Key Additions: LW Alex Ponikarovsky, D Willie Mitchell.
Key Subtractions: C Jeff Halpern, LW Fredrik Modin, LW Alex Frolov, D Sean O’Donnell, D Randy Jones.
It wasn’t long ago that fans were calling for the resurrection of the Los Angeles Kings. With other franchises in the area like the Lakers, Dodgers, Anaheim Ducks, and Angels each showing great promise every season, the Kings were wallowing in the West.
Then, in the course of a single season, those woes were washed away by some excellent play throughout the season. Though the Kings still exited the playoffs in round one, that doesn’t mean they’ll be a one-hit wonder. If their recent progress in camp and offseason acquisitions are any indicator, they’re here to stay.
Though the Kings spent a good portion of the offseason looking like a frontrunner for Ilya Kovalchuk, landing the star Russian never came to fruition, leaving the core of LA’s scoring untouched. Anze Kopitar broke out into new realms of stardom with his first 80-point season. Kopitar’s scoring touch and the ease at which he reads a defense are two dangerous assets that could propel him further this year.
Behind Kopitar is a plethora of Kings forwards who are more than capable of scoring 20 goals each this season. Los Angeles boasts Michal Handzus, Jarrett Stoll, Dustin Brown, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth, and new acquisition Alex Ponikarovsky as threats on a well-balanced, first three lines.
Ponikarovsky, acquired as recourse for the loss of an unhappy Alexander Frolov, has picked up for less than he had been asking during the regular season and could prove to be a two-way jolt. Brown is willing to take the body 100 percent of the time despite not being as big as many of his foes and could well hit a stride that sends him to 40 goals this year.
Handzus, Smyth, and Stoll are veterans of the league that each have their fair share of leadership talents as well. Smyth’s status with the team has been much more low key lately, yet he’s no worse a player than he was five years ago. Simmonds is on the way up, and will likely surpass two if not all three of these gentlemen in finding his place on the Kings offensive squad.
Defensively, Los Angeles is picking up the pieces dropped from various contenders while compiling their own homegrown stars on the blueline. Drew Doughty is the centerpiece of the up and coming Kings, appearing as a can’t miss prospect with 59 points last year. Doughty, still not even old enough to purchase a beer, may give Mike Green a run for his money as the best offensive defensemen in the league this year.
Doughty’s teammate Rob Scuderi seems to have found his niche in L.A. after winning a Cup with Pittsburgh, and the Kings hope Willie Mitchell can find the same success. Mitchell saw the writing on the wall in Vancouver and chose to pursue more lucrative opportunities on the coast, while Scuderi, who isn’t noted for much scoring (zero goals last season), still loves to take the body and block a shot here or there.
The Kings' top D-lines are rounded out by Jack Johnson, a punishing foe who can’t step foot in Canada without being booed. Johnson was rescued from the Carolina system a few years ago and is proving his worth now with muscle and skill. He's also out to prove that losing Sean O'Donnell and Randy Jones won't make the team any less tough.
In net, Jonathan Quick was one of the more promising young players to emerge last year. He won 39 games in his first full tour of duty, all while posting a 2.54 goals against average. Though his save percentage was slightly lower than expected, Quick lives up to his namesake with great reflexes and a solid style.
If you think, however, that Quick has the starting job pegged, then you clearly haven’t met Jonathan Bernier. The heir to the throne, Bernier has been a slow building project for Los Angeles and will look to make the biggest splash this year by challenging Quick for the position.
Could another Halak-Price goalie controversy be in the works?
The last name is familiar, so it should come as no surprise that eyes will be on Brayden Schenn to make the jump to the NHL this year. Los Angeles could offer ample opportunity to the former OHL star to join his brother as a big league player if he continues to improve his quick skates and quicker hands.
With a year more of maturity for the baby Kings, another playoff berth seems like a lock. Watching such a fast, scrappy team each night could prove to be the most entertaining thing in the long run. Second in the Pacific, Fifth in the Western Conference.