With LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reporting that the Los Angeles Kings have re-signed left winger Dwight King to a three-year, $5.85 million deal, L.A. has solidified its balance up front as it prepares to defend its Stanley Cup.
Head coach Darryl Sutter can roll three dependable scoring lines if he so chooses, which makes him the envy of bench bosses around the league.
King is by no means a game-breaker, but the 25-year-old has proven himself as a useful complementary piece during the Kings’ recent surge to the NHL’s elite. His puck-possession and forechecking abilities are vital to the bottom six’s effectiveness, and his development hasn't yet plateaued.
Sure, general manager Dean Lombardi would prefer a bit more salary-cap latitude. CapGeek.com indicates the club is sitting $208,106 beneath the ceiling at present with a full 23-man roster.
However, keeping King in the fold at a palatable salary and term was without question the right decision.
Picked 109th overall in 2007, King was brought along slowly by the organization. Big forwards often require a few years to learn how to leverage their size and reach, and this was certainly the case with King.
The 6’4”, 230-pounder produced well in major junior and the AHL. When he first cracked the NHL, his frame and knack for board battles were enticing qualities.
With that said, he lacked consistency, alternating between sterling and subpar efforts in the trenches.
That changed in 2013-14, when King was consistently a solid presence in the corners, shielding the puck away from opponents and taking nearly perfect angles on the forecheck.
His possession metrics reflected that improvement, as his 58.5 Corsi percentage represented the highest mark of his career, and he also registered the first positive relative Corsi percentage (plus-2.0) of his Kings tenure.
Those hoping he’ll one day flip the switch and become a bulldozer will be disappointed. His physicality is more utilitarian than bruising, leaning on the other team in order to prolong shifts in the offensive zone and nip breakouts in the bud.
Against the Ottawa Senators, King demonstrated his value.
As the puck circles the wall behind goaltender Craig Anderson’s net, defenseman Cody Ceci has the inside position on King. The hulking forward embarrasses his counterpart by hustling to the point of attack, tying up Ceci’s stick, pivoting with control to his forehand and feeding Jeff Carter for a goal that materialized out of virtually nothing:
Against the Vancouver Canucks, King gets the better of Kevin Bieksa twice. After forcing him into a poor decision with his forecheck, No. 74 then fends off the blueliner on the cycle and centers the puck in one fell swoop to an open Mike Richards:
It isn't the flashiest approach, but he has a penchant for smothering the opposition and disrupting its puck movement.
Moreover, he does so while maintaining great discipline. He drew 10 calls while only committing nine penalties in 2013-14.
At present, King may be the team’s most versatile winger, capable of playing up and down the lineup without any drop-off in performance.
Last season, he saw time with Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll, Richards and Carter as his centers—and he was always effective despite the shake-ups. His goals-for percentage was 57.7 (seventh on the team), and he posted career bests in goals (15) as well as points (30).
At five-on-five, his 24 points ranked fourth among all Kings.
He added 11 points in 26 playoff contests on the road to L.A.'s second championship in three years.
Though Hockey-Reference.com indicates that his highest point-per-game average was reached in his rookie year (14 points in 27 games), he’s a considerably better overall player in 2014.
King has refined his positioning to such a vast degree that he’s now a trusted penalty-killer who can also be deployed in a shutdown capacity at even strength. His active stick and smart reads allow him to cover a lot of ground, and he’s deceptively quick for his size.
On the attack, he’s improved by leaps and bounds where screening the goaltender is concerned. When he puts his mind to it, he’s a downright immovable object in front of the net.
Take a look at Ryan McDonagh’s futile attempt to box him out during the Stanley Cup Final:
Above all else, King is just a beast down low. Any unit he finds himself on immediately reaps the rewards, as he hounds the puck and spends far more time in the offensive end than his own. This offers linemates more cracks at scoring chances and a firmer control of the game’s tempo.
Quiet facilitators of this sort are typically unheralded, but they’re crucial in L.A.’s team-first, close-checking hockey.
Established sniper Marian Gaborik and high-ceiling youngster Tanner Pearson should man the left wing on the first and second lines, respectively, next season.
As such, King should slot into the third unit opposite Justin Williams.
Though the Conn Smythe Trophy winner is also a puck-possession forward, the pair meshes well because King is the safety valve to Williams’ high-wire act. While the lauded playoff performer dips and darts to create separation in tight areas, the soon-to-be fourth-year pro acts as the line’s conscience, displaying sound positioning to keep plays alive or limit the damage of turnovers.
In Game 5 of the SCF, the Kings open the score thanks to yeoman’s work from King.
First, he chases down a dump-in and places the puck into an area Justin Williams can enter with possession. Then he tracks a rebound and soaks up the attention of two or three New York Rangers, leaving Williams alone to sneak a backhand under Henrik Lundqvist:
King and Williams generally tend to own more of the puck than their opponents. In an ideal world, they would flank a pivot who can generate opportunities from their extended possessions.
Stoll is a fine third-line center, but his offensive upside is limited. Over the past three seasons, he’s amassed 66 points in 204 games (27 points per 82 games). For all his contributions—especially in the faceoff circle—he wouldn't allow the top nine to maximize its potency.
With Carter likely to anchor the second unit, Mike Richards becomes the best candidate to center King and Williams. Despite nagging health troubles, he's registered 117 points in the past 204 contests (47 points per 82 games).
The King-Richards-Williams trio saw some shifts together in the postseason and trounced the opposition.
In Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, the line operates as a well-oiled machine. King drives a lane through the heart of Chicago’s defense and prevents Brent Seabrook from making a play on the loose puck. Richards pounces on it, fakes a pass and cleverly dishes into traffic for a Williams marker:
The two-way leader’s vision and quick-strike tendencies appear to be tailor-made foils to King and Williams’ more measured approaches. He’d offer the cutting edge to their steady buildup play.
Even more tantalizing is the fact that Richards is surely looking to redeem himself after a poor 2013-14.
Beyond previous chemistry, the group makes sense on paper. Williams and Richards can play off each other as possession-based and lightning-in-a-bottle forwards. Meanwhile, King’s all-around fundamentals and impressive size fill in the blanks. He’s more skilled than he gets credit for too.
His combination of power and soft hands yielded a beautiful tally against the San Jose Sharks last year. King effortlessly shrugs Justin Braun aside before dangling Marc-Edouard Vlasic and passing to Carter for a highlight-reel play:
Conversely, most of the Kings' remaining bottom-sixers are stone-handed grinders (Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan) who seldom chip in on the attack.
King is superior to them in terms of the cycle game, transition, instincts and production. Retaining him for the next three seasons ensures the possibility of a fearsome, three-pronged stable of scoring lines during that span.
Icing Richards, Williams and King together behind Kopitar, Gaborik, Carter, Pearson, Toffoli and Dustin Brown would make for an intimidating roster.
Granted, L.A. routinely struggles on offense during the season, and this revised lineup might not circumvent that issue altogether. However, the newish configuration could mitigate the woes and get the ball rolling early for higher-stakes tilts in the spring.
Talent, grit, puck possession and creativity on three forward lines would create matchup problems for every single team in the NHL. Sutter would be remiss not to start the 2014-15 campaign in this fashion.
Lombardi has maintained his solid offseason with this latest contract.
A towering, adaptable, 25-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion coming off his strongest season to date is certainly worth $1.95 million per season.
Furthermore, James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail suggests the cap will only continue to rise for the foreseeable future, giving the Kings much-needed leeway down the line. Already a fair proposition, King’s deal could become a real bargain in a year or two.
Sutter knows he can rely on him at even strength and on the penalty kill, and there’s still room to grow on offense—consistently lining up next to Richards and Williams wouldn't hurt in that respect.
With King locked up for the duration of L.A.’s current championship window, the team has the forward depth in place to extend its string of deep postseason runs.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Extra Skater.