Los Angeles Kings: 5 Biggest Surprise Players in Franchise History

Jason LewisCorrespondent IINovember 30, 2012

Los Angeles Kings: 5 Biggest Surprise Players in Franchise History

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    It's easy to know what's coming, or what you are getting with a first-round draft pick or a first-line center. There are no surprises, no mysteries, and these players usually come with high expectations.

    Then there are the players no one sees coming. Players whose impact not even the wisest of hockey minds could predict. They come in all ages, with different back stories. There's the late-round draft pick, the washed-up veteran, the "second chance at a career" guy.

    These are the stories that compel us so much in the game of hockey. They're not always the headliners. They're the average Joes who go from zero to hero in front of our very eyes.

    Here are just a few of the Los Angeles Kings' most surprising players in franchise history.

Alexei Zhitnik

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    Back in 1989 the first Russian-born player stepped onto NHL ice. That player was Sergei Priakin of the Calgary Flames.

    After that, the floodgates of Russian talent migrated to the NHL. However, a lot was still unknown about the players behind the former "Iron Curtain."

    In the fourth round of the 1991-92 NHL entry draft, the Kings selected defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, the fifth Soviet player to be taken that year.

    Not much was known about Zhitnik, except that he was pretty undersized, had some very minor success in the Soviet league and spoke absolutely no English.

    A year later the franchise had a world junior champion and Olympic gold medalist with the USSR team on its hands. 

    At the age of 20, Zhitnik was a powerhouse on the Kings blue line, scoring 48 and 52 points in his first two seasons, respectively, with the team. Despite his solid play for the Kings, Zhitnik was traded after just three seasons to Buffalo Sabres, where he would play the next 10 seasons.

Charlie Simmer

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    Charlie Simmer, the left wing of the famous "Triple Crown Line" along side Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, was almost certainly a shocker to the hockey world.

    Simmer was drafted in the third round of the 1974 draft by the California Golden Seals, who would later relocate as the Cleveland Barons. Simmer saw very little playing time with the Seals/Barons and spent most of his time in the junior leagues.

    In 1979, Simmer made his way to Los Angeles, and while he started in the minor leagues, he quickly made an impression with 48 points in 38 games during a call-up.

    From there Simmer would have back-to-back 50-plus goal, and 100-plus point seasons. In four of the five seasons during which Simmer was a roster mainstay, he eclipsed 80 points.

Dave Taylor

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    The other wing on the famed "Triple Crown Line" was also a real huge surprise.

    How big of a surprise?

    Taylor was drafted in the 15th round, 210th overall, in the 1975 NHL amateur draft. In fact, Taylor is the lowest drafted player in NHL history to obtain 1,000 points in his career.

    Not only was Dave Taylor a fantastic player who twice had over 100 points, he served as Kings captain for five seasons, played all 17 years of his career with the team and was their general manager for nine years.

    When the Kings announced the name Dave Taylor in 1975 in the 15th round, I am certain they didn't see any of that in their future.

Luc Robitaille

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    The highest scoring left winger in NHL history, and one of the Kings' most legendary players, was another late-round draft pick whom everyone had basically written off.

    In 1984, during the seventh round of the NHL entry draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected 171st pick Luc Robitaille.

    A player widely disregarded due to his poor skating ability

    Robitaille never really did develop into a good skater, but he developed a game that suited his talents. From there he etched his name into Kings history: In his first eight seasons, he never accumulated less than 45 goals and four times had over 100 points.

    Robitaille was a truly generational player who fell to the seventh round of the draft.

    I am sure he's one player every general manager of the time could look back on and shake their heads at.

    Seven times.

Jonathan Quick

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    Does anyone remember the Los Angeles Kings goalie carousel of 2006-08?

    I certainly do. If you don't, here's a refresher: In two seasons, the Kings used 11 different goalies.

    That's right. Eleven.

    Dan Cloutier, Sean Burke, Yutaka Fukufuji, Barry Brust, Mathieu Garon, Erik Ersberg, J.S. Aubin, Daniel Taylor, Jason LaBarbera, Jonathan Bernier and some college kid from Connecticut drafted in the third round named Jonathan Quick.

    In 2007 the Kings goaltending department had little to no direction, and everyone was waiting for the next coming of Rogie Vachon in highly touted first-round pick Jonathan Bernier.

    But amidst injury and inconsistencies, an unlikely Quick rose to the occasion and basically played his way into the NHL. At a young age, Quick was surpassing all expectations put on him. By the 2008-09 season, he was a regular starter. 

    One Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup later, Quick might be the biggest surprise the franchise has seen in some 20 years.