EL SEGUNDO, CA — Two seasons ago, forward prospect Oscar Moller made the Los Angeles Kings’ roster out of training camp and after putting in some effective minutes where he showed a good scoring touch, it appeared that he could be on his way to solidifying a spot at the National Hockey League level.
Fast forward to 2010 and Moller now finds himself just trying to make the Kings roster.
The 5-10, 186-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden started the 2009-09 season with the Kings and showed some ability to finish right from the start, including his first multi-goal game in the NHL against Calgary on November 1, 2008.
Moller, who played in forty NHL games that season, also captained Sweden’s team in the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships, but suffered a fractured clavicle during the tournament, forcing him out of the Kings’ lineup upon his return to the NHL.
For all intents and purposes, that injury finished Moller’s season.
Last fall, Moller, 21, was assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, to start the 2009-10 season, a demotion of sorts. He played in 43 regular season games with the Monarchs, scoring 15 goals and adding 18 assists for 33 points with twenty penalty minutes.
Moller also scored two goals and tallied five assists for seven points in 16 AHL playoff games as the Monarchs advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“The first year, when I made the [Kings], the team wasn’t as good as it was this year,” said Moller, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “Then I got hurt at Christmas my first year and I didn’t really make the lineup after I came back from injury. The year after, I didn’t make the team out of training camp.”
“It was tough,” added Moller. “It sucks to get sent down after playing up pretty much all year. But that’s the business, I guess.”
Like any player with NHL aspirations, Moller was disappointed that he failed to make the Kings roster last season. But he did not mope around or sulk. Rather, he went right back to work.
“You just have to make the most of it and see all the positive things,” Moller emphasized.
“[Playing with the Monarchs] developed me more,” Moller added. “I want to be a skilled player, a fast player, but not be afraid to go into the dirty areas. I want to have a good, all-around game.”
The 2009-10 Kings were an improved team heading into the that season, limiting Moller’s chances to make the roster.
“The Kings were way better last year than the year before that,” Moller noted. “From my perspective. It was better for me to develop [in Manchester], playing important minutes and being put in important situations. I had a lot of good experiences down there at Manchester.”
Most notable among those good experiences was a long playoff run that advanced Moller’s development, and not just in terms of his hockey skills.
“It was the first time for me, having a real long [playoff] run for a team,” Moller explained. “I’ve been in important games before, with two World Junior teams. But this is different. Those tournaments are only six games. Now we’re playing twenty games. It’s a long stretch of important games.”
“You really get together as a team and you can really understand how important it is to do the little things right,” Moller elaborated. “That’s usually the things that are going to cost you a goal or get you a goal. Simple turnovers, placing the puck in the right areas, managing the clock—all those key things.”
After a year with the Monarchs [and a couple of brief stints with the Kings last season], Moller feels that he has improved.
“I thought I played really good down in Manchester,” he said. “We had a lot of fun there. I feel faster and stronger out there, a little bit more controlled. But I still need to work on that.”
“It’s only July, so I have a couple more months to improve a little bit,” he added.
Indeed, Moller participated in the Kings annual Development Camp for their young prospects back in July, honing his skills and working with the Kings strength and conditioning staff.
“With Oscar, it’s a matter of getting physically stronger, trying to develop that half-step, getting a little more quickness off the mark,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “That’s coming. That’s starting to show. [The development camp] is only going to benefit him and his career.”’
“Coming here this summer, it’s good for me,” said Moller. “It’s a lot of things I know I need to work on. Doing all the skill stuff is a lot of fun, too.”
Moller stood out among the prospects, but not only because he was one of the most skilled players on the ice. It was the maturity and leadership qualities he displayed that was most noticeable.
“Oscar’s got a great attitude,” Murray noted. “There’s no questioning what he brings in that area—character, attitude, work ethic. He sets a great example on the ice in practice, in the games and off the ice.”
“When the young guys went to Livonia [Michigan] for the skills sessions, he’s was taking the lead in all the drills with a smile on his face,” added Murray.
Has Moller developed enough to make the Kings’ 2010-11 opening night roster? As of this writing, there are some holes in the lineup he could fit into, with the exception of the first-line winger spot. He could also be dangled out there as trade bait to help fill that roster spot. To be sure, Moller’s future with the Kings is likely to take a pretty big step in the next couple of months, one way or the other.
Raw Audio Interview with Oscar Moller (unedited; 7:15):
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