"I'm not kidding, it feels like midseason," veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell told NHL.com after the Kings' 75-minute practice Thursday, their final on-ice workout of the 2011 preseason. The club begins the regular season here at Globe Arena with a 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere game Friday against the New York Rangers (1 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN).
The Kings made some major moves this summer -- most notably adding Mike Richards and Simon Gagne to the forward ranks -- with the hopes of becoming more of a player in the Western Conference. Much of the preseason, which included an earlier stop in Hamburg, Germany, was spent trying to mesh the newcomers into the fold.
"It was a training camp where I had to get a lot of (repetitions) in with a lot of players and a lot of different looks," coach Terry Murray said. "Richards and Gagne coming in, Dustin Brown on the right side -- there's a chemistry there I am looking for. (Anze) Kopitar missing the end of the year last year and (Jason) Williams coming back from a serious injury, we wanted to get those guys some reps so confidence, maybe as much as chemistry, would kick in quickly.
"We have a good team -- on paper. But we have to work at our system. If we do that, we have a shot at what we all play the game for -- the Stanley Cup. We feel we can compete for that, so we are excited. We're looking forward to it and we feel we have a chance at it and you can feel the excitement through our team." -- Willie Mitchell
Do the players all sense those signs as they finally hurtle toward the first of 82 contests that will determine if the moves made will pay the proper dividends?
"We have a good team -- on paper," Mitchell told NHL.com. "But we have to work at our system. If we do that, we have a shot at what we all play the game for -- the Stanley Cup. We feel we can compete for that, so we are excited. We're looking forward to it and we feel we have a chance at it and you can feel the excitement through our team."
That excitement will be on display Friday, as Richards and Gagne make their much-anticipated debuts.
Both players insist they have been absorbed into the team's locker room culture and each is excited to start the latest chapters in their career.
In fact, Richards believes the Kings' nomadic preseason has accelerated the bonding process.
"It couldn't have happened at a better time, right at the beginning of the year," Richards told NHL.com. "You get to know your teammates a bit better because you spend more time than you would if you were at home. We definitely put on a lot of miles, but it was good for us as a team."
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That is the belief in the locker room, where the players feel this edition of the Kings is not only new, but improved.
"There's quite a few things that are different with the L.A. Kings," Murray said. "First of all, personnel-wise, (with the) new additions, we're more experienced. We have now been in playoffs for two years in a row. That's the stuff I can't teach. I can talk about it, but the players have to walk that walk. They have gone through it for a couple of years now and that is valuable to the confidence going in. Knowing what it takes to get there is critical. There will not be any surprises."
However, that's a double-edged sword, says Mitchell. He has been around a few teams in his career and he looks in this dressing room and he sees a collection of players that could come together and cause some major problems for other Western Conference teams. But he also knows that other teams in the conference are seeing the same things he sees.
Mitchell points out the fact that the team has three lines that can score, grit throughout the lineup, veteran depth on defense and a 1-1A combo in goal with Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.
"It's just on paper," Mitchell said. "We have to put it together. But when management goes out and gets those (new) players, why do they do it? Because they feel the core group around here is ready for that next step.
"When they do that, as players you start to have that little extra swagger. It's like when anyone believes in you as a person, you feel good. Management went out and said, 'Hey we believe in you guys and think you are ready for that next step.'"
Starting Friday, the Kings begin a process they hope will reward the faith of team management.
"It is time to get to business and play the game the right way, be real professional, dig in and do the right stuff," Murray said.