I’m going to avoid calling this a “season preview” as I think I share the belief of most Kings fans that Dean Lombardi will make at least one more move this offseason that will alter the starting lineup. Instead I’ll take a look at the current team to try to identify what I believe are the strengths and weaknesses.
Top 6: Right now the top 6 forwards of the Kings appears to be Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams. Micheal Handzus and newly signed Alexei Ponikarovsky could also push for playing time on the top 2 lines, depending on their production. Last year the Kings were tied for 9th in 5 on 5 goal scoring ratio at 1.07, tied with Pittsburgh. They were 7th in the league on the power play scoring the 5th most PP goals in the league with 64.
But their 5 on 5 scoring ratio is misleading and this is where the Kings biggest concern comes to light. In 2009-2010 the Kings only scored 145 goals 5 on 5, tied for 19th in the NHL. This is why Kings fans were so keen on signing Ilya Kovalchuk and why Dean Lombardi dedicated so much of the early part of July to doing just that.
So the question remains, where will the Kings get 5 on 5 scoring if they don’t have a top sniper like Kovalchuk? Barring a late offseason acquisition the answer is going to have to be that one of the top 6 is going to have to contribute more.
The Kings were led last year by Kopitar with 34 goals and 81 points and it’s reasonable to expect at least similar numbers this year from him. It’s even possible that Kopitar has further development in his future and a 40+ goal, 90+ point season would be a real shot in the arm for the Kings. After Kopitar there was a noticeable drop off in production with most of the rest of the top 6 contributing around 20-25 goals and 40-60 points.
The key to the Kings season may well be Justin Williams. Can he stay healthy? Can he return to his 30+ goal form he showed in Carolina? If the answer to both questions is “yes” the Kings are in good shape.
The Best Of The Rest: After the top 6 forwards guys like Handzus, Ponikarovsky, and Richardson appear to have regular spots on the team sewn up. Beyond those guys there are a lot of questions and a lot of young forwards. Who makes the Kings out of training camp? Brayden Schenn? Trevor Lewis? Richard Clune? Scott Parse? Oscar Moller? Cory Elkins? Kyle Clifford? Andrei Loktionov? And the list could go on and on. If I were a betting man I’d say right now the “4th line” will be made up of Clune, Lewis, and Parse with Moller and Clifford making the team as backups.
Schenn is a top prospect that most Kings fans will be watching, but I think it’s much more likely he’ll be in Manchester this season. A dark horse to make the team could be Loktionov, who has always been high on the list of Kings fans as a prospect to watch.Defense:
Right now the question of who will be the Kings “top 4” defenseen seems to be the most debated subject among Kings fans. Sure, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson appear to have their spots locked down in the top 2 pairings, but who will be their compliments? I predict the top 4 will be Doughty & recently signed Willie Mitchell as the first pair, then Jack Johnson & Rob Scuderi as the 2nd pair. This way the Kings have an offensive defenseman paired with a stay at home anchor type guy. When Matt Greene returns from his offseason shoulder surgery could well take a top 4 spot, probably dropping Scuderi to the 3rd pairing.
Competition for the final 2 defensive slots will probably be hot and heavy in training camp. Among the contenders will be Davis Drewiske, Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Viatcheslav Voynov, Alec Martinez, & Peter Harrold. Drewiske & Harrold have the most NHL experience, but I have a feeling Martinez and Hickey will make strong bids to make the team in September.Goaltenders:
While the Kings are very deep at the goaltender position there are still many questions in the minds of Kings fans. Is the starting job Jonathan Quick’s to lose? Will Jonathon Bernier make the jump from the AHL where he had a stellar season last year to the NHL? If so what happens to Erik Ersberg? Plus there’s Jeff Zatkoff and Martin Jones, among others, who could make these questions even tougher to answer.
Quick had a great season last year and according to coach Terry Murray the starting goalie this year for the Kings will indeed by Jon Quick. Last year Quick set franchise records for games played in a season (72) and wins in a season (39), but he appeared to tire down the stretch last year and never got that elusive 40th win. Plus he was selected as one of Team USA’s backups for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Bernier picked up the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the best goalie in the AHL for 2009-2010. He went 30-21-6 with a 2.03 GAA and a .936 save percentage for the Manchester Monarchs, leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual Calder Cup champion Hersey Bears.
Zatkoff also had a good season in Manchester posting a 10-9-0 record with a 2.92 GAA and a .915 save percentage. I expect Zatkoff to remain in Manchester to fight for the starting job there with whomever doesn’t make the Kings.
Jones finished his 4th season with the WHL Calgary Hitmen posting a 36-11-1 record with a 2.21 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He picked up 6 honors playing for Calgary leading them to a WHL championship and to the CHL Memorial Cup semifinals. Plus he also won the silver medal for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
If I were a betting man I’d say Quick remains the starting goalie for the Kings with Bernier as his backup. Ersberg will most likely be traded for a player/pick/prospect as I don’t believe he can be sent to the AHL without passing through waivers (although I’m not sure about this). If he is waived I think the Kings expect another team to claim him. Assuming Ersberg does somehow depart the team then it will probably be Zatkoff & Jones as the tandem in Manchester.Team Overview:
The Kings are still a very good, very deep, young team that appear to have all the pieces in place to at least replicate their 2009-2010 season when they earned 101 points and finished 6th in the Western Conference. If things break right for this team I think they could finish 4th or 5th in the conference and may even challenge San Jose for the Pacific Division title.