While we've gotten a bit out of order here in the Pacific (the week started with the Phoenix Coyotes, followed up by the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks) we're finally getting back on track now with the L.A. Kings.
The trick will be finding that stable ground to stand on and just continuing to play their game.
Los Angeles Kings
2008/09 Record: 34-37-11, 79 points, 14 in West
Additions: Ryan Smyth—F (Trade w/Colorado), Rob Scuderi—D (4 years/$13.6 mil)
Subtractions: Kyle Quincey—D (Trade w/Colorado), Tom Preissing—D (Trade w/Colorado), Derek Armstrong—F (FA), Denis Gauthier—D (FA), Kyle Calder—F (FA)
Despite being a very young team, the Los Angeles Kings weren’t about to give in this offseason in more ways than one.
Being matched up with a tough Western Conference, the Kings continue to remain sold on their youth, as they should.Getting caught up in the high-priced world of free agency and abandoning that plan isn’t worth it (As indicated by the lack of action this offseason). The recent drafting of Brayden Schenn only serves to make this team stronger and tougher to play against,
Then, while those around the team clamored for a big-time scorer, Dean Lombardi put to rest any hope anywhere that Dany Heatley would be coming to Los Angeles.
The way that Heatley has presented himself and acted over the past few months has Lombardi wary of adding such a personality to his dressing room, to avoid spoiling his youth.
Good for Lombardi and the Kings.
“Er” on the side of Quickness…
While Jonathan Bernier is still the apple of Los Angeles’ eye, there are two men who proved last year his path to the starting job will be no cake walk.
Both Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Quick started games for the Kings and each saw some success.
Early on in the season, that success belonged to Ersberg. The Swedish League veteran proved to be a fundamentally sound option over the first few months of the year, only allowing more than three goals once in the 18 games he played before the New Year.
After that, Ersberg seemed to slow, and the toll of a longer, more aggressive season started to show as Ersberg missed ten combined games with a groin injury in the second half, and he started to struggle with consistency.
While the injury played a part in those struggles, the other issue was that Ersberg wasn’t playing enough to get into a groove (like he did in the first half) because of Jonathan Quick’s play.
Quick was outstanding for the Kings, winning 21 games for them and posting a .914 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against.
Although Quick battled a few consistency issues which saw him go through streaks where his goals-against would be a bit higher (5 or 6 in a game), Quick always seemed to be able to steady himself and bounce-back with a week-or-two’s worth of solid efforts.
The fact that Quick and Ersberg emerged (Quick with the slight edge in the battle for number one) at around the same time bodes well for Bernier. The Kings were a franchise that may have been faced with rushing the Quebec native to the NHL at one point. Now however, with two solid goalies manning the crease, if Bernier still needs time to develop the Kings can afford to give it to him.
The one problem for Bernier, is that it gives Quick the opportunity to solidify his hold in the NHL.
Don’t Doughty O’Donnell…He’s certainly not Greene to the NHL…
What many people don’t know about the Los Angeles Kings, is that they have a very solid defense.
Almost anyone who watches the NHL on a semi-regular basis can tell you that Drew Doughty was outstanding last year: He moved the puck, averaged a ton of ice time (Led all rookie defensemen in time-on-ice per game), and he played in every situation.
Because of his mobility and vision, Doughty is the ideal leader for the Kings’ defensive rotation now, and in the future, because he can kill penalties, quarterback a power play, and move the puck out of his zone after making a great even-strength defensive play.
Like any great defender however, he’s not doing it on his own.
Sean O’Donnell has to be one of the most underrated penalty killers in the game-bar none. O’Donnell spent 323 minutes killing penalties last year, and allowed just 32 power play goals-against while he was on the ice.
Sure he won’t provide much in terms of offense and he still has a bit of a mean streak, but the 37-year old is a big reason why the Kings’ penalty kill could be top-ten once again this season (Ranked 7th last year after killing at an 83% clip).
Coming in to help with that (and take over once O’Donnell moves on) is Rob Scuderi. Scuderi also ranked in the top ten in shorthanded minutes on ice last year and allowed 5 fewer power play goals while on the ice for just 17 fewer minutes than O'Donnell. While in a lot of ways Scuderi is unspectacular, he’ll continue to strengthen the Kings penalty kill.
After those two penalty-killing veterans, the youth continues to pile up for the Kings.
Matt Greene is big and tough—exactly what the Kings’ defense needs with so many young, offense-oriented minds. The one knock against Greene is that he can be exploited by smaller, faster forwards, but that’s not unnatural for a defenseman tipping the scales at 6’4/234lbs.
Although Jack Johnson has gotten himself into a little trouble in his own end over the course of the past two seasons (He’s posted a -37 over the past two seasons), his offensive game seemed to rebound nicely after shoulder surgery kept him out of the first half of the season.
Johnson was able to match his 2007/08 output with 11 points in just 41 games for the Kings last year, so if he can keep that development up he will probably break 25 points this year while broaching 30 (He may also be good for a few 15 goal seasons as his career progresses if he’s allowed to shoot as often as he likes) as Kyle Quincey is out of the power play picture.
While the pint-sized Peter Harrold (12 points in 69 games) and defensive Davis Drewiske look to be the biggest beneficiaries of the available ice time following the Smyth trade, taking that for granted would be a mistake.
Not only is perennial 50-point WHL defenseman Thomas Hickey prepared to battle for a spot (And he certainly looks ready after seven points in seven games with Manchester last year), but Viatcheslav Voynov has the drive and determination to make the NHL game as well.
Voynov also has the abilities to make it sooner or later in the big leagues, as his transition to the North American game was a quality one last year, netting 23 points in his first AHL season.
A-Fro(lov) Thunder, Stoll-en Purcell’s, and an Ivanans to boot…
Over the past few seasons, Alexander Frolov, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown have made fans take notice of the Los Angeles Kings.
Although each had a down year following 2007/08, they all have the tools to compete and make L.A. extremely dangerous going forward: Frolov has the mindset that allows him to apply pressure to the opposition without feeling pressured; Kopitar can make passes blindfolded and shed the opposition with ease while he flies up the middle to split the defense; and Brown is the big, bad power forward who loves to shoot and poke the puck home, while physically abusing his opponents.
The trick for each of them is finding that level of consistency with their production. The promising thing is that at this point, health doesn’t seem to be a concern as the three combined for only five missed games last year.
Where the Kings are going to run into trouble this year is that fact that much of their roster still needs to mature up front.
The addition of Ryan Smyth not only adds to the grit down the wings, as well as a player with the ability to drive to the net, but it increases the veteran leadership for the Kings—something there’s really not a lot of with the forwards.
Michael Handzus will help out with the mid-range forwards in getting them going, but the inconsistency from Handzus will limit their offensive potential if more is expected out of them.
Much like Handzus, Jarret Stoll has found himself playing more of a supporting role in Los Angeles, but he certainly plays it well. Stoll is a hard-nosed center who’ll provide some attitude up the middle, but he also understands the nuances of a sound two-way game as he’ll be good for around 40 points.
The impact of Justin Williams for a season will also be interesting to see. With 503 NHL games to his credit, Williams was a 30-goal scorer (twice) for Carolina. Since then, he’s been a bit of a hard-luck injury case: A broken hand, an achilles tendon, and a torn ACL are just a few of the injuries Williams has suffered through, but the question is whether Williams can stay in the lineup long enough to provide some leadership and recapture that 30-goal magic.
After that there’s a ton of untapped NHL potential for the Kings: Trevor Lewis was able to double his production to 51 points in his second AHL season (He had three points in a six-game callup aswell), while Teddy Purcell could be a gem of an undrafted free agent if he can capture any of that 24-goal AHL magic at the NHL level.
21-year old Wayne Simmonds was one of five Kings to play in 82 games last year, and his crash-and-bang style combined with potential 35-40 point production at the NHL level is certainly attractive.
From there, young forwards such as John Zeiler and Brad Richardson will be required for low-line production while Oscar Moller will be looking to improve upon last season's debut.
So what’s it all mean…
Last year the Kings could have been a surprise team.
Instead of surprising though, their forwards took a step backwards while their defense (Doughty) and goaltending (Quick/Ersberg) took steps forward.
If the Frolovs, Browns, and Kopitars can contribute at the 2007/08 level, then the Kings may be in business offensively. But they’re going to have to prove themselves first.However the inexperience on some of the lower lines may hold them back during the season.
4th in Pacific
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, or you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure the check out all of Bryan's previous work in his archives.