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Kings Notebook (Oct. 7)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Kyle Clifford's size and strength helped him earn fourth-line duties for opening night.

EL SEGUNDO -- The Kings aren’t just expected to be good this season. They’re also expected to be good while being young.

According to the official opening-night rosters, the Kings will start the season with the youngest average age in the NHL, at 25.4. An influx of rookies -- including teenagers Kyle Clifford and Brayden Schenn -- put the Kings atop that category.

The young players won’t just be sitting and watching. The Kings are expected to have four rookies in the lineup for Saturday’s season opener at Vancouver.

Coach Terry Murray said Thursday that he planned to go with a fourth line of Schenn at center and Clifford and Kevin Westgarth on the wings. That’s three rookies, plus Jake Muzzin, who is expected to pair with Davis Drewiske on defense.

The young players won’t only be contributing in 5-on-5 situations. Schenn has been practicing with the Kings’ first power-play unit, which also includes Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth.

Muzzin has been playing the point on the second power-play unit, along with Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown, Michal Handzus and Justin Williams.

``Schenn has been a bit part of that power play throughout the training camp,’’ Murray said. ``He's got good vision, he's composed, he makes good plays. He's going to start there with Kopitar on that group right now. We sure liked what we saw in the practice today.’’

Muzzin was locked in a tight training-camp competition with fellow rookie defenseman Thomas Hickey, but Muzzin won, in part, because of his superior shot from the point.

It seems likely that Muzzin will get a chance to show off that shot on the power play.

``Muzzin had a good training camp,’’ Murray said. ``He's made huge strides from the time he joined the organization last year. I like what he has contributed on the power play in the exhibition games, and we feel that we need to take advantage of the opportunity that is here right now and get him into the lineup, let him play and get some experience and contribute on the power play.’’

Murray said backup goalie Jonathan Bernier will start one of the Kings’ first three games, but did not disclose which game. It won’t be the opener, as Murray had previously announced that Jonathan Quick would start Saturday.

The Kings also play Sunday in Calgary and play their home opener Tuesday against Atlanta, a span of three games in four nights. During training camp, Murray said he intended to play Bernier approximately once per week.

Meanwhile, the Monarchs assigned Martin Jones to Ontario. Click here for more.

The Kings are getting younger. This season’s average age of 25.4 is a year younger than last season’s 26.4. The average age in 2008-09 was 27.7, and in 2007-08 it was 27.7. All numbers are calculated based on opening-night rosters.

Matt Greene (shoulder) who had been participating in non-contact drills with teammates, received what Murray called a ``maintenance’’ day and did not skate.

Scott Parse, trying to recover from a groin injury, also did not skate. Murray said Parse attempted to skate and shoot on Wednesday but experienced some discomfort.


Clifford has played only seven games above the junior-hockey level -- when he joined Manchester for its playoff run last spring -- but Murray indicated that he doesn’t expect much of a transition period for the 19-year-old winger.

Clifford, listed at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, won a fourth-line spot over Rich Clune in part because of his willingness to drop the gloves in the preseason.

``We finished the year last year with Clune on the left side, and he brought that physical play, that grit,’’ Murray said. ``He was a willing combatant and he is a very vocal guy. I look at Clifford as a guy who is bigger. He matched up against some pretty big guys in the training camp, when he had to drop his gloves and fight somebody, and that's what I was looking for, was more size.

``To me, with Clifford, he's got some potential to move up, as he gets further into his career. He's going to become a player who can play in your top nine quite easily, later on. The potential is something we're going to continue to work with, and at the same time, he's a 19-year-old with a man's body. I have no reluctance, whatsoever, to have him out there against the bigger, stronger veteran players, because of that physical strength that he has.’’

Jim Fox appeared on NHL Live! Thursday morning talking Kings hockey.  Click here to listen now.

The Kings are scheduled to practice at 10 a.m. Friday at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, then fly to Vancouver in preparation for Saturday’s season opener.
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