The 2013 season is in full swing and the Los Angeles Kings are up among the top contenders in the Western Conference.
Despite injury and "hangover" talk, the Kings have come on strong and are sitting in a solid position. There is still a lot of hockey to be played, but so far a lot of young players have made their mark in the NHL, and even a few in the AHL are catching the eye of media and fans alike.
There might be a miniature changing of the guard coming for an already young Los Angeles Kings squad. Who are the players who should be worried about their jobs moving forward, and who are these players ready to supersede them?
It's a shame that injury might be a major factor in a player losing his job, but that's how it goes in the world of professional sports. Just look at the San Francisco 49ers and Alex Smith this past year. It happens.
Willie Mitchell has been battling knee problems, and at his age, 35 going on 36 in April, the team has to start looking forward. Mitchell is still under contract til 2014-15, but if the grizzled veteran can't remain healthy or get back to game speed his job will certainly be at risk.
Also worth noting is the superb play of young players like Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby, who have stepped up in the absence of No. 33.
Waiting in the minors are players like Andrew Campbell, who is having a solid year. Looking further down the road, college standouts Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort are playing superb and nearing the pro level.
While Davis Drewiske has done admirably this year when called upon, it's hard to really picture him fitting in the lineup somewhere when Matt Greene or Willie Mitchell return from injury.
With the current play of Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby, and the return of Alec Martinez, Drewiske has been forced back into the press box. Quite simply, if he can't find his place in the lineup right now when the opportunity is ripe for the taking, it will only get harder for the 28-year-old moving forward.
While Colin Fraser has the experience and work ethic you want from a fourth-line center, it's hard to feel like his job is truly safe with the team at any given moment.
Fraser has been a staple to the team's bottom line and brings toughness, a willingness to drop the gloves and the occasional goal. However, there are some young players in the AHL who could really put the pressure on Fraser in the future.
The pesky young center Andy Andreoff, knee-deep in his rookie season, is playing fantastic hockey for the Monarchs. He's a player that is in the mold of Jordan Nolan, who brings the physical game but also shows flashes of offensive capability that Fraser doesn't have.
Even a minor shake-up at the top lines could bump Fraser. Any addition of Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli or Brandon Kozun could relegate the 28-year-old to the press box to make room for a younger contingent.
While he has charmed many with his tales of pancakes and Call of Duty with teammate Alec Martinez, Dustin Penner is not exactly setting the world ablaze this season.
The Kings signed Penner to a one-year deal this offseason as a showing of good faith for the pivotal playoff performance the 30-year-old had. In 2013, he has just one goal and five assists so far in 14 games. They aren't the worst numbers, but Penner is costing the team $3.25 million and is not a young guy anymore.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, 2012 first-round pick Tanner Pearson is fourth on the team in scoring with 35 points in 52 games. That is a pretty solid rookie season, and the Kings might be willing to give him a shot come next season instead of resigning Pancakes. Tyler Toffoli is another surefire scoring threat in the midst of a 27-goal campaign thus far for the Monarchs.
Any movement in the wings up front for the Kings would surely bump Penner out of the top six and maybe out of the picture entirely.
While his faceoffs are key and his defense has always been steady, Jarret Stoll might be on the wrong side of inevitability soon.
The 30-year-old has seen his offensive game degrade over the course of last season, as well as his discipline. Stoll is becoming prone to taking offensive-zone penalties, and playing a little too aggressively. He is signed through 2015-16 and is costing the team quite a bit of change at $3.25 million for what he is bringing.
Waiting in the wings is the current leading scorer of the Manchester Monarchs, Linden Vey, who possesses a similar skill set to that of Stoll with a slightly more offensive upside.
At 21 years old Vey is having a tremendous season and making fans not question "if" but rather "when" we will see the young center. He isn't taking Richards place or Kopitar's place, and he's too good to be on the fourth line. That leaves one place.