BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Los Angeles Kings

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BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Los Angeles Kings

Preview: The more you do, the more you know....or something like that.

Anyhow, last night I tried to write articles AT a hockey game. Ridiculous I know, but nevertheless I scribbled notes on my ridiculously sized notebook (Note to self: Get a pad) about one article I'm working on for B/R. (Yea I know...team previews and other articles? I'm nuts) and game notes from the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs rookie game I attended last night in Kitchener, Ontario.

If there's interest then I'll see if I can switch parts of it over to this site, but the most interesting thing that came out of the game was this: Phil Oreskovic, a highly-touted stay at home defenseman for Toronto, was playing left wing on a line with Matt Stajan's cousin Thomas.

No one ever said anything had to make sense I guess.

 

The Los Angeles Kings have always had some of the best jersey's in my opinion.

The Purple and Gold crown? It's a classic. The Black and Silver Gretzky-era ones? Seemingly plain, but they caught the eye. Even the ones today, I've taken a shining too.

Unfortunately, the talent-level in L.A. has been up to par lately with the snazzy duds. Within the next few years though, that's all about to change.

Ps. Did I mention that I'm usually the one that likes the jersey's everyone hates in those "Aren't these jersey's terrible?" articles?

I can dress myself just fine, but put me in charge of a group of 25 hockey players? They're all going to be wearing the Vancouver Flying 'V' jersey in California Golden Seal colors. Sweet.

 


Roster Additions:
Drew Doughty-D (Draft), Brad Richardson-F (Trade), Jarret Stoll-F (Trade), Matt Greene-D (Trade), Denis Gauthier-D (Trade)

Roster Subtractions: Rob Blake-D (F.A.), Ladislav Nagy-F (F.A), Dan Cloutier-G (F.A.), Jon Klemm-D (F.A.), T.J. Fast-D (Trade), Mike Cammalleri-F (Trade), Lubomir Visnovsky-D (Trade)

How did 2007/08 go? 32-43-7, 71 points, 15th in conference, 5th in Pacific, 29th in league

2008/09 Goal: Anywhere but last in the conference

 

Let's break'er down...

The Los Angeles Kings have tried a few things over their tenure to be competitive, including acquiring the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

Now although the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby don’t look to be available to any other teams any time soon, the Kings seem to have been building a solid core of youth which could recapture the spirits of Luc Robitaille and Marcel Dionne, as the Kings work towards becoming the jewel in the Pacific crown once again.

 

The combined age of our goalies? 74 Leslie Nielsen is 82…That’s Irrelevant

Now in that age, I only accounted for three of the Kings’ goalies: Jonathon Bernier, Jason LaBarbera, and Erik Esberg, as both Daniel Taylor and Jonathon Quick seem to be eyeing time in either the ECHL or AHL, although both have very minor NHL experience.

The most recognizable youngster out of that group for some, may be Jonathon Bernier. Bernier, the Lewiston Maniacs alum, got a brief taste of NHL action last season, starting the season with the big club in London, England against the Anaheim Ducks.

You may remember that he won his NHL debut, allowing only one goal. Although he would proceed to lose his next three decisions (allowing 4,7,and 4 goals respectively), Bernier is still well ahead of where he should be as a 20-year old netminder (not all of us can be Carey Price).

I can’t technically call him a kid, as he’s four months older than me, but Bernier will be fine this season if he’s handled correctly. Send him to the AHL and let him get some seasoning.

He’s got the attitude and the talent to take him (and the Kings) far in the NHL in the future, and they’d be insane to rush him. He’ll be good, but save him some of the headaches of playing behind a young, growing team.

Bringing some Swedish input back between the pipes for the Kings this season will be Erik Ersberg. After a few looks at the NHL level, Ersberg will be looking to lock down one of the two spots between the pipes for the Kings.

In only 14 games last year, Ersberg won 6 and lost 5 but he also posted an impressive .927 save percentage, as well as a 2.48 goals-against average. If he begins to regain his Swedish League form though, maybe the Kings can be dangerous

But the third and final piece in this goalie puzzle is Jason LaBarbera—a great technical goalie who has been dogged by consistency and performance issues throughout his career. Coming off of a season cut short by sports-hernia surgery, LaBarbera is the most seasoned option the Kings have, which isn’t saying much.

In 79 career NHL games, LaBarbera is 29-34 with a 3.04 GAA and a .903 save percentage, and the most he’s every played in a season was last year, as he played in 45 games.

So what does this mean for the Kings? Either inexperience between the pipes is going to kill them, and prevent Los Angeles from climbing out of the Pacific basement, or someone is going to surprise…big time.

After allowing the third-most goals in the NHL last season (266) though, I’m thinking this may be another tough year out there in California.

 

Symptoms: Hands feel Klemm(y), My Johnson is Greene, I’m covered in Hickey’s, and I’m full of self-Doughty

While I’m at it I’ll make up another word: L.A. has the funnest names on defense in the league.

While I'm at it still, I'll apologize. Jon Klemm isn't on the team anymore. But his name gave the inspiration for this title, so I had to include him. Thanks to Jon's heritage for such an enjoyable two-and-a-half minutes.

The past few seasons, the L.A. Kings have made some quality draft choices for their defense. One of the Kings’ strongest pickups on the back-end however, wasn’t even their own draft pick.

Two seasons ago, the Hurricanes traded Jack Johnson to the Kings for Tim Gleason and Erik Belanger.

Granted neither team has done much playoff-wise since the trade, but I truly believe the Kings came out on top.

Along with their top-pick from this year Drew Doughty, Johnson will provide the Kings with a top-of-the-line defenseman for years to come. He’ll hit whenever the idea strikes him, and he plays the game in his end of the ice exceptionally well (which isn’t really shown playing in a growing system like L.A.).

Perhaps the length of his development was what had the Hurricanes shying away, but as most defensive defensemen have proven before, to do what they do well, it takes patience to watch them develop.

Although his offensive flash seems stunted, Johnson can leave that to Doughty once they’re paired together hopefully. In Doughty and Johnson, the Kings now have two of the quicker minds in the game that just lack NHL years, while Doughty will hopefully see his offensive game transition from the junior to the NHL level fairly quickly and evenly.

Then you’ve got Thomas Hickey, the small, quick, and gifted defenseman out of Calgary who could benefit from a little more size, but still provides a good two-way defensive presence.

The only problem with all of this, is that the oldest member of this core is Johnson at age 21, while Doughty and Hickey are teenagers. How do you say growing pains?

The hard-hitting Denis Gauthier (provided he sees NHL ice-time this season) would be the old man on the defense, at 31. If he can be effective enough and healthy enough to stay in the NHL this season, then perhaps Gauthier could pair up well with Tom Preissing, who brings a strong offensive game along with him to Tinsel Town.

Matt Greene (who seems old for this team at 25) will be able to provide minimal scoring, but a big, strong body in front of whomever the goalie is, while Drew Bagnall could look to bang his way into the NHL, with the swift-skating Peter Harrold looking to try and hold on to a spot in L.A. as well.

 

It’s hard to Kopitar when you keep Stoll’in…

There are a few forwards for the Kings that everyone has heard of, and the popular consensus is that these will be the guys that help them compete down the road.
The big two would be Patrick O’Sullivan and Anze Kopitar. O’Sullivan—the former Wild draft pick—is a flashy player, who can see the ice, and spot the open man with ease.

In just his first full NHL season, O’Sullivan scored 22 goals, and tallied 53 points—a big part of the Kings’ fourth-most (in the West) 231 goals last season. O’Sullivan should only get better this year, as the talent up front matures, and he starts to come into his own in the NHL.

Kopitar meanwhile, was even better last season. In his second season in the NHL, Kopitar went from 20 goals to 32 goals, and was three points away from being an 80-point player. He’s got the size, the skill, the shot, and the on-ice awareness to be everything any team would want in the NHL, and could break through with 35 this year if everything falls into the right place.

If Alexander Frolov could remain consistent, then either of O'Sullivan or Kopitar(Unless they get paired together, in which case they'd both have)would have a dynamo of a linemate. One year Frolov scores 30 goals, the next he’s back down to 20. 

If something can be taken out of Frolov’s performance last season, it is that he struggled through a groin injury, and was still able to put up 67 points, as well as setting a career-high with 44 assists. So if Frolov stays healthy and motivated, he could regain 30 goal form, and possibly tackle the 80-point mark.

The last diamond up front would be Dustin Brown—the elite power forward in the making. Brown set a career-high with 33 goals last season, and 60 points. Brown is becoming more polished every time he steps on the ice, and he could be a threat for 40 goals sometime soon—perhaps this year if it all comes together for these four up front—and he’s only 23. Scary.

Think about those four for a minute. Think about, how in 2009,2010, and 2011 they'll just dominate. About how there'll be depth to take them to the moon, and the offensive production from them is insane.

Now come back to 2008, and aside from those four, there isn’t much else for the Kings. Michael Handzus suffered through a sub-par year last season, barely surpassing 20 points, while posting a career-worst -21.

If quality players can surround Handzus, then he usually puts up some respectable numbers, but the Kings don’t have the depth to help him out, while the same can be said for Derek Armstrong.

If Jarret Stoll can regain his 60-70 point form, then the Kings have a little more scoring depth. The past two years though, Stoll hasn’t looked the same  (whether it was that late-season concussion two seasons ago or not), and he’ll have to prove he can be more than a 35-point player if he wants to make an impact in L.A. (Although the Kings just signed him to a four-year deal, so maybe his troubles are behind him).

On the bright side, Stoll can be closer to super-Cougar Rachel Hunter.

Teddy Purcell may be eyeing some steady NHL minutes this season after a ten-game stint last season, and although he was fairly successful (1 goal, 2assists), the beginners luck he’s shown at other levels (83 points in 67 games in his first AHL season), may not flourish right away. If Teddy can score, he’ll be a useful commodity to the Kings, but if not, his growth won’t help the Kings this season.

Kyle Calder will provide a veteran presence and a bit of grit to the Kings, but aside from that, the roster is filled out with younger, third, or fourth line players, while the Kings wait for their other youngsters (such as Brian Boyle and Brady Murray) to come into their own.

Unfortunately, even though there are some key offensive pieces already in place, the Kings are going to need a few more to develop, and a much more seasoned defense to compete in the Pacific division.

 

So what's it all mean?

The Kings have four offensive talents that would make you crawl over your own grandmother, and then send your dog to live with Michael Vick to get your hands on.

Ok, I lied. And I crossed a line. I wouldn't send my dog to live with Michael Vick. I wouldn't even send my roommate's dog to live with Michael Vick. I like dogs. Don't send them to live with him.

But Brown, Kopitar, Frolov, and O'Sullivan are all ridiculously talented, and will be the backbone of this Kings team for years. The problem this year is depth; they don't have the depth up front to compete, while on defense and in net, they just aren't mature enough.

In other words, it may be another year spent in the Western Conference's basement.

On the other hand, if they get Tavares, I'm quitting the NHL. How do you spell Penguins/Caps vs. Kings in the final every season if that happens?

5th in the Pacific

 

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, and you can also read all of his previous work in his archives.

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