It’s fairly evident that the Kings made improvements through their off-season moves this summer. I will go further and qualify this with “on paper”, so as to not rile up anyone adamant that the Kings will still be worse than their favorite team next season. That said, the off-season additions have excited Kings fans and have us asking, “Is it October?”
However, one of the things we can’t really track on paper is whether the Kings will have chemistry with so many new components. I expect there to be a feeling out process at the start of the season, which will be new since the Kings usually storm out of the gate, then level off after about 12 games. Yet, if the Kings are improved overall, then a slow start shouldn’t be a problem as long the chemistry is there.
Let’s look at it line for line.
Penner – Kopitar – Williams
No new guys here, although Penner was only with the team for a handful of games and didn’t have such a great showing. However, Penner’s best games and most of his points came with Kopitar in the lineup. Couple that with Penner’s commitment to the Kings’ fitness standards and his apparent loss of 10 lbs. already this summer and the prospects look good for the first line.
Kopitar and Williams have always had good chemistry, so it’s safe to expect that to continue.
Gagne – Richards – Brown
Big changes here on the second line. Out is Stoll (to the third line) and in is Mike Richards. Richards is an improvement all around and better suited for a second line role than Stoll is. Out is Smyth and in is Simon Gagne. Gagne is faster, younger, and a more natural goal scorer. Gagne is also more injury prone, but as far as chemistry goes, Gagne and Richards have a leg up since they’ve played together in Philadelphia. On top of that, both are familiar with Coaches Terry Murray and Jon Stevens.
So, in an odd way, Dustin Brown is the odd man out. However, Brown is used to the Terry Murray shuffle, so new line mates are old hat. The combination of a playmaker in Richards (43 assists last season), a sniper in Gagne (7 time 20-goal scorer, 40+ goals twice), and a power forward in Brown (top-3 in hits in every season since it became an official stat) should be a versatile and deadly line. Or maybe I just play too many video games.
Parse/Stoll – Stoll/Loktionov – Parse/Richardson/Toffoli/Lewis
This will be an entirely new line. Handzus is out and replaced by Stoll, most likely. Handzus was a strong penalty killer and saw lots of time against the opposing team’s top-line. Stoll has the defensive capability to handle that task and the offensive ability to be a two-way threat.
Outside of Stoll, it’s hard to guess who will be on the third line. Simmonds and Ponikarovsky are gone, and both were fairly big components of a tough third line to match up with. The Kings new third line will make up for what they lost in size (an average height of 6’3″) with speed.
Scott Parse has received tons of praise for his offensive skill, but Kings fans have only seen it in limited patches due to injury. Parse was arguably the Kings best option at 1st line left wing last season, albeit for just 5 games. Hopefully Parse can stay healthy and use this year to prove he belongs on a scoring line.
As for right wing, it’s a harder question to answer. Maybe it’s Richardson, who is serviceable at all forward positions and always plays hard. Maybe Loktionov plays center, where he is best suited, and Stoll plays left wing and takes some draws, and Parse plays right wing. Maybe Toffoli blows everyone out of the water and makes the squad out of camp. Maybe Lewis, proving to be a Brad Richardson-esque player, continues to improve and lands the third line role.
It will be an important task for the coaching staff to create a third line that is a line and not a rotating group of three. The Kings had great success last season and the third line played a huge role contributing to the excellent team-defense.
My confidence in the top 2 lines has grown this summer, but the third line gives me pause for concern.
Clifford – Richardson/Lewis – Westgarth
We saw this fourth line in different variations over the course of last season, so chemistry doesn’t concern me too much. Clifford instantly became a fan favorite with his penchant to drop the mitts, and even contribute some offense as well. If his play improves he could be a candidate for promotion, however if he remains the same player he’ll be perfectly suited for the fourth line.
Richardson or Lewis would have no problem playing fourth line center. Both have offensive capabilities, but most importantly they have a dogged, grinding style.
Kevin Westgarth will be interesting to watch this season. He’s a heavyweight, but he also took more punches than he landed. He won’t be much of an enforcer from the press box, so he’ll need to improve his fighting and his decision making when it comes to choosing dance partners. Westgarth showed improved all around play in the playoffs last season, so optimism isn’t out of line.
All in all:
The Kings appear to be an improved team, especially in the area of goal scoring, which was a problem all of last season. If the Kings defense stay intact, which I am pretty sure it will (I’m looking at you Drew Doughty and Don Meehan), the team as a whole looks quite dangerous.
So, is it October? Go Kings!
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