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Penner Draws Attention in Return to Edmonton

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
EDMONTON -- Even before Dustin Penner arrived at his locker, following the Kings' morning skate Tuesday, a semi-circle of media had formed, waiting for his entrance.

It's a regular scene in the Kings' locker room, whenever the team comes to down. Former Oilers are fondly greeted and get plenty of attention from the local media. Not surprisingly, Penner was the hot story on Tuesday morning.

Just over one month after his trade from the Oilers to the Kings, Penner returned to the city he called home for almost four years. His tenure with the Oilers was sometimes bumpy, pocked by clashes with the previous coaching staff, but Penner smiled and joked with reporters as he spoke about returning to Edmonton so soon after his departure.

``It's tough to get a full grasp of my time (in Edmonton), right now,'' Penner said this week. ``I haven't had time to power down, like you do in the offseason, and just kind of think about the season before. I think, as the summer wears on, and the years, I'll be able to understand exactly what that meant to me and how it helped me. I know it was a great experience for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it.''

Penner has two goals and four assists in 12 games with the Kings. Already, he will be playing with his fourth different set of linemates, as Penner lines up alongside new first-line center Michal Handzus and rookie winger Oscar Moller.

Dustin Penner has become part of the Kings locker room personality very quickly.
Penner's transition to the Kings has been eased by his previous relationship with Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll, who were his teammates in Edmonton as well.

``Dustin Penner has become a part of the group very quickly,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``He's got a great personality. The first day he came into the locker room, the guys were throwing a little bit of jabs at him, and he's coming right back at them with one-liners. That's just an indication that the guys are really willing to accept him and welcome him into the locker room to be an important part of the team.

``From that first day, in the group, he's been a great fit, and I think his on-ice performance is getting better. There was good chemistry developing with Kopitar before the injury, so now we'll get Handzus in that situation and hopefully it can continue.''

In their first game without Kopitar -- who is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair torn ligaments in his right ankle -- the Kings will go with the first line of Penner, Handzus and Moller, and Kevin Westgarth will return in a fourth-line role.

Trevor Lewis will center Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown on the second line, although Murray said he would keep an eye on Brad Richardson for a possible promotion. The third line will have Jarret Stoll centering Alexei Ponikarovsky and Wayne Simmonds while the fourth line will have Richardson centering Kyle Clifford and Westgarth.

``Obviously two of your best offensive players are down,'' Lewis said, referring to Kopitar and Justin Williams (dislocated shoulder). ``That hurts, but I think everybody is just going to chip in a little bit more, and everyone has got to show more responsibility.''

Veteran Michal Handzus could become an alternate captain in lieu of injured Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar is also one of the Kings' assistant captains, along with Greene, and Murray said he had not yet decided who would replace Kopitar in that unofficial leadership group.

When Greene missed time at the start of the season, Handzus wore the ``A.''

``I haven't (decided) yet,'' Murray said after Tuesday's morning skate. ``That's something that I'm going to have to think about though, now that I know that Kopitar is going to be out of the lineup for the rest of the way here. I'll look at a couple of the veteran players and talk to the coaching staff and decide by this evening.''

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