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by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
Dean Lombardi and the Kings have selected four defensive players in the first round of the last three drafts to retool the Kings defense.

They say defense win championships.

Well in the Kings case, it at least gives you the right to contend for one.

The Kings last qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2002, after a season in which the Kings finished sixth in the National Hockey League in surrendering just 190 goals.

Since then the Kings have finished 15th, 20th, 23rd, 27th and bottoming out last season finishing 28th in goals against, surrendering more goals (263) in 2007-08 than every NHL team except for two, the Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning, both of whom finished with 266.

So it is no surprise that since Dean Lombardi took over as Kings GM in 2006, the franchise has placed an emphasis on rebuilding the back end and doing so through a process which Lombardi has experienced so much success, the NHL Entry Draft.

During seven seasons as the San Jose Sharks GM, Lombardi earned a reputation of being one of the better players at the NHL entry draft, as he would consistently and aggressively maneuver up and down the draft boards, making multiple trades to enhance and improve his club’s draft position. His work helped bring San Jose players like Patrick Marleau, Vesa Toskala, Jonathan Cheechoo, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc and Christian Ehrhoff. The Hockey News ranked the Sharks’ prospects (age 22 and under) as the best in the NHL in 1999-00 and second best in 2000-01.

Since taking over the Kings in 2006, Lombardi has continued that trend making multiple deals to help the Kings select four defensive players in the first round to retool the back end, taking Jonathan Bernier with the 11th overall selection in 2006, Thomas Hickey with the fourth overall pick in 2007 and Drew Doughty (second overall) and Colten Teubert (13th overall) in 2008.

The future of the Kings’ defense was on display on Tuesday on Day One of Kings Development Camp.

“[I have gained] lots of experience to [help be] more comfortable, to just know that I am a King and I have to work hard to be one,” Tuebert said.

“I am just learning the stepping stones.”

This was the first camp for Tuebert as well as his fellow class of ’08 draftee Doughty.

“It is great to know how they want our defensemen to play,” Doughty said. “It will help a lot in the future.

“[Today] was awesome. Growing up a Kings fan and putting on that jersey, it was great to get out on the ice.”

Unfortunately, one of the three defensemen the Kings have chosen in the last two years was unable to take the ice, as Hickey is still recovering from foot surgery. That did not stop him from working out today as he and Director of Pro Development Mike O’Connell worked on drills on TSC’s roller hockey rink wearing street shoes.

“The organization is so big into development,” Hickey said. “Even though I am not on the ice, I am still taking in a lot of things and learning a lot every day.

“We were just working on passing and shooting, the little subtleties that most people will not understand until it is broken down for you.”

That is what a lot of the work at this camp is about, just reinforcing the basics, from passing and shooting to puck possession and retrieval to controlling rebounds for the goaltenders.

“You work on good things and you don’t get bad habits,” Bernier said. “[I worked on] controlling rebounds and pushing pucks. They give you tips you have to work on in the summer and it will really show up.”

And if all goes according to plan, those tips will ‘really show up’ in the standings as the Kings return to the post season.

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