Thursday, September 8, 2011

How I Would Line Up the LA Kings for the 2011-2012 Season

Barring any last minute additions, the Kings roster for next season is set. Despite a plethora of young talent down in Manchester, I think that the Kings really only add one rookie to the lineup this season – and even that may be wishful thinking on my part.. Next season, with more free agents perhaps leaving the Kings, will be their chance to shine, but for now, here’s how I would like to see the Kings lineup on October 7th, when they open the season – assuming Drew Doughty signs of course.

Line 1: Dustin Penner- Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
This line played together for a while last season after the trade that brought Dustin Penne to the Kings – and they looked pretty good. Once Williams then Kopitar went down with injuries, Penner was useless and looked lost out there. But I think he was a bounce back season – if for no other reason than because it’s a contract year and what he earns in the future depends on this year. Kopitar is money in the bank, and I expect him to have the best offensive season of his career – with two legit first line mates, and a backup center man to take the pressure off. Williams may very well be changed up with Brown at various points this season, but I like his skill set alongside these two more than Browns.

Line 2: Simon Gagne-Mike Richards-Dustin Brown
The two biggest offseason acquisitions – in Simon Gagne and Mike Richards – have already played together with much success in Philly, so they go together naturally. Dustin Brown adds even more physical play, and a nice scoring touch, to what should be one of the best second lines in the Western conference.

Line 3: Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll- Brad Richardson
This line has a little bit of everything in it. As a second line center, Stoll just didn’t quite cut it, but he should be great as the third liner, playing tough minutes, and taking key draws, and adding a little secondary offense.. Kyle Clifford adds defensive responsibility and a mean streak to the line, and Brad Richardson is a capable plug to fill out the line. It may not be flashy, but they’ll be fine.

Line 4: Scott Parse – Andrei Loktinov – Trevor Lewis
I really hope Terry Murray keeps Andrei Loktinov this year (he is the one rookie I mentioned), because he has so much skill, and it would be great for his development to spend the whole year with the big club. With three very capable two way center men in front of him, and the likelihood that he’ll play the least hard minutes of the bunch, Lotki could add some valuable secondary scoring – especially if he’s teamed with Scott Parse, who he matched well with in Manchester, and the speedy Trevor Lewis, who will still be on hand to kill penalties. After all, Stoll is UFA next year, and could easily fly the coop. It would be good to know what they really have in Lotki before that happens.

Extras: Ethan Moreau, Kevin Westgarth
Injured? Colin Fraser.
Call Up Possibilities: Andrei Loktinov, Brandon Kozun, Justin Azevedo, Dwight King, Linden Vey

Ethan Moreau was a late offseason signing, and he should provide some experience and leadership to the team. Having said that, he’s aging, and injury prone, so I wouldn’t count on him night after night. Facing a tough team, and want a little more sandpaper in the lineup? Throw him in. Otherwise, he’s the type of veteran the press box was made for – and at only $600,000 – it didn’t cost you much. As for Westgarth, I’ve made my opinion about one-dimensional goons clear over the years – I don’t like them and I wish the Kings didn’t have one. But Terry Murray is an old school coach, and he likes them, so he’s on the team. I’d rarely put him in the lineup – only when the other team has someone similar. Still, he should barely play.

The big question about the Kings’ lineup is Colin Fraser, who the Kings got in the Ryan Smyth deal, who turned out to be far more injured than the Kings thought he was. The Kings filed a grievance over the deal, and so far I’ve heard nothing, so either the decision hasn’t come down yet, or else no one is talking about it. Either way, I think Fraser remains a King. He may be injured when the season starts, meaning there will be room for Loktionov. However, if he isn’t, there isn’t room unless the Kings put Fraser on waivers and get rid of him, which they say they won’t do. Personally, I think Fraser is another one, like Moreau and Westgarth, who will spend significant time in the press box, even when healthy. But if he does come back healthy, it certainly makes it a lot harder for Lotki to get his chance – something I think he deserves.

As for call up possibilities, if he doesn’t make the big club, than Loktinov is the go to guy, as he was last year. If he does, then I really don’t know. The Kings used Oscar Moller last year, but he decided to return to his native Sweden this year – as did Manchester’s leading scoring Bud Holloway. Dwight King was used briefly, and did not perform well, but he’s a solid third or fourth line guy (last year, paired with Kopitar, he didn’t have it). Guys with more offense include Brandon Kozun, but he’s small, Justin Azevedo, but he’s small, and Linden Vey, but he’s small. In general, I think that with the Kings depth, few forward call ups will be made. After all, both Richardson and Lewis can slide over to center if need be, and Loktinov, Parse and Stoll could all fill top six roles. And with two healthy scratches already, I doubt many forwards from Manchester get a good look this year.

Pairing 1: Drew Doughty-Willie Mitchell
The number one pairing for most of last season, these two worked well together, and I there is no season to think they won’t do the same this season. Mitchell is the calm, steadying, stay at home guy and Doughty flashier, but also great defensively. They can play in all situations. Now just sign a damn contract Drew!

Pairing 2: Jack Johnson – Rob Scuderi
Jack Johnson has improved over the years, but he still needs a stay at home defensive stalwart like Scuderi to bail him out of trouble once in a while. Johnson has similar offensive skill as Doughty, but not the same defensive prowess. Scuderi is the calmest player I’ve ever seen out there – he never makes mistakes, and he helps to temper Johnson’s reckless impulses.

Pairing 3: Alec Martinez – Matt Greene
Personally, I would have tried to trade Matt Greene this offseason – with all the talent in Manchester on defense, he isn’t really needed. But he is still a solid, physical presence back there – a perfect third pairing guy. He just needs to be more disciplined. Alec Martinez proved he was the young defenseman from Manchester to beat last year, and loyalty is big for the Kings, so this is his spot to lose.

Extra: Davis Drewiskie
Call up Possibilities: Thomas Hickey, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov.
Drewiskie had his chance at the beginning of last season to show he was capable of being a day in, day out NHL defenseman – and he lost his spot to Martinez. So now, he fills the Peter Harrold role of d-man who sits for months at a time. In all honesty, I think if there are any major injuries to a defenseman this season, than the Kings will call up Thomas Hickey, Slava Voynov or Jake Muzzin, who are young and skilled enough that the Kings don’t want them sitting all the time, to fill the void, but Drewiskie will get the odd game.

Goalie 1: Jonathan Quick
Goalie 2: Jonathan Bernier
Call Up Possibility: Martin Jones.
Last season was Jonathan Bernier’s rookie year, and many thought that by the end of the season, he would have stolen Jonathan Quick’s starting job. But two things made that not happen – one is that Bernier struggled early in the season (the second half was pretty great though), and the other was that Quick played brilliantly for the Kings. He was arguably their MVP last season – and unlike the previous year, he didn’t burn out, and also played very well in the playoffs. But now that Bernier has his confidence up, Quick does have to watch his back. Any stumble could be all Bernier needs to take the job from him. The situation will eventually have to be resolved – with one of the two of them traded – but right now, they seem to get along just fine, and both are signed for another two years at very reasonable rates, so that time hasn’t come yet. The Kings do have an AHL All star in Martin Jones, and a few very good goalie prospects in Junior, but all will need more seasoning before they get to the NHL – unless an injury makes it necessary.

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