Dancing in the Reign: ‘Enforcer’ Prospects Aplenty to replace Raitis Ivanans
It was no surprise to see the Los Angeles Kings let Raitis Ivanans walk this summer, as he inked a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames. Known as the “tough guy” for Los Angeles the previous four seasons, his physical presence just wasn’t worth his liability offensively, and quite often as well, defensively. Sure, he was solid when it came to dropping the gloves, but did he provide much of anything else? No. Especially in the post-lockout era where physical play and fighting, especially, has taken a step-back in importance to a roster than speed and skill. Ivanans’ ability to fight came with a heavy price. Stupid penalties, coming far too often due to ignorant retaliation. There are few spots left in the NHL for players like Ivanans. Not only is the decrease in fighting in today’s NHL a factor, but the fact that these ‘enforcers’ must be two-way players. And, an efficient two-way enforcer is what the Kings need to replace Ivanans. The offense for the Kings may very well have taken a step-back this summer, although we have yet to see many forwards who will be battling for positions in Los Angeles out of Manchester of the AHL. However, the Kings can ill-afford to ice an enforcer who will not provide an offensive game. There are three clear prospects who can fill this void, I’ll break down each player below:
Richard Clune: I’ll start off with the player who has the most experience in a Kings uniform. Clune, who made his debut for Los Angeles last season, became a popular addition late in the year. Earning the nickname “Clunatic” for his intense and forceful play, the 23 year-old out of Toronto sidelined a struggling Ivanans. In 14 regular season contests, and dressing in four games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Clune only recorded two assists. The guy can move, has decent speed in both zones, and only stands at 5’11″, which helps his versatility. Clune will most likely start the season in Los Angeles, and try to continue his energetic presence he brought to the table last season. Clune hasn’t had staggering offensive numbers since his days in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting and Barrie Colts.
Kevin Westgarth: Reminds me of a Brian Boyle that knows how to drop the gloves because of his size, and his ability to move in the offensive zone with that stature. Westgarth made his debut for the Kings late in the 2008-2009 season, dressing in nine games. His short stint that season didn’t include eye-opening performances. Westgarth was left off the score-sheet throughout his nine contests, and only fought once. Westgarth was again in a Kings uniform during the pre-season, but left for the Manchester Monarchs where he had a very successful season. To be able to contribute with 11 goals and 14 assists, while leading the team in penalty minutes is impressive. There’s reason to be optimistic about the 26 year-old Canadian, as he has the ability to immediately make up for the loss of Raitis Ivanans, and more. He can fight when necessary, and also be a factor in the offensive zone. If Westgarth proves he can be the offensive/enforcer swingman he was last year in Manchester, he can quickly become a valuable asset to the third and fourth lines.
Kyle Clifford: Clifford may be the toughest to gauge out of this group. Still fresh out of the draft (35th overall in ’09), his promising start in the OHL with the Barrie Colts is enticing. However, like we’ve seen with Rich Clune, offensive success is on a complete different level once the jump is made to the American Hockey League. Seeing ice time in seven games with the Manchester Monarchs for the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, Clifford was held to just two assists. His strong effort has been touted by scouts who note the “edge” he brings to every shift, and see his work-ethic a good asset to a team. “Clifford’s maximum effort on every shift mentality can be contagious and make the players around him that much better.” Clifford’s weakness is his speed and foot movement, which is common among players who exceed a height of six feet and a weight of 200 pounds. The 19-year old out of Ontario should see time in the pre-season in a Kings uniform, and his progress this year with the Monarchs will provide a better feel of Clifford’s future in the Kings organization. There’s still some travel left on Clifford’s road to the NHL, a promising one at that.