The Pittsburgh Penguins were the Eastern Conference champions this past season, but prior to 2007-08, Pittsburgh had not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2001 and had made the playoffs just once in that time.
Now, the Los Angeles Kings hope to follow a similar track to Pittsburgh's in their own climb to the top of the League.
The Kings have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, but like the Penguins, Los Angeles has stockpiled valuable high draft picks in the process. The initial first-round pick resulting from that futile streak is left wing Dustin Brown
, selected No. 13 in the 2003 Entry Draft.
Following the selection of Brown, the Kings drafted star center Anze Kopitar
, No. 11 overall in 2005; Lewiston's Jonathan Bernier
, a highly regarded goalie prospect out of the goalie rich Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was taken at No. 11 in 2006; defenseman Thomas Hickey
was plucked at No.4 last season and defenseman Drew Doughty
was nabbed with the No. 2 pick in the 2008 Draft.
In addition to all of the homegrown talent, the Kings were also able to pry young defenseman Jack Johnson, picked No. 3 in 2005, from Carolina in a deal that sent Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason to the Hurricanes.
Brown, who had a highly successful junior career with the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm, is now an integral part of the Los Angeles rebuilding project. But he had to tinker with his game just to stay with the big club in his rookie season.
"My physical game became part of my game late in junior and my first year in L.A.," Brown said. "I wanted to stick around in the NHL and since I wasn't scoring many points, I had to provide them with something."
Brown led the League with 311 hits this past season and was second the season before with 258.
Brown, however, is far from a goon and has regained the scoring touch that was responsible for 76 points in 58 games in his last junior season. Brown has increased his point total every season and hit a high this past season when he recorded 60 points in 78 games.
"My game has transitioned the last couple years," Brown said. "It has turned into a more even ratio and I have to pick my places for the hits. Earlier in my career, I would take myself out of position to make a hit, but now I'm picking my spots better and it's helping me stay in better position. My better positioning helps the play transition and gets me more offensive chances."
In 2006-07, Brown had a team-worst minus-21 rating, but was able to improve to a minus-13 rating last season.
Brown realizes the future of the Kings involves relying on young players to vault the team up the Western Conference standings.
"We have Jack Johnson, myself, Patrick O'Sullivan and Jonathan Bernier who aren't even 24," Brown said. "We had a promising year, even though we didn't make the playoffs because we brought a lot to the table. We are focused on improving every day so that we can get into the playoffs."
Even though the 2007-08 season was certainly a tough one for Brown and the Kings, Brown believes that the nucleus started to come of age in the second half of the season.
"It was a tough season for the team," Brown said. "We were playing better in the second half of the season and we were starting to mature. Our young core of players got important experience in the late-season games."
Author: Adam Schwartz | NHL.com Staff Writer