Preseason schedule

The Kings have announced their preseason schedule:

Thursday Sept. 13 vs. Ducks in Anaheim
Saturday Sept. 15 vs. Ducks at Staples
Tuesday Sept. 18 vs. Sharks at Staples
Wednesday Sept. 19 vs. Avalanche in Denver
Saturday Sept. 22 vs. Avalanche in Las Vegas

I’ll attach the full release below, as it also includes information on the Vegas game and the London games.
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Who’s your pick?

I’m looking forward to the draft party tomorrow. Hope to meet a few of you there.

Just wondering who everyone thought will be picked No. 4 tomorrow, assuming the Kings keep the pick. Not who you’d LIKE to see them pick, but who you THINK will be picked.

I’ll go on record first and say Alzner — presuming the top three are Kane, Turris and vanRiemsdyk — but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised by Voracek either. I’m torn, 60-40, on that one.

So who do you think? Alzner? Voracek? Cherepanov? Ellerby? Or will Lombardi surprise us and go with someone such as Gagner, Couture or Esposito?

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Lombardi’s pre-draft comments

Because of the interview-request demand, the Kings chose to have Lombardi do a conference-call interview rather than individual talks, so some of my more specific questions will have to wait, but I will pin him down sometime next week before the free-agency period begins.

I’ll provide the transcript of the interview below, but a couple things… First, Lombardi joked that his staff was inside the hotel suite arguing when he stepped away to take the call. He sounded like he was half-joking, and I wouldn’t be surprised it there’s still some heavy debate about what to do with the pick. The Kings certainly aren’t tipping their hand and it will be real interesting to see what they do.

Second, Nick Nickson was on the call, and it was good to hear him up and well. For those who are attending the draft party on Friday, I’m told Nick is scheduled to be there, so it will be good to see him.

OK, here’s the transcript. I’m scooping myself here, since my story won’t be in the paper until Friday, but hopefully you’ll still read it then!
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New rules

The NHL has announced four rules changes for next season. It’s not mind-blowing stuff but a couple of them are interesting. The penalty-shot change is a good one, I think, and I’m curious to see how the faceoff-circle change might impact games. Probably not significantly, but it might in certain situations. Anyway, here’s the changes:

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Rule 24 — Gross Misconduct. The term Gross Misconduct was eliminated from the rule book. Any act that would have been assessed a Gross Misconduct penalty will receive a Game Misconduct penalty. Accumulated Game Misconduct penalties can lead to fines or suspension.

Rule 25 — Penalty Shot. A player may be awarded a penalty shot if he is fouled on a clear breakaway outside his defensive zone (i.e., anywhere in the neutral zone or in the attacking zone). Previously, a penalty shot was awarded only when the player on a clear breakaway was fouled on the attacking side of the center line.

Rule 56 — Interference. Referees were given discretion to assess a major penalty and a game misconduct when an injury results from an act of interference. Previously, only a minor penalty could be assessed for interference.

Rule 76 — Face-offs. All face-offs must be conducted at one of the nine face-off dots painted on the rink. Previously, there had been instances, such as when a puck left the playing surface, which caused the face-off to occur on unmarked ice, parallel to the dot nearest the place where the puck departed.

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More draft stuff

TSN.com’s draft stuff is out. They have Karl Alzner ranked as the fourth-best prospect but they have the Kings selecing Alexei Cherepanov in their mock draft.

Top 60 prospects
Mock draft

Also, I got a hard copy of McKeen’s Draft Guide. Good stuff. They have the Kings picking Alzner and they also have him as the fourth-ranked prospect.

They also had an interesting breakdown of draft-eligible players, based on their leagues they’re coming out of. The categories are: smartest player, best skater, fastest skater, best shot, hardest shot, best body checker, hardest worker, best defensive forward and best hands.

In the WHL, Alzner ranked as the smartest player but wasn’t in the top three in any other category. In the QMJHL, Voracek ranked as the No. 2 smartest player, the No. 2 hardest worker and was No. 2 in best hands. In the “best of the rest” category, Cherepanov ranked No. 3 in fastest skater, No. 1 in best shot and No. 1 in best hands.

I mention those three since they’re the presumed top choices for the Kings if they keep the pick. I’m hoping to get Lombardi on the phone tomorrow for my Daily News draft preview story.

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Crawford speaks

Here’s the transcript of the Crawford interview on 570-AM (Lombardi is below, if you missed it a couple hours earlier). Not a whole lot new, since “The Saw” — it always cracked me up when Jim Rome called him “Evil Uncle Saw” — spent much of his time talking about goaltending. That’s a subject that’s been beaten more than Dan Cloutier.

Marc did have a nice answer about Jack Johnson and had some interesting stuff at the end about the young guys. The audio cut off, so if there was more, I apologize but I wasn’t able to hear it.

Take note that Crawford already has Parse in a Manchester uniform. I thought that was funny, since the Kings have been so careful to say that they can’t sign him until July 1. Read between the lines there. Deal = done.

Here’s what Marc had to say:

On his offseason so far: “Weve been working extremely hard at trying to develop the players weve got and trying to assess the players that are available in the upcoming draft and also to assess the players that might be possibilities for us in upcoming free agency.”

On the challenges of playing kids: “It is hard. It is also somewhat rewarding too, because were starting to see now some of the benefits of playing people like Frolov and Cammalleri and were excited about the future with players like Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. On defense, we did have some pain in this past year, giving up some quality NHL players for some future NHL players like Jack Johnson. We know that Jack Johnson is going to be a big part of the Kings for a long time to come, so you can see the reward starting to come to fruition now.”

On the future of Jack Johnson: “Hes got a lot of passion for the game. To play at the level that Rob Blake has played at for a lot of years, well, time will tell, but we think hes got that capability and he certainly has the passion for the sport. I believe he plays a lot like Chris Chelios. Chris Chelios was a college player, played at Wisconsin, was weaned in the U.S. developmental program and basically has played forever. If we can have Jack Johnson keep developing, hopefully he will be a King forever as well.”

On the goaltending situation: “Youre always better off if you get the save at the key moment. We have to be honest and say that our goaltending wasnt where it needed to be last year. We do have some prospects and some great prospects in our organization. (Jonathan) Bernier is going to be a terrific goaltender some day. How long thats going to take, I hope its not going to take very long. Jeff Zatkoff, whos playing at Miami of Ohio, is a great prospect. Quick, whos coming to us and probably going to play for our minor-league team this year, hes a very good prospect. But all those guys, weve got to buy some time until they become those premiers NHLers. In the meantime were going to be looking at people like Jason LaBarbera, who had a great year in the American League this year. Were going to be looking at Erik Ersberg, who we brought over from Sweden and who had a great season in the Swedish league and played on their national team in the World Championships. And on top of that, were also going to have a healthier Dan Cloutier, and were not going to make the mistakes we made last year, where we handed people a position. Were going to have a battle for that position. We think thats going to be a positive for the Kings and most of all for our fans. Were going to do whatever we can to make sure we have the best people, whatever their credentials, in the right positions.”

On Dan Cloutier: “It was a very trying year for him. On top of the injury that he came back from, the knee injury, last year he had a labrum problem and that really affected a lot of the movement that you need to have in a position where youre going down on your knees and youre in the butterfly position. It puts a lot of strain on the body and if your body cant do it, its going to put you in a tough spot. Dan is healthy and hes looking forward to the challenge. And again, were going to do him the best service of all, which is, `Hey, theres no pressure on you, youve got to earn anything to get into the National Hockey League lineup this year, and youre going to have as much of a challenge as say an Erik Ersberg or a Jason LaBarbera. Theyre all guys who are going to compete for the position.”

On the future of Mathieu Garon: “Mathieu is still our property. Does he feel its better to stay as a King and keep working his way up the goaltending food chain in our organization or is he better served to go off as a free agent? That will be a decision that Mathieu Garon will have to make for himself. We like Mathieu. We realize that we have to get better at the goaltending position. So hes a possibility but hes got options as well.”

On working with young players to get them NHL-ready: “Manchester is going to serve us extremely well. Last year players like John Zeiler, who we saw for the last 20 games of the season, showed that they were ready to play. Were hoping that players like Matt Moulson and Trevor Lewis, those kinds of players who played and had a cup of coffee at the American League level, are going to push for jobs. Weve got some high-end offensive talented players who are going to be starting in Manchester next year. Scott Parse, who was at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and was a top scorer in college hockey, will be scheduled to start there. Teddy Purcell is a guy we signed out of the University of Maine and hes got big-time offensive skill, along with a guy like Patrick OSullivan, who played part time for us. These are all big-time American League scorers and were hoping that we make the transition on up. We add to that character people like Brady Murray and John Zeiler and Tukonen. Those types of players are always looking to develop and get a step better.”

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Lombardi speaks

Finally got around to listening to a copy of the interviews done yesterday on 570-AM by Lombardi and Crawford. Thanks to reader Mike for providing easy links, and thanks to the person who posted the audio. I transcribed a few interesting parts of Lombardi’s interview, and I’ll get to Crawford’s interview after dinner. (By the way, Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there). Lombardi didn’t say anything groundbreaking, which shouldn’t come as a surprise just five days before the draft. But here’s a couple of the interesting areas he covered. Listening to that just reinforced my thought that the Kings might look to deal that No. 4 pick, IF the right circumstances were in place.

Lombardi also got into the free-agent situation and indicated that the Kings would be interested in two of the “builders,” as he called them, top-level free agents who will be around to help the team when it’s ready to contend. If I’m a betting man, my guess is Lombardi’s wish list includes one defenseman and one forward. As July 1 gets closer, we can talk about what names might be on that list.

Here’s some of what Dean said:

On the premise that this is a weak draft at the top: “I don’t look at it as a weak draft, and remember, those picks can be used to move around.”

On what position he might target in the draft: “Its a cliche, but its still `get the best player. Particularly in our game, when youre drafting 18-year-olds, if you try to get cute and draft by position, youre going to be in trouble, because by the time that kid is ready… For an 18-year-old, you clearly take the best player.”

Dean’s opinion of a couple of the top available prospects… first, Patrick Kane: “Really talented. The one thing is how elusive he can be with his skating. Youre talking about a guy who can go east and west and turn on a dime. Hes really competitive and my guess is hes probably the No. 1 pick.”

Next, James vanRiemsdyk: “Van Riemsdyk is a really big kid, I dont think he understands yet how good he can become. Hes as big as a power forward. I dont think he has learned to play power forward yet but he almost has the skills of a small man. Hes got the potential to be the whole package.”

Next, Kyle Turris: “Turris, hes going to go to Wisconsin. Smart player, understands the game. Hes got the leadership ability. I think he probably projects as a good No. 2. Hes a guy whos going to play in your top six, but he has also demonstrated tremendous character. Hes a real skinny kid right now. He needs to fill out so I think two years of college will do him good.”

Next, Jakub Voracek: “Hes kind of interesting. This kids got a lot of talent. He was kind of a little bit of in and out this year. He really played well in the first round of the playoffs and then kind of tailed off a bit. Hes going to fill out. Hes a powerful skater and hes got some tools, so Im not sure if he projects in the top three but I think hes a guy you can probably put in your top six.”

Finally, Alexei Cherepanov: “Really a horse whos got a lot of ability. Hes at times been a highlight film. I wouldnt say its in the Ovechkin or Kovalchuk category but hes got a lot of tools. The one problem you have there now is the rules in the Russian federation and the fact that the Russians are paying huge dollars to keep their players. As good as he is, he throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the analysis because one, you have to sign him or he becomes a free agent after a couple years and two, even if he does want to come over youve got Russian teams over there paying three million dollars, tax free. In terms of the player, if he was an American or a Canadian, he would probably be mentioned for the number one pick, but its a hard one to gauge right now.”

On the free-agent market: “We’re going to be a player, but we’re going to be a player for the right player and the right price. … When you go into free agency, you’ve got fillers, you’ve got bridges and you’ve got guys you build with. I’m hoping to get one or two guys you can build with, and what I mean by that is a guy that can be here when in fact those young players start to come through the lineup and can still be a part of a contender. Then you’ve got your bridges, that help the young players that you’ve got become better players, then your fillers might just be one-year deals. … What I’d really be happy with is getting one or two guys who might be builders. … It’s got to be the right player and the right price.”

On the challenges of winning with a young team: “When you’re a good team, it’s easier to break in the young players because you’re not expecting them to get it done. There’s not that pressure on them, so when they rise it’s like a bonus. … The problem you have is with the old Islander mode, where they played at their kids at once and then they lost confidence and had to be traded. That’s the struggle here. You want to have that core, and then when the kids come up you can put them in a safe role and then if they’re ready to produce, great, but if they’re not, they’re still learning and gaining experience from guys that are winners. New Jersey was notorious for that. They could bring kids in when the spotlight wasn’t on them and they could rise on their own volition. That gets harder when theres 30 teams out there, when theres a cap out there, but to me thats the ideal scenario.”

That’s all for now. I’ll break down Crawford a bit later. Any thoughts?

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The Draft

First of all, a big thanks to all of you. I found out the other day that this blog, out of all the Daily News sports blogs, ranked second in hits in May, behind only Scott Wolf’s USC juggernaut. That’s ahead of the Lakers, Dodgers and Angels, all of whom were actually PLAYING GAMES in May. So thanks to everyone for their continued interest.

Obviously things are a little slow right now, but with the draft coming up, one week from tonight for the first round, I thought it would be the right time to start throwing some stuff out there. I’ve gotten a few e-mails, inquiring about who I think the Kings might pick, and I think it could go in a couple different directions.

Assuming that the first three picks go as planned — Patrick Kane, Kyle Turris and James VanRiemsdyk, in some order or another — the Kings can go in a couple different directions. If the Kings are thinking defense, Karl Alzner is the probable pick. If they’re thinking winger, Alexei Cherepanov, Sam Gagner and Jakub Voracek will all probably be there. What to do? Cherepanov is probably the best raw talent, but the Russian transfer issue is a problem (although hopefully it won’t be when it comes time for him to sign).

For what it’s worth, the mock drafts out there that I’ve seen have the Kings taking either Cherepanov or Voracek. Cherepanov is the top-rated European skater in the draft, while Alzner, Gagner and Voracek rank fifth, sixth and seventh among North American skaters. Just going on instinct, I would say it will be Alzner. Why? Only because Lombardi seemed more concerned about his depth on defense than on the wings.

At some point this week, I’ll do my best to get some member of the front office on the phone. Until then, here’s some stuff:

NHL.com did this article on Alzner and it also includes a nice bio of him.

Here’s a feature on Gagner and a couple quick profiles on Cherepanov and Voracek.

Want to judge for yourself? NHL.com has helpful video scouting reports so you can get acquainted with all the top prospects.

FInally, Shane Malloy did some painstaking work on a mock draft. In one week, we’ll all get to see how close he came!

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Parse = not yet

I’m told that the Kings cannot sign Scott Parse until July 1. Why? Still not 100 percent sure, but I’ll try to get a definitive answer on that. I know there were some rumblings today that a contract got signed. That will take another few weeks, but it’s safe to say that things are looking good for Parse and the Kings.

Also, I got it confirmed that the uniform color and logo won’t change next season. I’ve yet to see what they will look like exactly, but if you saw the All-Star Game, you have some idea.

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Answering some questions

I’ve received a few e-mails over the past few days, and since a lot of them are on the same subjects I figured I would just answer them here. Please remember, these are NOT Dean Lombardi’s answers, they’re mine, and they’re conclusions I’ve come to after talking to people in the organization and thinking things through myself.

– I know there’s a lot of support for bringing over Giguere, but I’ll be stunned if it happens. The fact that the Kings signed Ersberg out of Sweden tells me that they’re going with LaBarbera, Cloutier and Ersberg (if needed). Otherwise, with all the goalies in the system, there’s no need to sign a Euro to a one-year deal. Giguere is going to want a long-term deal, and the Kings are going to want to start working their young guys into the fold. Finally, and most importantly, do you really think Burke would let Giguere walk to the Kings? Burke is a savvy guy, and that would be a nightmare for that organization. He will overspend to keep him if it means keeping him from the Kings.

– Now, if we’re talking about Manny Fernandez, who has two years left, then I might be able to see that. That’s just speculation on my part, but some speculation is more realistic than other. Regardless, bringing in any goalie (except LaBarbera) would mean buying out Cloutier and I have no indication that the Kings are willing to do that right now.

– There’s been some talk of “now that the Ducks won, the Kings MUST get better.” Not so fast. Lombardi has a plan and that involves building the organization from the ground up. He’s not going to panic and bring in four big-time free agents just because the Ducks won. You can bet there was some big-time irritation in El Segundo this week, but there’s not going to be an emotional reaction on the part of the Kings. Bottom line is, if you believed in Lombardi a week ago, you still should. If you didn’t, nothing will change. Don’t form your opinion on him based on whether or not he “reacts” to the Ducks’ victory, because here’s your answer right now: he won’t.

– I can absolutely see the Kings trading their first-round pick if the right offer comes. The Kings are much, much higher on the 2008 draft than the upcoming one and at the spot they’re picking, there’s no can’t-miss pick there. And remember, Lombardi made a big splash on draft day last year. When you’re talking about trades, or possible free agents, you have to think defense. If you look at the organizational depth right now, defense is a big problem.

– I’m not aware of any changes to the Kings’ uniforms for next season. The change to the Reebok, tighert-fitting sweaters doesn’t mean that the Kings will have to change anything in terms of logo or color.

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