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by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
At Kings practice at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo on Tuesday, the coaches put the team through a workoutculminating withsprints. At one point through the grueling practice session, one of the assistant coaches yelled out, "All forwards under the age of 30, go."

Off raced center Derek Armstrong along with the rest of the crop of young forwards the Kings boast.

You'll have to forgive the 33-year-old Armstrong for feeling a bit younger than his birth date suggests.

After all, he is having a career year and just signed on the bottom of two-year contract extension that will keep him in Los Angeles through at least the 2008-09 season.

"It is just a piece of paper," Armstrong said about his contract. "We are just trying to get better. We got a good young team and the fans are dynamite here and are really so patient.

"This team is going to be a real good hockey team and I want to be a part of it."

Armstrong already is a part of it, quickly becoming one of the leaders of the team as he is one of just two forwards over the age of 30 (Scott Thornton, 36) on the current Kings roster.

"Honestly, some days I feel like I am 23 or 24, I am a young soul," he said. "That is why I signed on here for a few more years. I believe in this team. There are a lot of young, great players on this team and they are going to mature over time and we are going to have a great team here."

Armstrong, who has seen action in 327 games with four teams over his 11-year career, is havinghis most productiveseason since being drafted in the sixth round (128th overall) of the 1992 draft. With 21 games remaining in the season, Armstrong's 10 goals are four shy of his career high (set in 2003-04), while his 30 assists have already bettered his career mark (28, 2005-06) and his 40 points are one shy of his season-high set a year ago (41).

"The Kings have given me an opportunity and I have tried to take advantage of it the best I can," he said. "Some nights they want me to be on the fourth line, other nights on the first. I try and be a high energy guy and try and give as much positive things on the ice as I can."

Positive is the key word here. Despite the Kings being outscored, 211-170 this season, Armstrong paces the squad with a +16 plus/minus rating and is a +23 overall in four seasons since being traded to Los Angeles by the NY Rangers for a sixth-round pick (Chris Holt) in the 2003 Entry Draft on July 16, 2002

In seven seasons prior to joining Los Angeles, Armstrong appeared in 86 games with the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Rangers, scoring 9-10-19, while also seeing action in 478 games in the IHL as well as the AHL.

In his first year in Los Angeles, he doubled his career point total, scoring 12-26-38 in 66 games with the 2002-03 version of the Los Angeles Kings. He followed that up with a 14-21-35 stat line in '03-04 and after the lockout, scored 13-28-41 with the Kings last year.

Looks like all that work in the minors is starting to pay off.

"I hated hearing people say that is sucks to be down in the minors," Armstrong remembers. "I was playing hockey for a living and just enjoying the opportunity to be a professional hockey player.

"You just have to believe in yourself and most of the time you will get that opportunity. I have always considered myself a late bloomer and I never gave up and I always believed."

He has Kings fans believing as well now.
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