Why Los Angeles Kings C Mike Richards Is Ready for an All-Star 2013-14 Season
Richards is the only player in history to win a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and Stanley Cup. He also captained arguably the greatest World Juniors team ever in 2005, as Team Canada dominated en route to gold. And, he captured Olympic gold in 2010.
Richards is a proven leader who has the ability to play in any situation, sometimes at different positions. He has always put the team first and because of that he doesn't often get recognized for his individual efforts. Richards made his lone All-Star appearance in 2008, a season in which he recorded 75 points.
Fast forward to the 2013-14 season, where Richards appears poised for another All-Star caliber campaign.
The Kenora, Ontario native is in the midst of his prime at age 28 and is playing on a team considered one of the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup.
If the end of last season and the playoffs are any indication, Richards should spend plenty of time centering a line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. All three are capable of putting up big numbers, as they proved in the 2013 postseason by combining for 31 points and a plus-16 rating.
Carter is certainly no stranger to playing with Richards and the two seem to have a strong connection on and off the ice. Carter is a good skater with a tremendous shot and should once again help Richards rack up assists.
Toffoli is 21 years old and has just 22 games of NHL experience, including both regular season and playoffs. However, he's already shown he has the skill set to be a top-six forward. Toffoli has great hockey sense, good speed and an excellent release.
Richards should put up his best offensive numbers in years by utilizing his playmaking skills and driving hard to the net.
By playing strong along the boards and in the corners, Richards should be able to gain possession of the puck and help create space for Carter and Toffoli. Also, his patience with the puck will be crucial when it comes to odd man rushes.
Richards had just 44 points in his first season with the Kings in 2012, but notched 32 in 48 games last season. That put him on pace for about 55 points in an 82-game season.
While his linemates will help him produce, Richards should also be expected to put up better numbers this season because it's an Olympic year.
Richards was a key contributor at the 2010 Olympics, notching two goals and three assists for five points in seven games. Aside from Jonathan Toews, Richards was one of Team Canada's top forwards.
Will Mike Richards make Canada's Olympic team?
And yet, he is far from a lock for Sochi in 2014. As was the case in 2010, Canada has a deep pool of forwards to choose from, especially at center.
Richards will need to play his way onto the team by proving he has the speed and skill needed to be effective on international ice. From Game 1 through to the Olympic break, Richards will have to be a physical, two-way player as always but also a force on offense.
Jeff Carter is in a similar situation, which should help motivate him and Richards to deliver night in and night out.
Carter didn't crack the 2010 team, but he was tabbed as the first replacement for Ryan Getzlaf—had an ankle injury kept the Ducks forward from playing.
Both Richards and Carter were brilliant for the Flyers in the first half of the 2009-10 season, leading up to the Olympic break. Richards notched 46 points in 60 games, while Carter racked up 52 points over that span. Although injuries limited Carter's appearances later in the year, it was one of the best seasons of either player's career, as they helped the Flyers come within two games of winning the Stanley Cup.
It's unlikely Richards will have another opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympics. He may not even get another shot to wear the red and white (World Championships or World Cup) for a long time, if at all.
Besides playing for the Stanley Cup, there is nothing that can motivate a hockey player like the chance to play for his country.
Considering that added incentive, the talented players around him and given he's in the prime of his career, Richards should have one of the best seasons of his career in 2013-14.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
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