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Kyle Clifford is among six rookies who impress for Kings

The left wing, 19, is lauded for his physical play at camp and is one of six rookies overall who will be on roster for opener. He is competing with three other newcomers for two spots on fourth line.

October 05, 2010|By Helene Elliott

The bruise beneath Kyle Clifford's left eye had a lot of purple to it, matching the retro gloves and helmets the Kings wore during practice Tuesday.

"It's part of the game," Clifford said of the souvenir from a recent fight. "It shows character, right?"

That ruggedness helped the 19-year-old left wing become one of six rookies who will be on the Kings' roster for their season opener Saturday at Vancouver.

Clifford, a second-round draft pick in 2009, is competing with fellow newcomers Andrei Loktionov, Brayden Schenn and Trevor Lewis for two spots on the fourth line. Jake Muzzin, signed as an unrestricted free agent last January, will be the seventh defenseman while Matt Greene recovers from shoulder surgery. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, 22, will back up starter Jonathan Quick.

"It's a dream come true, I guess you could say," Clifford said.

With Brad Richardson still filling in on the second line for Scott Parse, who has a sore groin and is likely to be placed on injured reserve, the four rookie forwards took turns Tuesday alongside right wing Kevin Westgarth. Coach Terry Murray hasn't decided who will play Saturday.

"I'm going to have an opportunity to watch over the next few days," Murray said. "It will probably come down to the day before to make the call on that."

Clifford and Schenn, both 19, would have to return to their respective junior teams if they don't stick with the Kings. Each can play nine NHL games before the first year of his contract kicks in.

Schenn, chosen fifth in the 2009 draft, said he's not thinking that far ahead. "I'm just excited to be here for now. I've got a lot of work to do to continue to stay here," he said. "I just want to get better day by day."

Clifford has the same attitude. "It's just the beginning," he said, "so we have to keep trucking away and stay focused and make a career out of it now."

Clifford's emergence led the Kings to put feisty winger Rich Clune on waivers, along with goalie Erik Ersberg. Both cleared waivers Tuesday and were assigned to Manchester of the American Hockey League.

Murray said Clune had a good camp but the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Clifford performed better. "It's about what he did: his physical play, his grit, his fighting," Murray said. "He's a young guy in a man's body. He's so powerful and I feel he has a very nice up-side to his game."

Murray said Loktionov had a "great training camp. There's a nice up-side to his game."

Loktionov appreciated the compliment.

"I'm so happy to be here," he said, "and I just need to keep going and build on this and play my game. I want to play NHL because it was my dream when I was young and thinking about NHL."

Incidentally, the retro gear in evidence Tuesday was a preview of the vintage look the team will sport Saturday and at three home games on dates to be announced.

The Kings also announced they had signed Jordan Nolan, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, to a three-year contract. He was assigned to Manchester Sept. 24.

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