2010-11 NHL Preview: Los Angeles Kings

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2010-11 NHL Preview: Los Angeles Kings
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Rear-view Mirror:

The Kings had a breakout year last season.  They tied their franchise record for wins in a season (46), had the third most points in franchise history (101), and made the postseason for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Kings eventually lost to the Canucks in six games in the Western Conference quarterfinals, but the season has to be considered a step in the right direction for general manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Terry Murray.

20-year-old Drew Doughty played well above his age and NHL experience.  The former second overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft had a breakout year.  His 59 points was good for second on the team and third in the NHL in scoring among defensemen.  He had five game winning goals, best in the league for a defender, and played a great two-way game with a +20.  Doughty did not seemed phase by the speed of the NHL playoffs as he led the team in points (seven points in six games) and was tied for the lead with three goals. Not to mention, he was a part of the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal team. `

The Kings were led in scoring for the third straight year by center Anze Kopitar.  The soon to be 23-year-old had career highs in goals (34), assists (47), points (81), power play goals (14) and plus minus (+8).  Free Agent pick up Ryan Smyth, when healthy, added a much needed offensive punch scoring 22 goals and 53 points in only 67 games played.

The Kings also benefited from the continued development of goaltender Jonathan Quick. The 24-year-old ranked sixth in the NHL in wins (39) and prove he could take the bulk  of the playing time, playing in 72 games (fourth in the league). He succeeded even with former first round pick, and Kings Goalie of the future, Jonathan Bernier, nipping at his heals, who has a 3-0 record with only four goals against in three games last season.

Offseason Ins:

LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (TOR/PIT: 77 GP, 21G-29A-50P), G Jonathan Bernier (AHL: 58 GP, 30-21-6, 2.03 GAA, .936 save%), D Thomas Hickey (AHL: 19 GP, 1G-5A-6P), D Colten Teubert (WHL: 60 GP, 10G-30A-40P), D Vyacheslav Voynov (AHL: 79 GP, 10G-19A-29P)

Offseason Outs:

LW Alexander Frolov (51 Pts), D Sean O'Donnell (78 GP), LW Raitis Ivanans (136 PIM), D Randy Jones (21 Pts), LW Fredrik Modin (5 Pts in 20 GP), C Jeff Halpern (49.4 FO%)

What Makes Them Tick:

Goals, goals and more goals is the mantra the Kings had last season.  They lit the lamp 231 times good for a ninth place tie in the NHL. They had a balanced scoring attack that featured 11 players who scored double digit in goals, with eight of them scoring 15+ goals. They also continued to field a very productive power play, which was ranked seventh in the league.  That was the highest ranking for the Kings since they finished with the top ranked power play eight seasons ago in 2001-02.

The Kings have a very deep lineup and when healthy the top line of Kopitar, Smyth, and Justin Williams can match any top line in scoring.  The Kings round out their balanced scoring with players like captain Dustin Brown and Wayne Simmonds. The 25-year-old Brown is one of the toughest players to play against and a consistent scorer with three straight 20+ goal seasons.  The soon to be 22-year-old Simmonds took advantage of extra playing time and chipped in 16 goals and 40 points and was a team-best +22.

What Could Make Them Go Boom:

The Kings have a great top defensive pairing of budding superstar Drew Doughty and tough as nails; do the dirty work Rob Scuderi.  After that they have some big question marks on the backline.  The dependable Matt Greene will miss some time after having surgery on his left shoulder opening the door for rookies and former first round picks Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert and former second round pick Vyacheslav Voynov.

Those defenders will have to live up to their potential for the Kings to have success early and offset the loss of Greene.  The 23-year-old Jack Johnson will have to improve his defensive play as he was a team worse -15.  The former third overall pick will also have to stay healthy to improve those +/- numbers as he has yet to play more than 41 games in back-to-back seasons.   

Player to Watch:

Jonathan Bernier was 19 years old and named the Kings starting goalie when they opened up in London in 2007-08, two seasons later the 11th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft could be in the same position.  Now 22-year-old Bernier is coming off a season where he won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender.  He led the league in save percentage (.936) and shutouts (9) and was second in goals against average (2.03).

Bernier even got a call up on an emergency basis last season in March and made a case to not be sent back down playing three games and only giving up four goals all three wins for the Kings.  With Quick playing so many games last season and backup Erik Ersberg a pending UFA, look for the Kings to play their goalie of the future and don`t be surprised if he gets most of the time by the end of the year.   

Prediction:

It took this long to mention Iyla Kovalchuk`s name, but the Kings did make a valiant pitch to the biggest free agent out there, but did not want to give into his ridiculous salary demands.  Signing Kovalchuk, and his scoring ability, would of sent a message to the Sharks, who have won three-straight Pacific division crowns, but even without him the Kings posses a deep scoring unit that will once again fight for a playoff spot.    

The Kings according to capgeek.com have 19 players signed and about $12 million of cap space, so Dean Lombardi could be a big player at the trade deadline since he did not get the big fish he sought this offseason. The Kings seem to be heading in the right direction and have the pieces in place to contend for years to come.

 

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