Yes we have been without NHL hockey for far too long now. Longer than any sports fan should have to endure.
While the petty bickering at the top-level continues on into early January, the Manchester Monarchs are right in the thick of things in a season that is just over a third way through. The Kings' AHL affiliate sit in eighth place in a tight race in the Eastern Conference of the league. First and 10th are separated by just 10 points.
There are a lot of NHL players down there playing out the season. Some, like Dwight King, Slava Voynov, Andrei Loktionov and Jordan Nolan, you know from face-time on the Kings. But there is a whole group of burgeoning young talent that you don't know, and should really get to know soon.
The 20-year-old Tyler Toffoli is enjoying a phenomenal season thus far in 2012-13. It's hard to believe that the winger is currently in his rookie season.
How good is Toffoli's season?
He currently leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and nine assists through 30 games. Those 22 points are good enough for fifth in the league in rookie scoring.
He's a crafty player who has an NHL-caliber shot and is very good at finding open seams in the defense. His five power-play goals also lead the team, as does his plus-nine rating.
He's been the MVP of the Monarchs so far, and if and when the NHL continues, Toffoli will be in very strong consideration for a call-up.
When the Kings signed Boston Bruins defensive prospect Andrew Bodnarchuk to a one-year deal back in July, I am not certain anyone knew what they were getting.
However, the 24-year-old defenseman has been incredibly solid thus far in the campaign, and is being bested statistically only by Slava Voynov.
The former Providence Bruin was squeezed out of a defense-heavy system in Boston and joined into the ranks of an equally talented Manchester group. A change of scenery certainly helped the speedy and smooth-skating Bodnarchuk, who is on pace to double his career best AHL numbers. Through 31 games, the 24-year-old has three goals, nine assists and a plus-nine rating.
Paired up with Thomas Hickey, the duo has been one of the best pairings for the Monarchs.
Sophomore slump? Linden Vey certainly has never heard of that.
The 5'11" 21-year-old center is enjoying a thoroughly productive year in the AHL this season after a fantastic 43-point rookie-season effort last year.
He has been the wise old veteran centering the Monarchs' top line, with rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson lining up beside him. Vey has been the penultimate player in a lot of scoring plays with Pearson and Toffoli. His tenacious forecheck and great hockey sense have really shown through so far this season.
He currently has eight goals and 13 assists through 31 games. Not bad for a player drafted in the fourth round back in 2009.
Twenty-year-old Tanner Pearson was the first-round selection for the Kings this past draft as an overager. He rose quickly through the draft rankings and come draft day was just inside the top 30.
His fast rise has continued into the AHL, where in his first professional season he is playing on the team's top line with the aforementioned Toffoli and Vey.
Pearson currently has six goals and 12 assists through 30 games with the team, and is playing a brand of physical yet skillful hockey that is very King-like in its execution. He brings it on both ends of the ice and can score, hit, cycle the puck, kill penalties and play on the man advantage.
While a lot of people didn't know much about Tanner Pearson when he was drafted, it's time to get to know him now. He's having a great season in the minors, and is a very well-rounded talent with a lot of opportunity in front of him.
Watch out for Brandon Kozun. He's easy to miss at 5'8" and 157 pounds, but he is a spark plug.
Kozun has always been a player gifted with goal-scoring skill, speed and great vision, but his relatively small size has garnered him many doubters over the year. Although he had back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, he was still drafted as late as the sixth round in 2009.
Two years and two 20-goal seasons later, and Kozun is proving he can play with the big boys. He's tied for the team lead in points with 22, and is on pace to shatter his career-best AHL numbers.
He's recently suffered an upper-body injury and missed the last few games for the team, which is unfortunate because he has been lights out so far. Hopefully Kozun is back and healthy soon.