in St. Louis Saturday afternoon.
All is definitely not well in Los Angeles. The perception around the league is that most of its good young talent is already on the roster and new GM Dean Lombardi faces a long, difficult road to bring this team back to respectability.
Added to the upheaval was Lombardi firing most of his scouting staff just after the World Junior Championship, letting go longtime director of amateur scouting Al Murray, assistant director Grant Sonier and amateur scouts Darryl Porter, Terry McDonnell and Richard Rose.
What made their firings so odd was not only the timing of them, but the fact that Lombardi had hired Porter and Rose himself and given previous regime holdovers Murray, Sonier and McDonnell two-year contracts over the summer.
WATCH OUT FOR THESE GUYS: While the Kings and the Flyers could very well be the top two contenders for the first overall pick in June, it’s far from a sure thing which player will emerge as the No. 1 prospect in the draft.
Going into this season, it was expected that Quebec League stars Jakub Voracek of the Halifax Mooseheads and Angelo Esposito of the Quebec Remparts would battle for the No. 1 spot.
But several other players have emerged and Esposito seems to have faded, particularly after failing to crack Canada’s World Junior lineup for the second straight season. In fact, there are three players to watch in the second half of the season and there’s little doubt that scouts from the bottom feeders will be taking long looks at these players:
* Keaton Ellerby: Although he has a lot of filling out to do, the 6-foot-3 defenseman for the Kamloops Blazers is coming on strong and is seen as a potential 27-30 minute per game player in the NHL.
* Alexei Cherepanov: The Avangard Omsk right winger showed at the WJC that he could survive and thrive with the best young players in the world. He was the best player on a very good Russian team and, as a 17-year-old, was named to the all-tournament team.
* Kyle Turris: The right winger for Burnaby of the B.C. Junior League is wiry and talented and has tremendous on-ice vision. He turns 18 in August and has committed to the University of Wisconsin for next season.
DESERT DISAPPOINTMENT: Reason No. 1,237 why the NHL is in trouble in much of the United States: The Phoenix Coyotes win five straight road games and are riding a seven-game winning streak going into Thursday night’s home game against the Detroit Red Wings. Despite that and the fact they haven’t played at home in 12 days, they attract an Â“announcedÂ” crowd of just 14,386 for a game against one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
What made matters worse was much of the crowd was made up of Michigan transplants to the area.
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