It’s finally time to take a closer look at the Reign (being as how they open their season tonight, we’re just in time).
It has been mentioned, lately, that the Reign are returning mostly intact from their championship season. When compared with teams like San Jose, they are icing mostly the same team. However, there have been some changes that could deeply affect the team.
First off is in net. JF Berube was claimed off of waivers. Some people will point to stats & such and think it was not a big loss. If you look at last season’s headlines, however, they were about the great year Berube was having & the impressive goals against the Monarchs were maintaining. When he was injured, Patrik Bartosak stepped up & backstopped the Monarchs to the Calder Cup. Now Bartosak is out 4-6 weeks with a hand injury. Peter Budaj was just signed this week by the Kings to fill the gap. He is considered old (33 doesn’t seem old outside of sports) & on the downswing of his career, but they’re hoping he can hold on until Bartosak returns. Until today, Michael Houser was his back-up. Houser did not have a good showing in Monday night’s preseason game, looking shaky and vulnerable until the third period when he finally seemed to figure it out. Today, the Reign signed Ray Emery to a tryout. He will probably replace Houser & could steal the starting job from Budaj, if he’s having one of those seasons.
There are still a lot of questions in the crease.
On the blueline, there are four defensemen returning from last year’s playoff team. Notably absent are Andrew Bodnarchuk (signed elsewhere), Colin Miller (traded away), Derek Forbort and Jeff Schultz (still with the Kings). Lintuniemi got sent to the Monarchs to make sure he had playing time. Taking their places are Kurtis MacDermid (we were impressed with his rookie game performances), Jamie McBain (sent down from the Kings) and Zach Leslie (somewhat quiet in the rookie games).
We’ll see if the Reign go with 2 veteran pairs & one newer pair or mix it all up.
The forwards have the most consistency from last season. Six players have not returned (two are still with the Kings), and three new players have been added. Kris Newbury has posted some good numbers in the AHL, but was never able to stick in the NHL. Starting with the Maple Leafs, then moving on to the Red Wings, Rangers & Flyers, he comes to the Reign after spending the last two seasons with the Hershey Bears. Valetin Zykov is a prospect many are excited about. He is often mentioned in the same conversation as Adrian Kempe & Michael Mersch and is expected to be a high scorer. Joel Lowry comes to the Reign from Cornell. A standout in his first three seasons, back surgery derailed his final season in the NCAA. The surgery was in December & he is looking to make his comeback with the Reign.
So not returning are the Reign’s top three point scorers in the regular season. Michael Mersch, however, led the team in the playoffs & was fourth in points during the regular season. He was also an impressive +14 in the playoffs & +20 during the regular season. The King’s took a long look at him before sending him east. Mersch is expected to be the standout on the Reign this year.