While the speedy winger has an extensive injury history, he appears healthy now, so the next thought for those who follow the Kings should be where he slots into the roster and how that affects the rest of the lines.
That depends entirely on which side of the ice he’ll be playing on.
The natural right winger has played on the left before. Moreover, he told Larry Books of the New York Post in early 2013 that he enjoys it. “I like shooting from the left side. I feel very comfortable with my shot from [the left wing circle], so that could be an advantage,” he said.
This is notable on a Kings team that is downright stacked on the right side and utterly bare on the left.
Prior to the Gaborik deal, viable candidates for the two top-six RW spots were Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Dustin Brown.
Excluding the names above—natural RWs have been tried at LW as well—the left featured only Dwight King as a reasonable option. Head coach Darryl Sutter even gave unreasonable, bound-to-fail options a shot, as grinders Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, Trevor Lewis, Daniel Carcillo and Frattin were granted shots on the second line. They all fell short.
Where should Gaborik play?
Obviously, the logjam at RW either pushed wingers away from their comfort zone or lower on the depth chart.
If Gaborik can’t play left wing, he’ll only be adding a measure of scoring ability to what was already a position of strength for the Kings. If he can make the grade at LW, however, Los Angeles may just become the most dangerous team in the Western Conference.
With all that said, here are the ideal forward lines heading into the regular season’s home stretch.
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
As the top puck-possession team in the world, according to Extra Skater’s Corsi and Fenwick percentages, the Kings’ one true deficiency on offense heading into the trade deadline was a finisher on left wing.
Should Gaborik fit the bill, this first line will be a real treat to watch.
Kopitar dictates flow with the best of them and can fend off defenders down low with his 6'3", 225-pound frame. Williams, meanwhile, is all hustle, launching himself into the corners to battle for pucks and generate more zone time.
With such strong possession forwards by his side, Gaborik won’t be tasked with puck retrieval in the dirty areas. It’s a good thing too, as the Slovak doesn’t thrive in this phase of the game.
According to Behind the Net, his on-ice Corsi (shot attempt differential per 60 minutes) this year is minus-2.83 and his relative Corsi (the difference between on-ice and off-ice Corsi) of minus-2.0 reveals that this is not a team issue. Columbus, a middling possession squad in Corsi and Fenwick percentages, was better at this facet of the game when Gaborik wasn't on the ice.
He certainly doesn’t drive plays, but the three-time 40-goal scorer sure can finish them. He'll be counted on to do exactly that.
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
After a strong showing on the top line over the past few games, one might be tempted to pencil Toffoli in with the former Philadelphia Flyers following Gaborik's arrival.
However, King is the right complement due to his size (6'4", 232 lbs) and strength on the puck.
As a quick-strike twosome rather than a pure possession unit, Richards and Carter aren't the right fit for another shooter like Toffoli. They require a big winger who can muck in the corners and keep plays alive in the trenches.
King and Richards also have a clear rapport, as DobberHockey indicates that Richards’ most productive unit this season has featured King on LW.
Getting Richards going will be crucial as the postseason nears because, when he’s on, the Kings are a terrifying opponent. The playmaker needs all the touches he can get, which will in turn lead to more touches for sharpshooter Carter, who can score from anywhere inside the offensive blue line.
Squeezing more production out of the second line starts with more possession time. That can be achieved by placing King with Richards and Carter.
Tyler Toffoli-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown
The lines in this article are predicated on balance. In this case, Toffoli’s finesse would act as the counterpoint to Jarret Stoll and Brown’s grit.
Seemingly rejuvenated in a third-line RW role next to Stoll, Brown has been making smarter reads and executing more crisply on attack since the Sochi Olympics. The two veterans have cultivated some chemistry, which is evidenced by the captain’s four points in his last four games. Before that stretch, he had a paltry 16 points in 58 contests.
Given how relentless Brown and Stoll can be from a physical standpoint—NHL.com indicates that they rank fifth and 28th, respectively, in hits this season—pairing them with a clever, crafty winger should generate more chances as well as momentum.
Toffoli has proved capable of playing next to just about anyone this year, and his presence on the third unit would add scoring depth to a Kings squad that has often only had one line clicking at a time.
Spreading out the attacking options should improve the league's fourth-worst offense.
Kyle Clifford-Trevor Lewis-Jordan Nolan
The best of what’s left isn’t great, but if the team's average ice times are any indication, this line would only see about nine minutes of action per game. During their shifts, Clifford, Lewis and Nolan should keep the game as simple as possible, hitting everything that moves and working hard on the forecheck.
Offense isn’t this unit’s goal, so risks should be kept to a minimum. Nolan, whose decision-making has been questionable throughout his brief career, is a player to watch in this respect.
If he can staple the puck to the boards and just grind away, the fourth line could be effective. If he looks to make seam passes or fails to dump pucks in deep, the group could become a liability.
Clifford and Lewis are straight-line forwards who barrel into the opposition, so they aren’t quite as likely to cough pucks up in dangerous spots.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi pulled off a really solid deal on Wednesday. Now, it's up to Sutter to ice the right lineup. Where Gaborik is placed will play a large part in determining both the Kings' forward units and the team's overall fate in 2013-14.
In addition to sorting out the LW issue that's seemingly plagued the club for ages, these proposed lines would offer Sutter a great deal of flexibility, evenly distributing offensive ability, size, defensive awareness and puck possession across the top nine.
Opponents could no longer get away with concentrating all of their defensive focus on Kopitar or Carter.
A spark on left wing could be just the salve that L.A.'s dry-as-dust offense needed.