The THN road crew went down to London, Ont., Tuesday for an interview and photo shoot with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, which got me thinking about the state of Los Angeles hockey.
The Kings may have bowed out to Vancouver in an exciting first round series this past season, but in terms of team structure, they were one of the few squads that didn’t really need to do anything this summer.
Sure, there was some Russian prospect named Ilya Kovalchuk with whom they flirted on and off with, but other than that drawn-out drama, it has been a very low-key summer for GM Dean Lombardi. And rightly so.
Attrition in the Kings’ ranks was limited to veteran blueliner Sean O’Donnell (who signed with Philadelphia) and likely left winger Alexander Frolov – unsigned, but seemingly not in L.A.’s plans for 2010-11.
With Doughty himself coming off an electric 59-point sophomore campaign, the blueline looks pretty solid even without O’Donnell. Doughty loves playing with defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi, who brought his Stanley Cup ring with him from Pittsburgh last season, while Jack Johnson is a hard-hitting fan favorite who rang up 36 points of his own. Add in the solid Matt Greene as the fourth in the top four and you’re sitting pretty. As for a third pairing, Davis Drewiske had a nice rookie campaign, while prospects such as Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Alec Martinez and Viatcheslav Voynov will vie for consideration this time around.
The forwards boast a great mix of grit and scoring, and thanks to coach Terry Murray’s emphasis on defensive play when the team was still growing (see: bad) in 2008-09, know how to backcheck and play within his system. Centerpiece Anze Kopitar listened, as the coach told me back in December for a cover story on the Slovenian star.
“He bought in 100 percent and I really liked that buy-in from him,” Murray said. “He was on board with everything, 200 feet.”
In fact, you almost have to wonder how Kovalchuk would fit in with the Kings. Would he buy in for all 200 feet? He’s known for his sniping capabilities and though he was a point-per-game player for the New Jersey Devils in 27 regular season contests last year, that same structured Devils team got booted quick from the playoffs by Philadelphia.
Perhaps the Kings just needed to wait a year. The one new player expected to make a big impact is prospect goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who can ease some of Jonathan Quick’s burden. Quick set a franchise record for wins (39) last year, but burned out badly down the stretch. In fact, it was spot duty from Bernier that helped the Kings maintain their first playoff berth since 2001-02. Give Bernier 25 to 30 starts next season and things are looking pretty rosy.
I would put Washington in the same boat as L.A. Though the Capitals were obviously statistically ahead of the Kings last season (and everyone else for that matter, since they won the Presidents’ Trophy), the misstep of trusting goalie Jose Theodore again in the playoffs gave Montreal hope against Washington early and Semyon Varlamov couldn’t outduel Jaroslav Halak later on.
But with Theodore’s contract off the books, a tandem of Varlamov – who now has two seasons of playoff experience – and Michal Neuvirth gives Washington a better shot at glory in 2010-11. The only thing missing is depth at center, but prospect Marcus Johansson has been turning heads and when your No. 1 pivot, Nicklas Backstrom, is coming off a 101-point campaign, the worrying gets diffused a little.
Washington has also been quiet this summer, so despite all the hand wringing over free agency, sometimes all a team needs is time.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday.
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