Although a team must perform as a whole, I’d like to break down expectations for each player this coming season. These are what I feel will be unspoken benchmarks the organization will expect each player to reach over a full season of play. To be completely clear, these are not predictions. Of course, injuries, suspensions, line-juggling, and all sorts of things happen that affect a players output. These expectations are to give you an idea of what these players are capable of and ready to produce.
So without further ado…
Anze Kopitar – Kopi doesn’t wear the “C” but he’s the leader of this team offensively. He carried the team at the beginning of the 09-10 campaign with a hot streak that placed him at the top of the league in scoring for a few weeks. During the Kings franchise record 9 game win streak Kopitar was lights out. Kopi might see a revolving door of linemates this coming season, but if he can rekindle his chemistry with Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth then this team will be in good shape. A 90 point season for Kopi isn’t a stretch at all. Expectations: 35 goals, 85 points.
Ryan Smyth – To reiterate, these expectations are based on a full season. I’ll admit right now I’m not particularly confident I can expect that from Smyth. He’s on the precipice of decline but the Kings are hoping he can summon his inner Chelios and stay relevant for a few more years. If he can put in 82 games and go to the net the way he has over his career, then he can provide the Kings with a decent top line player with experience to boot. Expectations: 25 goals, 60 points.
Justin Williams – There’s the part of me that remembers the Justin Williams on the Hurricanes from 05-07, then there’s the part that has witnessed the oft injured and rarely productive Williams. The vexing thing about Williams situation is that many of his injuries are not his fault, such as his freak Achilles tendon injury. However, I’m talking about a full season with the guy and to be honest, I don’t see him staying on the top line all season. Expectations: 15 goals, 50 points.
Jarret Stoll – Stoll is another difficult player to assess. I know he has persistent arthritis problems but I’m not sure to what extent. By default, most hockey players are incredibly vague about injuries and this situation is no different. I’m not confident that Stoll will consistently put up numbers in the range of his career high of 22 goals, 68 points (those numbers coming in the notoriously overblown post-lockout season). However, given his numbers so far and his relatively young age of 28, Stoll has the potential to contribute more than he did last season. He has a heavy shot and can play the point on the powerplay. Those two factors alone say he can do more. Expectations: 20 goals, 50 points.
Alexei Ponikarovsky – In the past 5 seasons Ponikarovsky has scored no less than 18 goals (coming in 66 games, in 07-08) and no more than 23 (in 08-09). Deductive reasoning would suggest his ceiling could be much higher since 477 of his 493 games were played on a talent deprived Toronto lineup. However, Poni only managed 2 goals in 16 games on Sidney Crosby’s line. One could chalk up the lack of production in Pittsburgh to either poor chemistry or just too little time to get into the Pittsburgh system. Ponikarovsky is a big body that can eclipse a goaltender on the powerplay, which should contribute a few points to his total. Expectations: 25 goals, 25 assists, go to the net!
Dustin Brown – While Kopitar is the offensive leader, Brown is the team leader. He may be young but he is mature beyond his years and proved last year that he was ready to wear the “C”. In terms of numbers, Brown brings a lot more than goal and assists. He’s a valuable all around player that is a solid top-6 guy. Expectations: 25 goals, 30 assists, 300 hits.
Michal Handzus – Zus really became a fan favorite last season. The man is humble, quiet, and gets the job done. He was a valuable offensive contributor despite the fact that he was on the 3rd line all season. His veteran leadership is invaluable and he fits the mold of a two-way, 3rd line center that can help shutdown the other team’s top line and also provide scoring. Expectations: 20 goals, 20 assists, solid on the PK, net-front presence on the PP.
Wayne Simmonds – Simmonds was a highly sought after player going all the way back to the trade deadline. He’s the type of player every teams needs; he scores, fights, kills penalties, and doesn’t know the word “quit.” Simmonds is a top-6 guy in the making, but last season showed he has some work to do. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Simmonds flanking Kopitar before season’s end, but for now he gives the Kings a solid shutdown line next to Handzus. Expectations: 20 goals, 25 assists, solid all around play.
Brad Richardson – I’m not entirely sure where Richardson fits into the Kings’s plans. Brad has voiced that he wants to be on a scoring line, but the team doesn’t exactly have confidence that he can handle that role. The 3rd line might be ideal for a guy like him who boasts some scoring skill but also endless hustle. He only managed 27 points last season, however he didn’t tally a point for the first 26 games of the season. Taking that into consideration, Brad could put up 40 points for the Kings. If he centers the 4th line, that total will go down substantially. Expectations: 15 goals, 15 assists, tenacious on the forecheck.
Scott Parse – Parse impressively put up 24 points, including 11 goals, in 59 games of limited ice-time. Also impressive was his plus-13 rating. Parse has top-6 skill, but needs to refine the all-around aspects of his game before he can take on that kind of role. The team has shown some confidence in him, signing him to a two-year contract this summer. A full year on the 3rd line or higher could net Parse with decent numbers and maybe a larger role on the team. Expectations: 15 goals, 20 assists.
Notes – As you can see, that’s only 10 forwards. The 4th line is very much up for grabs and the Kings will have their hands full trying to figure out who deserves to be there. Rich Clune, Kyle Clifford, Kevin Westgarth, Marc-Andre Cliche, and Trevor Lewis are all viable candidates. Not to mention guys like Oscar Moller, Brayden Schenn, and Andrei Loktionov who are all capable of playing 3rd line roles or higher if there were space. It’s crowded company and should make for a very competitive camp.
Drew Doughty - After being nominated for a Norris Trophy as a 20 year-old, Doughty certainly has set the bar high. He’s a complete defenseman who can handle his business at both ends of the ice. His defensive game is solid and his offensive contributions are undeniable. With a stronger defense core around him Doughty should improve from his stellar sophomore season. Expectations: 20 goals, 65 points, plus-20.
Rob Scuderi – “The Piece” is a perfect complement to Doughty. He didn’t manage a single goal last season, but that isn’t an area where Scuds shines. His plus-16 playing against the leagues top-lines night in, night out speaks for itself. From Scuderi, the Kings expect more of the same. Expectations: plus-20.
Jack Johnson – It’s a huge year for Johnson. He’s due for a new contract at the end of the season which should give him motivation to play his best. Johnson had a rough start last season, bottoming out at a minus-18 if memory serves, not to mention a flare up with the Kings GM after Lombardi’s comments about Johnson’s former coach at Michigan, Red Berenson. Johnson and Lombardi mended that bridge and after the Olympics Johnson was much improved. If he can carry that pace for a full 82 he should have a career year. Expectations: 12 goals, 45 points, plus-5.
Willie Mitchell – It seems redundant to say it since I am basing these expectations off an 82 game season, but the biggest expectation of Willie is 82 games. The biggest question about Mitchell coming into the fray was, “Is he healthy?” Mitchell went out of his way to show he is ready to play, but what happens when he takes that first hit, or gets clipped in the head? Another concussion would not bode well for Mitchell or the Kings. If healthy, Willie will provide invaluable leadership, a great stick, and solid defensive play for the Kings. He should help their 5-on-5 goal differential by keeping points off the board for the opposition, rather than putting them on for the Kings. Remember, he’s a career plus-82. Expectations: 5 goals, 12 assists, veteran presence, plus-12.
Matt Greene – Kings fans know Greene isn’t going to score a bunch of goals or make a sweet pass. Greene is the guy who will rough up the competition in the corners, give some well-timed face-washes after the whistle, and block a shot with his face. His biggest responsibility this season will be mentoring the Kings 6th defenseman who will most likely be a rookie. If Matt and the newbie can gel quickly, the Kings will have a very solid collection of defensemen. Expectations: leadership, physical defense.
Sixth Defenseman – I fully expect this role to be filled by a rookie. Candidates are Thomas Hickey, Jake Muzzin, Vyacheslav Voynov, Johan Fransson, Davis Drewiske, and Alec Martinez with Muzzin and Hickey likely leading the pack. Too much burden shouldn’t be placed on the 6th defenseman, just solid play in their own end with minimal mistakes. Muzzin and Hickey could provide some offense as well if given the role. Expectations: Solid play in their own end.
Peter Harrold – I’m listing Harrold after the slot for 6th defenseman because I expect Harrold to remain the 7th defenseman. I don’t see the Kings expecting Harrold to develop into anything more. He’s well suited for a role as a utility defenseman who can step in if a player is injured or benched, and is versatile enough to play as a defenseman or a forward. Expectations: Solid utility play.
Notes – With Greene recovering from surgery to start off the season, the door is open for another youngster to compete for a spot with the big club. I have the feeling the Kings would rather have an experienced guy like Harrold take that other vacancy though. And of course there are always training camp tryouts…
Jonathan Quick – Quick almost hit 40 wins last season, even with not-so-spectacular numbers. He may not be a top class talent in net but there’s no quit in Quick. The problem with Quick last season was simply that the Kings overplayed him. By the time the playoffs started he was burnt out. It’s highly unlikely the Kings play him more than 70 games. I’d venture to guess he sees more like 60-65 games. Behind an improved team and with a full year as a starter under his belt, Quick should be solid once again. Expectations: 35+ wins (though probably not 40).
Jonathan Bernier – Bernier saw 3 starts last season and went home with a ‘W’ in all of them. He’s the heir apparent to the Kings crease and many expect him to challenge Quick for the starter position. If Quick hangs onto the job, Bernier should see around 20 starts. Expectations: 10+ wins, challenge Quick for the #1 job.
Erik Ersberg – I fully expect Ersberg to either be moved or play in Manchester next season. He’s a solid NHL backup, but the NHL is stocked with keepers and Ersberg might be a victim of the surplus. Expectations: play in Manchester, waived/traded/loaned to Europe.
The Kings have all the pieces to have a great season, and with a lot of returning faces the chemistry should be good from the start. Their offense is about the same, their defense is improved, and goaltending should be better as well. If the Kings happen to add any more pieces before the season, expectations for the team as a whole will only go up. They’re expected to be contenders, so the pressure will be on to prove that they are just that.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney