|Teddy Purcell could have a breakout season in 2009-10.
Unlike in past seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, the core group has stayed in tact from a year ago with only a few additions, albeit major additions
, in big-time scoring forward Ryan Smyth and Stanley Cup winning defenseman Rob Scuderi
The Kings finished 34-37-11 for 79 points, fifth in the Pacific Division and 14th overall in the Western Conference, 12 points out of a playoff spot. The Kings were in contention for much of the season and will add a full season of two-time 30-goal scorer Justin Williams, a full season of Jack Johnson (missed half of the season due to a shoulder injury), a full season of shutdown defenseman Scuderi and a full season of the gritty Smyth, so the Kings have reason for optimism.
Brining back the core of last year’s team, it stands to reason that only a few spots on the 23-man roster are up for grabs, though one of the Kings prospects could challenge and wrestle away a spot from one of last year’s returnees.
LAKings.com offers its Five Things to Watch at Training Camp this season.
Forwards: Is this the year Teddy Purcell breaks through?
Purcell, the undrafted free agent out of the University of Maine, has been a prolific scorer in the AHL over his first two professional seasons, scoring 25-58=83 in 67 games as a rookie in 2007-08 and then adding 16-22=38 in 38 games last season, earning two AHL All-Star bids.
However, in 50 games with the Kings, Purcell has scored 5-14=19. Kings GM Dean Lombardi re-signed the restricted free agent to a one-year contract on July 20, hoping that Purcell could emerge as the top-six forward the 6-3 Purcell has shown flashes of.
Should Purcell emerge this season, it will allow head coach Terry Murray some flexibility with his top-six forwards, possibly moving Frolov down to the third line, where he played so well last season with Handzus and Simmonds, giving the Kings three balanced scoring lines.
If Purcell can break through, the group of forwards will have a lot of depth, entering the season as one of just three NHL teams with five 30-plus goal scorers on their roster in Brown, Frolov, Kopitar, Smyth and Williams, in addition to second-line center Stoll and the third-line defensive grinders Handzus and Simmonds.
Goaltending: Can Jonathan Quick build on his performance from last year and ward off a strong push from Bernier and Ersberg?
After starting the season in Manchester in 2008-09, Quick joined the Kings on Dec. 16, and never looked back, starting 22 of the final 27 games and 41 of the final 52, which prompted the trade of Jason LaBarbera to Vancouver.
Quick finished the season ranking third among NHL rookie goaltenders with 21 wins, a 2.48 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and four shutouts. In fact, his 21 wins were the third most ever by a Kings rookie goaltender (Mario Lessard had 23 in 1978-79 and Bob Janecyk had 22 in 1984-85).
Despite his success, the fact remains that Quick has still played in just 47 NHL games, though he enters training camp as the incumbent starter, but will still face tough competition from Ersberg and Bernier.
Ersberg served the majority of the season as the Kings back up net minder, but had a stretch from Nov. 4-Dec. 15 when he started 16 of 19 games. He finished last year 8-11-5 with a .900 GAA and 2.64 SV%, missing some time due to injury. Ersberg also has also only appeared in 42 NHL games.
Bernier, the Kings first round pick in 2006, started the first game of the 2007-08 season, stopping 26-of-27 against the then-defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks in a 4-1 win in his NHL debut. He then surrendered 15 goals in the next three starts and was returned to his junior team in Lewiston. Last season, Bernier was injured through much of camp and played the entire year in Manchester, posting a 23-24-9 with a 2.40 GAA and a .910 SV%.
Bernier is healthy this season in camp and will look to challenge for a roster spot in 2009-10.
Defense: Who will win the No. 6 and 7 spots on the Kings roster?
Much of the defense corps is set with Doughty, Green, Johnson, O’Donnell and Scuderi already in place, leaving only one, perhaps two spots open on the roster.
Drewiske, an undrafted blue liner out of the University of Wisconsin, stepped up at the end of last season after the back end had experienced injuries and a suspension to Denis Gauthier. Drewiske took advantage of his opportunity, playing sound defensively, appearing in 17 games, with three assists and a plus-one rating. Drewiske could start the season on the Kings roster.
The Kings also have super-utility man Peter Harrold, who could serve as the Kings seventh defenseman/forward and see time in the back end on the second power play unit as well as on the Kings fourth line.
Los Angeles has been drafting well in the back end and boast prospects such as Alec Martinez, Colten Teubert, Thomas Hickey and Viatcheslav Voynov that could challenge for a roster spot, but with a defense corps that averages 26.5 years of age – which includes the 37-year-old O’Donnell – the back end is already pretty young and breaking in a rookie might be a tall task. Lombardi has said that he could be in the market for a veteran defenseman as the season draws near, similar to his addition of O’Donnell on Sept. 30.
Rookies: Who is ready to challenge for a roster spot?
Last season, the Kings had three rookies in Doughty, Moller and Simmonds “refuse to be sent home,” and secure roster spots in the Kings opening day lineup. This year the Kings have fewer holes, so the chance of a rookie joining the team is not as high as a year ago.
However, the fourth-line is very much in-flux and the enforcer Kevin Westgarth and pest Rich Clune could both challenge for a spot, as could grinders Marc-Andre Cliche and Trevor Lewis as well as newcomer Brandon Segal. The top-six is pretty much set, but don’t be surprised if a Gabe Gauthier, David Meckler or even 2009 first-round pick Brayden Schenn excel at camp and contend for a spot.
Late word out of the Kings camp, however, is that Stoll is questionable to start training camp on Sunday. Should he miss some time, it may give one of the younger players a chance to see more ice time during preseason games and during camp and create an opportunity.
The backend could see a challenge from Hickey, Martinez, Teubert or Voynov, but Lombardi has indicated he would like the Kings young blue liners to have another year of experience at the minor league level.
Finally, Bernier could certainly challenge Ersberg and Quick for time in the Kings net. If not, he could be the starter at Manchester and continue to develop his skills.
Coaching: How will Terry Murray arrange the lines and defensive pairings in 2009-10?
Throughout the 2008-09 season, Murray juggled the lines for much of it as he tried to find the right chemistry to generate more offense. This year, there might be more stability with the entire core coming back and the pieces that were added this off-season.
At the end of 2008-09, Kopitar and Williams seemed to generate some chemistry and could be paired together again. Brown and Stoll were paired together for much of the season as were Handzus and Simmonds. Stoll and Smyth went to the Stanley Cup Finals with Edmonton in 2006, while Frolov saw time on each of the Kings lines last year and finished with a team-leading 32 goals.
A lot could be decided with the development of Moller and Purcell. If one could secure a top-six forward position and provide offense on the second line with perhaps Brown and Stoll, Frolov could see time on the third line again with Handzus and Simmonds, providing scoring punch on the defensive line while also using his puck possession skills to keep the puck away from the opposition. Smyth might be best suited for the top line with the playmaker Kopitar and the sniper Williams.
The fourth line is very much in question, depending upon who makes the team with Harrold, Ivanans, perhaps a Moller or Purcell, Richardson, Zeiler as well as the youngsters Westgarth, Clune, Cliche, Lewis or Brandon Segal all challenging for ice time.
On the back end, a season ago, Doughty was tutored, so to speak, on the ice for much of the year by the veteran O’Donnell. Toward the end of the season, however, Doughty saw time with the puck-moving Johnson as well as the stable Drewiske. Scuderi may play a similar role this year with Johnson, helping the defenseman take the next step in his young career…or Scuderi could be paired with a Greene or an O’Donnell to form a shut down back end.
There is a lot of flexibility here, but don’t be surprised if the Kings open with something along the lines of:
Green - O’Donnell
Training camp kicks off Sunday at Toyota Sports Center and there is a lot to be decided before camp breaks on Oct. 2.