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Carter thriving in the middle for Kings

by Corey Masisak

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter has shifted back and forth from center to the wing a lot in his career.

At one point, he and current teammate Mike Richards were once two franchise centers for the Philadelphia Flyers, but since then he's played each position for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Los Angeles Kings and for Canada in international competitions.

Carter has played more on the wing for the Kings, but a shift to the middle along with being flanked by rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson has helped Carter become the second-leading scorer in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, behind teammate Anze Kopitar.

"When [general manager Dean Lombardi] and I, during the [Olympic] break, went over a lot of video and talking about our team and not so much for this year but going forward," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said when asked about when Carter's move to the middle was consummated. "How it was going to set up? As a coach, always think, 'now, now now.' But just look at it differently, how the young guys, Tyler and Tanner are going to play here.

"Because at that point, they were still guys who couldn't be here because of the [salary] cap. We wanted to get them here somehow, but not just have them here, but play them. Good to give them a look but what's best for our team long-term? Jeff, we like him at center. Even when we got him we could see him as a center. We weren't in that position yet, on the wings, to do that. He's comfortable everywhere. He just wants to play a lot. That's sort of what it is."

Toffoli and Pearson split time between the NHL and with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League this season. Carter moved to center during the 2013 Western Conference Final when Richards was hurt, and Toffoli played on his line.

That combination, with the addition of Pearson, has been lethal of late for the Kings. The trio has combined for 19 points in the past four games. Carter has seven in the past two by himself.

"I think being in the center may help him a little bit just with getting more speed," Richards said. "He's always stepped up ever since I've known home in the playoffs. He's always been the guy that in big games and situations he always steps up. At key points in the game if we need momentum … it's that line that's given to us right now."

When Carter arrived from the Blue Jackets, he played on wing with Richards. He played on the wing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He spent time on Richards' line and on Kopitar's line during the 2013-14 season, but since Lombardi and Sutter decided to give him his own line, the Kings have benefited a great deal.

Depth at center has always been a strength for the Kings, but adding Carter now gives them possibly the best quartet in the NHL.

"I played with Jeff Carter a bunch in my career, and he's a great centerman," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who was with Richards and Carter in Philadelphia, said. "He can play the wing as well. He's healthy right now, he's skating great, he's full of confidence. All three of those guys have an offensive touch, but they play well away from the puck. And they're scoring goals right now."


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