The kid who has managed to score plenty of goals at every level was self-effacing on the day before the biggest moment of his hockey life — his NHL debut.
“I’ve scored a couple of shooting goals, but not a lot of shooting goals,’” Michael Mersch was saying Thursday afternoon.
Mersch, 23, sets up shop a lot closer to the net and his skill set is a combination of location, logic and awareness. He’s scored 12 goals in 19 games with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario this season.
“The way I put it, the closer you are, the harder it is to miss,” he said. “That’s kind of my philosophy.”
The Kings’ fan base has been clamoring for his appearance in the lineup, but Mersch’s recall, because of injuries to forwards Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford, was not official until Wednesday. . Mersch was on hand for practice Thursday and went through the paces on the third line with center Nick Shore and captain Dustin Brown.
“As a third-line unit, we’ve been pretty solid as of late,” Brown said. “I’m sure the coaches will talk to him about his defensive responsibilities because that’s where everything starts for our team and everybody does a pretty good job of it.”
Mersch has spent plenty of time traveling lately. The Ontario Reign had some problems getting back to Southern California after finishing a trip in Charlotte, N.C. Once home, he got the news that he was joining the Kings and headed to Pittsburgh.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Phoenix airport,” he said. "…The days are all kind of blending together almost.”
Family and friends will be on hand for his first NHL game, on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mersch’s father, Michael Sr., who passed away when Michael was in second grade, played minor league hockey and helped the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles win the Turner Cup of the International Hockey League in 1986-87.
Mersch has a championship pedigree at an early age, a vital member of Manchester’s American Hockey League title run in the spring. He tied for the AHL lead in points in the postseason with 22 in 18 games.
Outside expectations are high for the rookie. But, as Brown noted, it’s a far cry from his early days with the Kings, when the depth in the organization was wanting and more was needed from the youngsters right away
“Our team is not about having great individuals, it’s about having a good team,” Brown said. “There’s guys that have bigger roles than others but it’s designed in a way, if you take one guy out of the mix for an injury, or whatever, we still have a pretty solid team.”
Speaking of injuries, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter revisited a recent issue, unprompted, and seemed to be sending a message. Before Tuesday’s game against Columbus, the Kings did not know Clifford was ailing until it was too late to recall a player.
“It would have been nice to have him at the start of the trip,” Sutter said of Mersch. “You shouldn’t go on the trip with 12 forwards. If you are gone that long, you should not be in that situation. We did that last year and it caught up [to us] in January. It’s why we didn’t make the playoffs.”
KINGS NEXT UP
When: Friday, 4 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Etc.: A rare development — The Kings were in Pittsburgh on Wednesday when the Penguins were playing at Colorado. Pittsburgh has won eight of its last 11 games against the Kings but the Kings took the last meeting, 5-3, on Dec. 5 at Staples Center. Former Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi has four assists and is a plus-four in 24 games with the Penguins.