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And The Winner Is...

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
On the evening of June 20, the NHL’s best of the best will be in Las Vegas -- playoff beards shorn, wearing tuxedos -- for the league’s annual awards ceremony. Who will take home the top prizes? Two years ago, Drew Doughty was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy. This year, Jonathan Quick has received strong support for the Vezina Trophy, and Anze Kopitar’s name has popped up on longer lists for the Selke Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy. Most trophies are voted on by the media -- general managers vote for the Vezina -- who are charged with identifying the league’s best. If the trophies were only limited to the Kings, though, who would win? Putting aside the trophies for which there wouldn’t be a lot of competition -- we’ll assume it’s Quick for the Vezina and Darryl Sutter for the Jack Adams

-- here is one look at who would be getting the votes for the hardware...

1. Jonathan Quick
This is an award for the player ``adjusted to be the most valuable to his team.’’ Is there any question? On a team that ranked 29th in the NHL in scoring, and was dead last for a significant period of the season, the Kings would not have been a playoff team without Jonathan Quick. He deserves more consideration for the NHL’s Hart Trophy than he is receiving. It’s not just that Quick was good in almost every game he played this season. It’s that he was good while knowing that, on many nights, if he allowed two goals, he was going to lose the game. That’s enormous pressure for a goalie. Quick was a good teammate who never lashed out during the Kings’ offensive struggles. More importantly to the Kings, he was a good goalie.

2. Anze Kopitar
It’s easy to forget now, but this season started with some questions about Anze Kopitar. He was coming off massive ankle surgery. Would he be 100 percent for the start of the season? Would he be the same effective player? Yes. Kopitar reached the 25-goal mark for the fifth consecutive season and set a new career-high with 51 assists. He still goes through baffling periods of scoring droughts, which have prevented him from being recognized as an elite player, but down the stretch, with the Kings fighting for a playoff spot, Kopitar was quite good

3. Willie Mitchell
The Kings didn’t ask Willie Mitchell to do much this season. Only to play 22 minutes per game. Oh, and lead the penalty-kill unit. And step in on the power play. And serve as an on-ice mentor for rookie defenseman Slava Voynov. Mitchell is smart, dependable and rarely makes big mistakes. Given the Kings’ offensive struggles this season, the defensemen had to lead the way, and Mitchell shone brightest. His penalty-kill skills have been long known, but at times this season he stepped onto the power-play unit and made a positive impact with his heavy, accurate shot. He’s also a positive presence in the locker room.

1. Willie Mitchell
For all the reasons above, Mitchell is the hands-down winner. Nobody knew quite what to think when Mitchell arrived two summers ago as a free agent. He was coming off a devastating concussion, and there were legitimate questions about whether he would even be able to complete his two-year contract with the Kings. Those two years went even better than the Kings could have imagined, and they were more than happy to sign him to a two-year extension this season. Mitchell, who turns 35 this month, is the Kings’ oldest player, but playing big minutes didn’t seem to have a negative impact on him.

2. Drew Doughty
The criticism that Drew Doughty takes is centered around two things:
one, the fact that he was a Norris Trophy finalist two years ago, and two, that he signed a massive contract just before the start of the season. The criticism, among his critics, centers around the idea that Doughty should be more developed by now and that he should be doing more for a $7-million player. Fair enough. Most people would look at Doughty and expect more, and that’s fair. But to suggest he is any type of a ``bust’’ is laughable. Try to make a list of 22-year-old NHL defensemen who are playing 25 minutes per game, in all situations, on a playoff team. Doughty didn’t meet expectations this season, but he’s still a solid all-around defenseman.

3. Slava Voynov
The Kings were not unhappy with Slava Voynov when they assigned him to the AHL at the end of training camp. Not at all. The only ``problem’’
was that the Kings already had three solid puck-moving defensemen -- Doughty, Jack Johnson and Alec Martinez -- and it wasn’t going to do Voynov any good to be a healthy scratch in the NHL. The trade for Jeff Carter is credited with saving the Kings’ season, and the only reason the Kings felt comfortable making that trade is because they knew they had Voynov to replace Johnson. The drop-off has been very slight, if there’s been any drop-off at all. Voynov has excelled.

1. Slava Voynov
Once again, picking up where we left off, Voynov is the clear winner of this award, and he has the potential to be even better. Only 22 years old, Voynov has the intelligence and instincts to be an impact defenseman at the NHL level. The one area he can improve is strength.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, Voynov is never going to be a bruising defenseman, but the Kings’ coaches have worked with him about using his stick better and about using the strength he does have to put himself in better position in battles. Voynov can’t afford to get knocked off the puck. With a regular amount of maturity, he will definitely be a keeper.

2. Dwight King
Last season, after Dwight King returned to the AHL following a six-game midseason stint with the Kings, there were basically shrugs all around. King didn’t look terrible, but he also didn’t do much to suggest that he would be back in the NHL any time soon. Based on that, expectations were fairly low when King returned to the Kings in mid-February. In many ways, he has looked like a different player.
More assertive and confident, King seemed to find some instant chemistry with Mike Richards. King isn’t afraid to use his big body in the corners. He’s a smart player and he has showed impressive hands around the net at times.

3. Jordan Nolan
The Kings used a seventh-round pick on Jordan Nolan in 2009. At that point in the draft, teams are typically looking at ``projects,’’
longshots who, if they make it to the NHL, are seen as bonuses. Away from the spotlight, Nolan made steady but consistent improvement during his first two years in the Kings’ system. Early this season, there were whispers that Nolan might actually be an NHL player. He has proved that to be true. Called up along with King in mid-February, Nolan has fit nicely onto the fourth line. He moves well for his size
-- 6-foot-3, 227 pounds -- and doesn’t fight a lot but should develop into a physical deterrent.

1. Anze Kopitar
This award is given to the ``player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.’’ It fits Anze Kopitar quite well.
Kopitar isn’t afraid to use his large frame in battles in the corners or along the boards, but he has never been considered a cheap player and doesn’t deliver hits that would get him in trouble with the league.
Kopitar recently joked that his penchant for goalie-interference penalties would hurt his Lady Byng chances.

2. Justin Williams
Chances are, if you glance at the ice and see a Kings player flying into the play, backchecking, it’s probably Justin Williams. He reached the 20-goal mark and was a particularly strong offensive threat in the final 20 games of the season, but throughout the season, Williams impressed with his work ethic. He is tenacious at working to get the puck and keep it, and he can occasionally get in trouble with stick penalties, but Williams is an honest player who works for the puck in every area of the ice.

3. Trevor Lewis
This is a tough vote, because the award has essentially turned into one for a player who puts up a lot of points but doesn’t take a lot of penalties. Well, Lewis didn’t put up a lot of points this season -- seven points in 72 games -- but under Darryl Sutter he has worked himself into an important role, that of a checking-line winger. Not the biggest guy on the ice, and not the most physical, Lewis is a hard worker who plays a clean game. If he could find the back of the net more, his name recognition would go up.

1. Anze Kopitar
Things didn’t end well for Terry Murray in Los Angeles, but years from now, Murray will be able to look on with continued pride at Anze Kopitar. When Murray first got his hands on Kopitar, the center had a lot of offensive ability but didn’t have good conditioning and couldn’t play a two-way game. Kopitar’s transition over the past four years was impressive, and it’s now complete. Kopitar is the Kings’ top scorer, but the Kings are also very comfortable with him on the ice against the opponents’ top forwards.

2. Mike Richards
The Kings hoped for more from Mike Richards on the offensive end this season, but even though he only scored 11 even-strength goals, Richards still had a plus-3 rating this season. Consider also that he spent part of this season playing alongside Dustin Penner, who hasn’t contributed much, and that at one point, Richards was centering two AHL call-ups. Richards is a beast on the penalty kill and always seems to get to the correct spot in the defensive end. He makes fast, correct decisions away from the puck.

3. Jarret Stoll
This third-place vote was probably the toughest of them all, as Trevor Lewis and Justin Williams also merit strong consideration. But in a season in which he suffered a steep drop-off in goal production, give Jarret Stoll credit for doing a credible job on defense. Put in a third-line role, Stoll has embraced the job of a defensive-stopper center, to the point of perhaps taking too many aggressive penalties.
Stoll is a strong penalty-killer and hasn’t stopped working, even though the points haven’t been plentiful.
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