Los Angeles Kings: Players Who Must Improve for a Successful Stanley Cup Defense

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IOctober 4, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 22:  Dustin Penner #25 of the Los Angeles Kings answers questions after scoring the game-winning goal in the Kings 4-3 overtime victory against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 22, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Kings' improbable run to their first Stanley Cup championship in team history last season wouldn't have been possible if under performing players such as Dustin Penner didn't improve their performance in the playoffs.

For the Kings to become the first repeat champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, head coach Darryl Sutter will need a number of his players to player better this season than they did last year.

Let's look at four Kings players who must improve this year for the Kings to be successful in their title defense.


Mike Richards

The former Flyers captain was one of the Kings' best players once the playoffs began, but his regular season performance was not what the team expected after acquiring him in a trade just days before free agency last summer.

Richards scored 18 goals with 26 assists for 44 points last season. The last time he scored fewer than 20 goals, had less than 30 assists, and didn't rack up 60 or more points was the 2006-07 season.

One of the reasons why the Los Angeles struggled to find the back of the net consistently for much of last season was because Richards was not the playmaker, and goal scorer he had been in Philadelphia for so many years.

After raising his game in the playoffs with 15 points in 20 games, and finally winning the Stanley Cup, expect Richards' offensive production to drastically improve next season. He should score anywhere between 65-75 points in 2012-13 if there's a full 82-game season.

Richards is one of the best two-way centers in the game, and next year his offense will once again be on the same level as his defensive play.


Slava Voynov

Slava Voynov is one of the best young players on the Kings roster, and after handling the pressure of playing on a championship caliber team very well in his first full NHL season, he will be expected to be an even bigger part of the team's success this season.

The Russian defenseman scored eight goals with 12 assists in 54 games last year, and will be relied on to be even more productive for a Kings team that needs more offense from its blue line.

Voynov is a solid two-way defenseman, and has shown good defensive awareness in his young career, but he needs to be more aggressive in the attacking zone, and shoot when he has the opportunity instead of passing too much.

After logging important minutes in the playoffs, Voynov's days in the AHL are over, and its now time for him to become the top-four defenseman he has the potential to be. He will be one young player facing high expectations on the Kings in 2012-13.


Dustin Penner

Penner redeemed himself last year with a fantastic showing in the playoffs after he was absolutely terrible in the regular season.

Penner's defense and forechecking was quite impressive in the Kings' championship run, and by being more aggressive in the attacking zone, he was able to rack up a 11 points during the playoffs.

His strong postseason play gave the Kings some needed depth that Sutter didn't have during the regular season. The Kings will need this depth for an entire year if they are to repeat as champions.

Penner has another chance to prove himself after signing a one-year contract worth $3.25 million this offseason, so he has plenty of incentive to play well and earn an even larger contract next summer.

Last year's playoff success should give him the confidence that he needs to have a more positive impact on the team's success in 2012-13.


Jonathan Bernier

Bernier has every incentive to improve next season because if he's playing well leading up to the trade deadline, he may be dealt to a team where he can finally be a full-time starter between the pipes.

The 24-year-old goaltender was just 5-6-2 last year, and had the worst season from a statistical standpoint of his brief NHL career.

Bernier needs to be more consistent next year because the Kings will need him to give starting goaltender Jonathan Quick a rest more often because the Conn Smythe Trophy winner played in a career high 89 games last season including the playoffs.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.


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